Continuing the buildup to National Puppy Day (March 23rd), let’s tackle the topic of a puppy’s first vaccines. We've already touched on what you need to do before you bring your puppy home and what will happen at the first vet visit. Just like human babies, puppies need a series of vaccine injections to be considered fully vaccinated. By far, the most important core vaccine that a puppy will get is the DHPP (or DHLPP) vaccine.
D is for Distemper
Distemper is a virus that causes respiratory and neurologic signs in young puppies. The virus is shed in body secretions, therefore coughing, sneezing, and even urination can spread the virus. After a seven day incubation period, you may notice discharge from the eyes and nose, fever, decreased appetite, and coughing. In the neurologic form of the disease, the pup may have tremors and seizures.
Distemper is difficult to definitively diagnose, and is often treated on the suspicion of clinical signs. There is no specific treatment for distemper – treatment centers on supportive care while the puppy mounts his own immune response.
H is for Hepatitis
Contagious hepatitis is spread through ingestion of the urine, feces, blood or saliva of an infected animal. This virus replicates in the tonsils and then affects the liver and kidneys. Clinical signs follow a four-to-nine day incubation period. Affected puppies usually have a fever, a lack of appetite and abdominal pain. Swelling of the cornea can lead to “blue eye” and other symptoms of liver failure (jaundice) may occur. Severe cases cause bleeding, and may require blood transfusions. There is no cure for hepatitis. Treatment is supportive and includes fluid therapy and antibiotics.
P is for Parvovirus
Parvovirus is almost exclusively a disease of puppies, and is often fatal. We’ve talked about parvo before, but it’s important enough to talk about again. This virus targets the cells of the bone marrow and gastrointestinal system. The destruction of the young cells in the bone marrow knock out a puppy’s best defense against the virus, and in the gastrointestinal system, the virus attacks the cells of the intestines, causing severe bloody diarrhea and vomiting. These two attacks combine to prove fatal for many puppies due to severe dehydration and shock.
Parvo is shed in extremely large numbers by affected dogs, and is so hardy in the environment that it can travel on your clothes or shoes and even survive freezing temperatures. Parvo generally requires a lengthy hospital stay while the pup gets supportive treatment for dehydration and nausea.
P is for Parainfluenza
One of the major contributors to the kennel cough complex, parainfluenza is a respiratory disease that can progress to pneumonia. It is spread through contact with nasal secretions of an infected dog, and it’s most common clinical sign is coughing.
L is for Leptospirosis
Leptospirosis is not a virus, but a type of bacteria called a spirochete. It is spread by contact with the urine of an infected host animal (usually rodents). Once infected, the organism spreads rapidly through the blood causing joint pain, depression, and fever before it settles in the kidney, ultimately causing kidney failure. Sometimes the liver is also affected. Leptospirosis is deadly, and even more importantly, humans can be infected through contact with contaminated urine.
Leptospirosis tends to be a disease of dogs with an outdoor lifestyle because it is often associated with ponds or other standing water. Because the vaccine for lepto sometimes causes a vaccine reaction, we tend to leave this vaccine out of the mix for small breed dogs, especially if they lead an indoor lifestyle.
In general, puppies start with a DHPP vaccine at eight weeks old and get boosters at 12 and 16 weeks. The “L” or lepto part of the vaccine, will be added at the 12 and 16 week visits for dogs considered at risk of exposure.