During your puppy dog’s first year, there are a number of diseases that shots provide prevention against. A case of kennel cough, distemper, hepatitis, heartworm, leptospirosis, Lyme disease, parvo, and rabies can all spell the end for your pup. A regimen of scheduled vaccinations can help stop these infections in their path.

According to the American Kennel Club, puppy vaccinations through until your puppy’s first birthday is the first step in being a responsible dog owner. It may seem that going back to your vet and peeling off the cash for vaccinations, then boosters, then titers throughout your pet’s life may seem expensive and inconvenient, but they prevent dangerous and many times deadly diseases that can rip your furry boy or girl away from you. I had a show Norwegian Elkhound that I lost to distemper because the previous owner didn’t include the date for the booster and I was too inexperienced to ask. There are so many different vaccinations your pup needs for so many different illnesses that it can really get confusing. While you should be able to trust your veterinarian for the vital ones, there are also some that are optional.

Mr. Hondo

Bordetella Bronchiseptica

Also known as “kennel cough”, this disease is caused by bacteria and is easily spread to another dogs. Watch for coughing fits with whooping and vomiting. Your pet may even have seizures or die! Spray vaccines given by nose or shots are available. My old boy Hondo has chronic bronchitis, which acts the very same way. However, the shelter was quick to tell me it wasn’t kennel cough. I find his coughing and wheezing fits crop up when he gets anxious. Your vet can run tests to let you know which one of these is the problem.

Kennel cough is sort of like the flu for dogs, but worse. It can be caused by viruses or bacteria or other stuff, but they all result in your pet’s upper airways becoming inflamed. The deal is, your dog will get more than one infection at the same time. Usually the infection is mild with spurts of dry coughing like a human baby’s croup and sometimes there is gagging and retching and not much inclination to eat. However, kennel cough can advance to being deadly. Infectious tracheobronchitis (inflammation of the trachea) spreads quickly among dogs that are close together, like a kennel or a house. Cough suppressants will help your furbaby with feeling better, and antibiotics are only needed in severe cases.


Dogs are not the only animals that can catch distemper. Distemper is contagious to people, too, and is similar to the flu in that it can be caught from an infected animal that sneezes or coughs in the vicinity of the (previously) healthy one. Shared water and food bowls are other ways to transmit the disease. Dogs can catch distemper from skunks, raccoons, other dogs, and other animals. Rocky was my one dog that ever had distemper and I still don’t know where he picked it up.

Canine distemper is a virus that attacks the respiratory, GI, and nervous systems of the animal. Signs include coughing, diarrhea, seizures, vomiting, eye and nose discharges, paralysis, twitching, and death. The footpads on the dog’s feet also get thicker and harder. Unfortunately, there is no cure for distemper. Once the animal has the virus, he may be able to fight it off for months with controlling symptoms and preventing additional infections, but canine distemper is a death sentence.


A dog with hepatitis has the infection in its eyes, kidneys, lungs, spleen, and liver.
Canine hepatitis is not the same as human hepatitis that causes patients to turn yellow. The strain for dogs causes a little bit of a fever and congestion; however, the whites of the eyes may turn yellow, and there may be vomiting, enlarged tummy, and pain in the area of the liver. If the animal has a mild form, she may recover, but if the hepatitis is severe, she can die. Like distemper, there is not medical cure. But there’s hope for a longer life with vets having the ability to treat the symptoms. 

How do I know if my dog has a fever? Canna-Pet advises that the nose knows. A dog running a fever will have a nose that is dry and hot rather than cool and moist that may indicate elevated body temperature.

A dog running a fever will have a nose that is dry and hot rather than cool and moist. This may indicate elevated body temperature.


Anyone with a history of dog ownership knows that fighting heartworm is a lifelong battle. I got my beloved Buddy when he was seven years old and he was fine, but he picked up heartworm larvae from a mosquito, which is how they travel. We found it when he was nine and there were so few and there were very young that they barely registered. Just to get started, it was over $300. My vet had a TOTALLY DISGUSTING dog heart completely infested with heartworms that just the memory makes me want to hurl! They converge on the right side of the heart and the arteries that send your dog’s blood to the lungs to get oxygen for the body. Sometimes these worms, which can grow longer than 14 inches (!), will travel to other organs to clump together and cause blockages.

I was really surprised when my vet told me Buddy had heartworms because he seemed just fine! Plus, I felt like a TERRIBLE pet owner. My previous vet had never mentioned heartworm prevention and it had literally been over a decade since I had had a dog. If the infestation had been worse, I might have noticed coughing, lack of activity, not wanting to eat, and problems breathing. The diagnosis is by blood work, and I highly recommend taking all new pet dogs, no matter how old, to be tested ASAP after you get him or her unless your source can provide documentation.

The point is, start your puppy on heartworm preventative when she is about three months old. Your vet will let you know what to do, because there is no vaccine for heartworm. However, regular medication will prevent those nasties from taking hold of your little one and the prevention is a chewable tablet you give every month, changing the dose as the dog gains weight.


This is a big word for a disease caused by bacteria that can cause problems for dogs and humans alike. The host (you and/or our pets) may have the bacteria floating around and not have any symptoms, but then again you might see:

  • fever
  • vomiting
  • tummy ache
  • diarrhea
  • poor appetite

  • jaundice (turning yellow)

  • weakness

  • muscle pain

  • infertility (WHAT!??)
  • kidney failure
  • liver failure

Your doc (animal and human doctors) will shoot you some antibiotics, and the sooner they are started, the better.

Lyme Disease

When people get Lyme disease from ticks (euwww!), they get a rash. Dogs do not. This is a really serious disease that affects the nerves and he or she will start limping, get a temp, stop eating, and the lymph nodes swell as they desperately try to get the toxins out of the body by going into hyperdrive making white blood cells.

