When you get a new puppy, what’s the first thing you want to do, aside from posting hundreds of photos on Facebook?
You want to take your puppy out and about to show everyone your new fur-ball bundle of joy! But stop right there. Understanding your puppy’s immune system and the importance of completing vaccinations might make you think twice.
Taking your puppy out in public, on walks and around unfamiliar dogs before his vaccinations are complete puts him at risk for infectious diseases.
Why? At this point, your puppy hasn’t fully developed his own immune system.
Antibodies, which are special proteins made by the body to neutralize disease before it can cause harm, are part of the immune system. Your puppy is born with mommy’s antibodies, which are very important during the first six weeks of life. However, they gradually break down ,and are gone by four months of age.
This is why we start to vaccinate at six-to-eight weeks of age. As the maternal antibodies dissipate, vaccines start to help your puppy build his own protection.
Vaccines stimulate production of new antibodies, creating an army of memory cells ready to fight disease. Vaccines are administered through 16 weeks of age, because periods of insufficient maternal or own antibodies cause “windows of vulnerability.”
Basically, if shots aren’t done, your pup isn’t protected.
So what does that mean? It means you shouldn’t be taking your puppy to dog parks, walking in public places, or exposing it to unknown dogs.
Some diseases such as Parvovirus, Distemper, and Leptospirosis are highly contagious and can be contracted by inhalation or ingestion. Let’s be real—dogs do much more than shake hands when they meet.
But it’s not just interaction with unknown dogs that may put your puppy at risk. Diseases can be in the soil, water, and even the air.
Now this doesn’t mean you should isolate your puppy in your house until all the shots are done. Socializing is critical the first 16-18 weeks to avoid behavioral problems down the road.
So what do you do? Socialize them with known and healthy dogs—maybe owned by your family members and friends. Make puppy play dates, and keep your puppy in known yards.
Socializing and vaccinations go hand in hand. Just ask your veterinarian.
by Adriene Buisch
Special to the Baltimore Guide