Why should I vaccinate my pet?
Often, there is no complete cure for life threatening diseases such as distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus and cat ‘flu’. Vaccination is the only proven method of protecting against specific diseases your pet might be at risk of contracting.
There are other diseases, such as kennel cough in dogs, which are less life threatening but where protection can also be provided.
Current rates of infection of pets with serious disease are low in the UK. That is mainly because most owners have their pets vaccinated.
What is a vaccine?
A vaccine is a weak or dead form of the organism which causes a disease. This stimulates the body’s immune system to recognize the agent as foreign, destroy it, and “remember” it, so that the immune system can more easily recognise and destroy any of these microorganisms that it later encounters.
What do we vaccinate against?
The usual dog booster consists of a vaccine that protects against distemper, canine hepatitis, parvovirus, and leptospirosis. All can be fatal infections and dogs that survive may have long term health problems.
- Distemper – distemper virus can be fatal, causing fits, uncontrolled muscle contractions or muscle weakness. It often permanently damages the dog’s nervous system, sense of smell, eyesight and hearing. It also causes a discharge from the dog’s eyes or nose, as well as sickness and diarrhoea along with pneumonia. Dogs that survive an acute episode are often left with brain damage and thickening of their pads on their paws and nose which is painful. It can be spread in body fluids and through the air.
- Canine hepatitis – canine hepatitis is a potentially fatal disease. It causes serious liver and or kidney disease, coughing, fever and a painful abdomen. It can also cause bleeding disorders. If dogs survive they are often left with characteristic “blue eye”. Infected dogs shed the virus in body fluids, especially urine and faeces, and this can continue even after they have survived the disease. The virus can survive in the environment for months so you do not have to come into contact with an infected animal.
- Parvovirus – parvovirus causes severe bloody vomiting and diarrhoea with high temperatures and dehydration. It can cause sudden death due to damage to the heart in very young puppies. It can be caught from infected dogs, and it can survive in the environment for up to two years, so can be picked up on a walk. Intensive treatment is necessary for infected dogs and unfortunately not all dogs survive.
- Leptospirosis – leptospirosis is a bacterial disease. It can cause liver and kidney damage. This disease is potentially fatal in humans and is called “Weil’s Disease”. There is no vaccination for people. It is spread by rodents in their urine, and the bacteria survive well in damp areas near rivers etc. Infected dogs shed the bacteria in their urine, and owners are at risk of infection from this.
- Kennel cough – this highly contagious and unpleasant cough is a significant health risk to all dogs that have not been vaccinated. Infected dogs become depressed with a dry hacking “whooping” cough and whilst it is usually not fatal some dogs may have further complications. Some dogs may cough so much that they vomit white froth and lose their appetite. Most will need treatment to help soothe the cough and possibly antibiotics if the infection persists. Puppies, sick and elderly dogs are particularly vulnerable but any dog in contact with infected dogs can become infected. Any dog going into kennels or participating in group activities such as training clubs should receive the kennel cough vaccine which is applied up the nostril. This is a separate vaccine to the routine vaccinations received and is given on request.
What do we vaccinate against?
The usual cat booster consists of a vaccine that protects against cat flu, feline infectious enteritis and feline leukaemia virus.
- Cat flu (feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus) – these two viruses are responsible for most of the cases of cat flu and can be fatal. This disease causes sneezing, discharge from the nose and eyes, conjunctivitis, mouth ulcers, coughing and, rarely, pneumonia. Many cats remain carriers of these viruses and therefore act as a source of infection for other cats.
- Feline infectious enteritis (also known as feline panleucopaenia) – this disease causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea, or potentially sudden death. It can result in brain damage in kittens infected before or shortly after birth. It can survive in the environment for months so your cat does not need to come into contact with an infected cat.
- Feline leukaemia virus – this disease causes severe damage to the immune system, increasing the cat’s susceptibility to other infections. Transmitted by blood or saliva it can cause anaemia and cancer. Fighting tomcats are a common source of the virus infecting young females after mating and by biting cats whilst fighting.
What do we vaccinate against?
There are two vaccines for rabbits covering two deadly viral diseases – myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD).
- Myxomatosis – myxomatosis is a viral disease that causes lethargy, fever and swellings around the eyes and genitals. Secondary bacterial infections occur and cause pneumonia. Treatment is usually unsuccessful. It is spread by biting flies, so even house rabbits can become infected.
- Viral haemorrhagic disease – this disease unfortunately is a rapidly progressing virus that causes death very quickly. Signs include collapse and haemorrhage. It is spread from contact with infected rabbits and also on “fomites” (an inanimate object or substance capable of carrying infectious organisms such as clothes, shoes, hair etc). It can survive in the environment for months.
What about potential side effects?
It is rare for any serious side effects to follow vaccinations. Mild reactions such as animals being a little quiet or off their food are possible but usually only last a couple of days. Some animals get a small skin lump at the site of vaccination but this should disappear after a few days. Any adverse effect is generally far outweighed by the benefit of protection against serious disease. If you are concerned about the risks associated with vaccination then please discuss this with our veterinary surgeons.