Why Do My Puppy and Kitten Need So Many Vaccinations?

Why does my puppy or kitten need so many vaccinations? The answer to this question is often misunderstood, because at first the answer may seem counterintuitive, but it’s actually quite simple.

A puppy or kitten is born with immunity that developed from its mother in utero and right after birth from its mother’s milk. This is called maternal or “passive” immunity and usually lasts up to about eight weeks of age. As this immunity wanes, the puppy or kitten begins to become vulnerable to infectious life-threatening diseases like parvo and distemper. So, at around eight weeks of age, the first vaccine is given and the pup’s or kitten’s immune systems go on red alert to fight the antigens (virus particles) in the shot.

Now, here’s the important part and the answer to the question. In order for the puppy or kitten to develop a long-term immunity to the illness, their immune system must “remember” the virus and know to go on red alert and destroy it if it encounters it again. This is what happens when the booster (the second) shot is given.

So, why is a third shot often given for the same illnesses? Good question! This has to do with the timing between the “red alert” from the first shot and the perfect time in the period right after that first shot when the immune system will be ready to “re-meet” the virus and remember it. It’s not really possible to know exactly when an individual puppy’s or kitten’s immune system is perfectly ready for the second injection that will stimulate that long-term memory for the illness. There are many factors that might go into this including the mother’s immune system, the young one’s overall health, living conditions, breed, individual hardiness, etc. So, veterinarians recommend the initial vaccine at eight weeks of age, and then two booster shots, at 12 and 16 weeks, to try to hit that ideal time when the immune system will create “memory cells” resulting in long-term immunity.

If the young ones are revaccinated too soon, their working immune systems will just kill the viruses in the shots without creating “memory.” If they are vaccinated too late, the immune system will have forgotten that it ever encountered the virus, and the immune system will just react like this was the first time, again with no long-term memory or immunity.

So, the two additional “booster” vaccinations actually don’t boost the immunity each time, they simply allow the immune system to arrive at full immunity through specifically timed and controlled meetings with the virus.

Super Smiley, blog dog here now! As we become full-grown dogs, we still get shots and, as with the puppy shots, these are given to reset our immune systems’ memories so we stay healthy in case we encounter distemper, bordetella or any of the other dog illnesses addressed in our yearly vaccines. 

Many of these shots have names like DHPP or DHLPPCv, sometimes just known as a four-way or six-way shot that covers “everything.” Each letter stands for the virus being vaccinated for: Distemper, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, Parainfluenza, Parvovirus and Coronavirus. The type of shot your puppy or dog gets may be a factor of where you live, what your veterinarian recommends, what your dog may potentially be exposed to and even breed.  

Even though the puppy shot series may seem like a lot, the bottom line is that a lot of research has gone into the exact protocol and timing so that by giving these simple vaccines, we can stay healthier and be with our people for a long long time.

Until Next Time,
Woof and Super Smiles from,
Super Smiley and Megan Blake, The Pet Lifestyle Coach®

Afraid that vaccination visits to the veterinarian might dampen your puppy’s or kitten’s mood? Lighten them back up with a laser pointer toy! They’re great for kittens and puppies!

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