Vaccinations for Puppies and their drawbacks
In all developed countries it is an accepted routine to vaccinate puppies at around 8 weeks at age, with a follow-up jab at 12 and sometimes 16 weeks of age. While the actual risk of puppies getting one of the diseases varies much from place to place, and also according to the regime of handling the owner employs (staying in a proteced environment or going to places where other unknown dogs roam for example), various people discovered to their dismay that vaccins are not without a risk.
The practice in Portugal is to give puppies the normal adult-version of the vaccin, normally containing dead cells of 4 diseases: Distemper (esgana/hondeziekte), Leptospirose (ziekte van Weill), Parvovirose and Hepatitis. This vaccination needs 1 reinforcement at 12 weeks of age.
In our experience this vaccin is sometimes too strong for especially puppies if small breeds, or weakened puppies. Better results are obtained with a special puppy vaccin, which will protect only against Distemper and Parvovirose (the two main killers for small puppies); the drawback being that 2 reinforcements jabs will be needed for full protection.
Even with the special puppy vaccination however, there is still a small chance that the pups will get a weaker version of the two diseases; weaker meaning that they can still be so seriously affected that they might die or have to be put down.
The best routine in my opinion therefore is:
1. Making sure that the bitch is recently vaccinated, if possible just before mating, and otherwise in the first stage of pregnancy
2. Worm the puppies 2 or 3 days before vaccination
3. Control the puppies’ temperature and heartbeat before vaccination
4. Make sure the pups get rest after vaccination (no stress, no long journeys, no physical exhaustion)
Especially when the mother is a potential carrier of the vaccinated diseases, special attention needs to be paid to the health of the pups. If the mother is a carrier, chances are that the puppies have either a) antibodies in their blood, or b) a subclinical version of the disease. In either case vaccination can be extremely dangerous for their health.
In any case, vaccination will provide protection against potential lethal diseases. Keeping pups indoors as long as possible (potty training on newspaper works); protecting them against contacts with potentially unvaccinated dogs, vaccinating as late as possible, probably around 10-12 weeks of age will be safer than at 8 weeks of age), and doing a good health-check before vaccinating are all measures which will keep negative effects to a minimum, while protecting the puppy against unprotected exposure.