One of the common concerns new pet owners have is regarding the vaccination of their puppies. There is conflicting information not only on which vaccines to give, on whether to vaccinate puppies at all and on how to balance an appropriate social life while avoiding the risk of exposing an unvaccinated puppy to dangerous infectious diseases.

Below you will find a brief answer to these questions that will help you understand the reasons for these concerns, and to assist you in making your own decision of what is best for your little new best friend.

Vaccines commonly offered in the UK

Core vaccinations: Distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus and leptospirosis

Non-core vaccinations: Kennel cough (Bordetella bronchiseptica and canine parainfluenza) and rabies (for dogs that travel internationally)

When are my puppy’s vaccines due?

Vaccines can usually be given from 6 weeks of age, 2 to 4 weeks apart, with the last dose given from 16 weeks of age. Some vaccines have been licensed for the last dose to be given from 10 weeks onwards, to encourage early socialisation. An example of a vaccination protocol for a puppy would be the first vaccination at 8 weeks of age and the second and last vaccination at 10 and/or 12 weeks of age.

This means that if your puppy is 8 weeks-old (the minimum recommended age for puppies to be separated from their siblings and mother), they may have had their first vaccine already, and you may only need to take them for their second and last vaccinations. 

Lepto 2 or lepto 4?

There are a lot of diverging opinions on whether to vaccinate dogs against leptospirosis with a Lepto 2 or Lepto 4 vaccine. Like everything, both offer advantages and disadvantages. Understanding these will allow you to make an informed decision of what is best for your pet, regardless of everyone else’s personal opinions. 

The difference between the two is that Lepto 2 covers dogs against two serogroups of Leptospirosis: canicola and icterohaemorrhagiae. Lepto 4 offers a more complete cover against 4 serogroups: canicola, icterohaemorrhagiae, grippotyphosa and australis.

Leptospirosis canicola and icterohaemorrhagiae are the most common serogroups in the UK. Leptospirosis grippotyphosa is rare, but very common in other countries like France and Germany. Another variant, Leptospirosis australis has been also reported in the UK.

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The second aspect to consider is the number of reported adverse reactions of these vaccines. This is higher with the Lepto 4 vaccine because in order to protect against a larger number of infectious agents, it creates a higher stimulation of the immune system.

The risk of reaction with a Lepto 4 vaccine is less than 7 in 10,000 dogs vaccinated. Similarly, the risk of reaction with a Lepto 2 vaccine is less than 2 per 10,000 dogs vaccinated. These range from mild reactions such as temporary local injection site swelling to severe reactions like anaphylaxis. 

When can I take my puppy out?

Your puppy can and should be taken out as soon as they are with you. The first 12 to 16 weeks of a puppy’s life are crucial in guaranteeing adequate socialisation. During this period, puppies are establishing what is safe and unsafe as well as what should be accepted as normal in adult life. Exposing your puppy to different noises, smells, people and other animals will build the foundations for raising a confident and happy dog. 

However, as discussed above, the vaccination protocol is only finished at a minimum of 10 weeks of age. Puppies only develop immunity against the diseases covered by vaccination one to three weeks after the last vaccine is administered.

So, how do you make sure your puppy is protected while building a strong social structure before they are fully vaccinated?

  • Take your puppy out on a trolley or carry them on walks. Never put your unvaccinated puppy on the floor on a public space such as parks or even at the vets;
  • Let as many people as possible carry and pet your puppy;
  • Take them to a protected environment (ideally indoors) with other animals that are fully vaccinated (for example a family member with a cat or dog);
  • When at home, get your puppy used to being manipulated. Having their mouths open, paws touched, ears cleaned and claws clipped, always making sure you associate this with a positive experience.

What will happen if I don’t vaccinate my puppy?

Vaccinations offer not only individual immunity, but also “herd immunity”. This means that the high percentage of vaccinated dogs contributes to a lower risk of an unvaccinated animal coming into contact with these infectious agents.

However, if everyone stopped vaccinating their dogs, this scenario will change. Diseases like infectious hepatitis and distemper, which are rare in the UK, will likely become endemic again. Unfortunately, parvovirus and leptospirosis are still very common in unvaccinated dogs in the UK. If you do not vaccinate your puppy, the risk of getting these potentially fatal diseases is extremely high. 

Therefore, vaccinating your puppy will not only contribute to their individual health but also to the health and wellbeing of the overall canine population. If you follow the advice given above, you will also this has no effect on their social skills! 

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