Puppy Vaccination Schedule for Rescues and Shelters

A well-researched and effective vaccination schedule is key to preventing disease outbreak in a rescue or shelter environment due to the number of animals coming in that have no medical history and/or have never been vaccinated.1 This is especially important in organizations taking in puppies, which are especially vulnerable and contraction of contagious diseases can be difficult or expensive to treat with potentially fatal outcomes.

What are maternal antibodies?

The maternal antibodies found in colostrum (which is produced when puppies are first born, and what they must consume within 24 hours of being born in order to absorb it).2 These antibodies can provide passive protection based on what the mother has in her system, which can be acquired naturally (by exposure) or by prior vaccination.

Unfortunately, it is hard to know how many antibodies are present as many pregnant and nursing dogs are found or surrendered with little known history or are unvaccinated. Complicating matters further, it is dependent on the puppy, too, and how much colostrum it consumed and absorbed. While maternal antibodies are present in the puppy, it will render vaccination ineffective. This is why vaccinations are given as a series: we don’t know exactly when the maternal immunity gets low enough to no longer protect passive protection.

A good estimate is that the maternal antibodies start to wane between 4 and 6 weeks of age, and they are completely gone between 16 and 18 weeks of age.3

Puppy Vaccination Schedule

Puppies can be vaccinated as early as 4 weeks per University of Wisconsin’s Shelter Medicine, Best Friends, ASPCA Pro, and WSAVA Guidelines. All sources recommend that puppies 4 weeks and older be vaccinated immediately upon intake to help manage the risk of contracting a contagious disease in a shelter environment.

Puppies should be vaccinated at 4 weeks old (or when they arrive at the shelter) and then every 2 to 3 weeks until they’re 5 months old (while in the shelter environment).4 In tandem with a proper vaccination schedule, biosecurity protocols should exist to help minimize the risk of spreading contagious diseases, especially to vulnerable populations like puppies.

Puppies that are owned or in a home can be vaccinated beginning at 6 weeks of age and repeated every 3 to 4 weeks until 4 months of age.5 If a shelter or rescue has higher-levels of biosecurity, such as isolation, quarantine, or is foster-based, it may be feasible to wait until 6 weeks of age and/or give additional vaccinations every 3 to 4 weeks6, which is the more typical start of a puppy vaccination schedule.

These are the core vaccinations that puppies should receive:

  • Distemper (CDV)
  • Adenovirus-2 (CAV-2/hepatitis)
  • Parvovirus (CPV)
  • Parainfluenza (CPiV)
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica

You will commonly see core vaccinations listed as the DHPP vaccine, which stands for Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvovirus, and Parainfluenza. It is recommended that shelters administer DHPP as a modified live vaccine subcutaneously and give bordetella/parainfluenza as an intranasal, modified live vaccine (which can be given as early as 3 weeks7 of age).8

DHPP, modified live, subcutaneous in right shoulder4+ weeksEvery 2-3 weeks until 5 months of age

OR every 3-4 weeks if in a low-risk foster home
Bordella/parainfluenza, modified live, intranasal3+ weeksOnce
Rabies, subcutaneous in right shoulder12 to 16 weeks (as required by local law)Once

This vaccination schedule only applies to puppies. All dogs will need to receive their annual vaccines in adulthood based on their primary veterinarian’s recommendations (which will be determined by owner’s lifestyle, local environment, etc.) and may include non-core vaccines.

  1. 2022 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines. (2022). AAHA. https://www.merck-animal-health-usa.com/offload-downloads/aaha-canine-vaccination-guidelines ↩︎
  2. Rossi, L., Lumbreras, A. E. V., Vagni, S., Dell’Anno, M., & Bontempo, V. (2021). Nutritional and Functional Properties of Colostrum in Puppies and Kittens. Animals : an open access journal from MDPI11(11), 3260. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11113260 ↩︎
  3. Shelter Medicine – UW–Madison. (n.d.). https://sheltermedicine.wisc.edu/library/resources/vaccination-in-animal-shelters#Dog%20Vaccines ↩︎
  4. Vaccination Guidelines – WSAVA. (2024, May 31). World Small Animal Veterinary Association. https://wsava.org/global-guidelines/vaccination-guidelines/ ↩︎
  5. Vaccination Guidelines – WSAVA. (2024, May 31). World Small Animal Veterinary Association. https://wsava.org/global-guidelines/vaccination-guidelines/ ↩︎
  6. Vaccination Recommendations for Shelter Dogs. (n.d.). ASPCA Pro. https://www.aspcapro.org/sites/default/files/resource/downloads/2020-2020-08/aspca_intake-vax-dogs.pdf ↩︎
  7. Vaccination Guidelines – WSAVA. (2024, May 31). World Small Animal Veterinary Association. https://wsava.org/global-guidelines/vaccination-guidelines/ ↩︎
  8. Shelter Medicine – UW–Madison. (n.d.-b). https://sheltermedicine.wisc.edu/library/resources/vaccination-in-animal-shelters#Which ↩︎

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About Christine

Christine Mielke has fostered over 100 dogs and puppies and assisted with countless more through volunteering at local rescues and shelters. She is an experienced medical foster who has worked with cleft palate puppies, dying and premature newborns, and critically ill and injured puppies.