by Jenny Zablotny, DVM

A schedule of regular vaccinations is an important part of keeping your puppy healthy. While many of the diseases that are vaccinated for aren’t as common as they once were, it is because dogs have been vaccinated that we see these diseases infrequently. Parvovirus is rare in vaccinated dogs, but not uncommon in unprotected puppies.

There are vaccines for many diseases and some are more necessary than others. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has issued recommendations on this subject. They suggest a set of core vaccines that every dog should have. These are diseases that aren’t necessarily restricted to certain parts of the country, are lethal in unvaccinated dogs and highly contagious. Rabies is lethal and is also transmissible to people. The diseases that every dog should be vaccinated against are distemper, parvovirus, adenovirus (infectious hepatitis) and rabies. Other vaccinations are considered non-core and whether a dog receives these vaccines or not is determined by their risk of encountering that particular disease. Your veterinarian can assist more with that decision. Diseases protected against by non-core vaccines would include Kennel Cough, parinfluenza, coronavirus, Leptospirosis, canine influenza and Lyme. There is a vaccine available to protect against Western Diamondback rattlesnake venom. Obviously, the range of the western diamondback rattlesnake will determine if a dog should be vaccinated or not.

Frequency of administration depends on the age of the dog and the vaccine type. Puppies are normally protected by antibodies from their mother until roughly 6 weeks of age, although some Bordetella vaccines can be given as early as 4 weeks. Vaccines given prior to 6 weeks probably aren’t going to do much good because of these antibodies. Most puppies are given their first distemper/parvo combination vaccines at 6-8 weeks of age. This same combo is then administered every 3-4 weeks until the puppy is roughly 16 weeks old. Rabies vaccine can be given from 12 weeks on. If Leptospirosis is a concern in the area, puppies are usually at least 12 weeks of age before receiving this vaccine. The vaccines are usually boostered a year later. Frequency of boosters after the first year will depend on the type of vaccine and local regulations. While a 3 year rabies vaccine is available, authorities in rabies endemic areas may require annual vaccination for rabies.

Another consideration is heartworm prevention. Heartworm is a worm that is transmitted by mosquitoes and lives in the pulmonary arteries. Severe infections will also be seen in the right side of the heart. The American
Heartworm Society ( recommends that every dog in every state be given prevention. Irrigation of areas once too dry to support mosquito vectors, movement of infected dogs and untreated wild vectors have all contributed to heartworm cases in all fifty states. Puppies less than six months of age do not need to be tested for heartworm prior to starting prevention. Dogs should be tested annually and if they are on preventative all year, the test can be done with annual vaccines and physical exam.

Prevention type varies. There are oral medications, topical and even an injectable. Some products just prevent heartworm infection. Others will treat intestinal parasites. Some even add in flea and tick control. Product cost varies, too. Your veterinarian can help you determine what fits best with your situation. Growing Newfoundland puppies can outgrow a size range rapidly. Your puppy will be weighed at each vaccination visit and the proper dose of heartworm medication will be administered. When the puppy reaches an extended size range, you can purchase multiple doses of preventative. Heartworm is a disease that is much cheaper to prevent than treat. Treatment is not benign, the drug is difficult to get and it is expensive. In this case, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Regular visits to your veterinarian, while not inexpensive, will help to keep your puppy healthy and free of infectious diseases and parasites.