How do I tell of my dog’s lymph nodes are swollen? These are located down near the groin, the neck, and the armpit says Pet MD. Here is a video on how to check your dog’s lumph nodes.

Lyme disease will do a job on your pup’s heart, joints, and kidneys. If that’s not bad enough, you might also be looking at nerve damage. Yikes! Get to your vet ASAP! Even then, antibiotics can be a big help, but keep your eyes open for a relapse months or even years later.


The dreaded Parvo. Most dog owners have heard of it. It swoops in on puppies younger than four months old (get that Mommy her shots!) and dogs that are not vaccinated for it. Because it impacts the GI system, your little guy will stop eating, vomit, run a fever, and often have really bad diarrhea with blood in it. Because of the no drinking and massive runny poops, he will get dehydrated really fast! In fact, it’s this that will kill them with three days. Your vet can’t cure him, but he can give him IVs and other ways to get liquids in him. By controlling the symptoms, the animal has the chance of beating parvo on his own.


Rabies is super bad. Think the Saint Bernard in the Stephen King movie, “Cujo”. Another brutal virus that attacks the nervous system of most mammals, including humans, it is transmitted by the bite of an infected animal. Symptoms are a headache, anxiety, drooling, fear of water, hallucinations, and paralysis. If rabies isn’t treated within hours of the bite, it’s pretty much a done deal that your dog will die. This is why the rabies vaccination is one of the first your dog will get. If animal control happens to pick up your pup, they will vaccinate them even before they contact you just to prevent spread through the shelter.

Puppy Vaccination Schedule

I’m going to tell you up front, you need to trust your vet on this. When you first go in, he or she will tell you when to come back for the next round of shots. The schedule for vaccinations will depend on what part of the country you live in, risk factors, and other considerations. That being said, here is a general guideline for puppy shots and meds by mouth for his or her first year of life:

Puppy’s Age
Recommended Vaccinations

6-8 weeks

Distemper, Measles, Parainfluenza


10-12 week

Distemper, hepatitis, parvo, Parainvluenza

Coronavirus, Leptospirosis           booster (DHPP) Bordetella, Lyme disease

12-24 weeks

Rabies again

14-16 weeks

DHPP booster

Coronavirus, Leptospirosis, Bordetella, Lyme disease

12-16 months

Rabies again, DHPP again

Same as above

Every 1-2 years


Same as above

Every 1-3 years



How much do puppy vaccinations cost?

The cost of vaccinations for your pet is not going to be the change you can dig out of the couch cushions. This is one of the reasons there are so many sick and dying dogs and puppies out there that spread disease. If you’re going to have an animal, get the medical care it needs to be happy and healthy.

The price of puppy vaccinations depends on if your vet has a fancy clinic or is a country doc.  VetInfo.com gives us some ballpark numbers:

The “core” vaccines at 6-, 12-, and 16-weeks will run around $75 to $100. These include distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, and parvo (DHLPP). The rabies shot will run about $15 to $20, but some clinics include it with the other shots because it’s REALLY important. Some people will balk at paying the $100 or so for an animal from a shelter, but they always have their shots, a microchip, and sterilization. That because the shelters know every animal should have these before they come to the home.

If you think it will be cheaper to get a puppy from that house down the street with a “FREE PUPPIES” sign, consider that you will need to pony up for the expenses covered by a shelter. In addition, you may also have additional medical bills because that loveable ball of fluff may have a serious disease that can run into the $100’s of dollars or the heartbreak of having to put it down. Use a reputable breeder who will give you documentation of medical care or, better yet, adopt from a shelter.

That saying, watch for “free” days at the local shelters. I got two of my seniors from Animal League in San Antonio because they just plain get too full and give away their puppies with all the medical care done and a chip with your information. Sometimes these are in conjunction with “Empty the Shelter” days or when they just get overloaded.

Because puppies need more shots during the first year of life, adult vaccination is less expensive.

What if I can’t afford vaccinations? 

If you are having trouble coming up with the cash, you may be able to get some help.

  • Contact local shelters, rescue groups, and welfare organizations. For instance, in San Antonio if you live in certain areas of the city, you can get free neutering and spaying for up to five pets with shots and a microchip for another $25. Google your area! 
  • You may get lucky and have a vet school near you. For something like these procedures, giving a student a chance to learn won’t put your pet at any risk.
  • Shop around. I was amazed that one “low cost spay clinic” was $250! The SPCA was. . . well. . . free. Sometimes they will make you take the head cone, pain meds, and other add-ons. I opted for the pain meds, but passed on the collars. I put diapers on my dogs with a cutout for doing business. Lots cheaper and pretty funny to look at. ALWAYS take the microchip option! It’s well worth the price tag.
  • Don’t be ashamed to ask your vet for a discount. What’s the worst that could happen? He won’t hit you over the head with a stick. He might say yes, no, or some. Believe me, he wants your puppy vaccinated as much as you do, but he has to make a living, too. 
  • Look for a charity. The Humane Society of the United States, for instance, has a list of organizations that will help with certain procedures.
  • Keep an eye out for coupons and specials. During down times, local vets may offer discounted or even free services to new families.
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Where do I buy shots for my puppy? Believe it or not, besides veterinary offices, you can get your puppy vaccinated at pet stores like PetSmart or feed stores like Tractor Supply. Some companies like Vangard will hold events for low-cost vaccinations in grocery store parking lots! Call around to comparison shop.

Can I vaccinate my puppy myself? Doctors Foster and Smith say it’s easier than you think to give the shots yourself. It’s less stressful for the dog, more convenient, and cheaper (about $5!). The first time will be the hardest and it’s just a pinch for your puppy.

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