When we first get a new member of our family, one of the best things to do is get a new collar, some puppy-appropriate toys, and schedule a first check up with your veterinarian.
The importance of this first visit to the vet is paramount: not only do we check your new friend’s heart, lungs and teeth (among other things) but we also discuss vaccines and socialization. Getting your new friend acquainted with having their feet touched, their mouth opened and their temperature taken (as unpleasant as it is) is important so that future visits to the vet are as stress free as possible.
The first vaccine that is given in your new puppy’s life is a vaccine that includes protection against Parvovirus.
Parvovirus (aka. Parvo) is a viral disease in dogs that can cause bloody diarrhea, vomiting, stomach upset, lack of appetite, dehydration, etc. This disease is potentially life threatening! This disease is easily spread between dogs through contact with infected feces, and the virus can live in the ground for over a year! No matter how significant our frost or snow pack was that winter, your puppy can pick up the virus from the ground if a sick dog has been there.
We vaccinate puppies for parvo at around 8 weeks of age and then again every 3-4 weeks until 20 weeks of age. Your puppy’s birth mother likely had antibodies to parvovirus and these will help protect your puppy but also will somewhat counteract the vaccines that we give. Mom’s protection wears off anywhere between 8 to 18 weeks of age, but there is no way to know when unless you send off for an expensive test that takes 3 + weeks to get results anyway. That is why it is imperative to start their vaccines at 8 weeks and keep up on vaccinating every 3-4 weeks until it is known for sure that mother’s antibodies have worn off. And that is why the American Veterinary Medical Association has recommended vaccinating until your young friend is approximately 20 weeks of age. This is also why, even if your puppy is “up to date” on their vaccines at 12 weeks of age, because you’ve been good about taking them in for their shots, does not mean that they are “fully vaccinated” yet.