Many of the diseases we vaccinate our pets against are deadly diseases especially in puppies and kittens and most of them are a lot less common nowadays thanks to pets being regularly vaccinated by responsible pet owners. Vaccination is the only proven method of protecting our pets against these diseases as treatment is often unsuccessful and also extremely expensive. It is important that your pet is healthy when they get their vaccination so that they can get the full benefit of the vaccine and this is why they have a complete health check by a vet beforehand.
Allergic reactions to the vaccine in dogs and cats are possible but extremely rare as pet vaccines are thoroughly tested for safety and efficacy. Therefore, the benefit of your pet getting vaccinated against the diseases outlined below far outweighs the risk of possible vaccine side effects in your pet.
Puppies and kittens are born with a certain amount of immunity to disease, which they get from their mother. This protection is provided by maternal antibodies but it only lasts for the first 6-12 weeks of life. We vaccinate puppies and kittens usually from 8-9 weeks old so that they develop their own permanent immunity to the diseases.
Yearly boosters are required to maintain adequate immunity to some of the diseases and your vet will make sure that your pet is getting the correct vaccine each year according to the animal’s previous vaccine history. The immune system requires the same degree of stimulation no matter what size or breed of animal you have therefore all dogs/cats get the same vaccine dose which is sufficient to generate a protective immune response.
Puppies can get their first vaccine at 8 weeks old and then they receive their second injection 2-4 weeks after the first one. An extra parvo vaccine can be given at 6 weeks old to provide extra immunity if there has been an outbreak and you are worried that your puppy might be at risk. After the primary course of two vaccines has been given, your dog then requires yearly boosters to maintain immunity. The diseases in dogs covered by vaccination are outlined below.
- Distemper - This highly contagious virus is commonly known as ‘Hardpad’ it is seen in dogs worldwide. The same disease also infects ferrets and foxes. The incidence of distemper has been greatly reduced in Britain due to vaccination but pockets of infection still exist especially in large cities. It is spread by direct contact between dogs as the virus cannot survive for long in the environment. Early signs of the disease are coughing, with runny eyes and nose, which is then followed by depression, vomiting and diarrhoea. Dogs that survive usually develop serious neurological problems, including seizures that get worse with time. Immunity can last up to three years with the vaccine.
- Infectious Canine Hepatitis - This virus is found worldwide and has two types (1 and 2) which are both covered by the vaccine. The virus is spread by infected urine, saliva and faeces and it can survive for months in the environment. Type 1 causes a fever, sore eyes, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding. Occasionally the disease is so severe that it may cause sudden death before any clinical signs have developed. Type 2 infects the lungs causing an infectious tracheobronchitis. Immunity can last up to three years with the vaccine.
- Canine Parvovirus - Outbreaks of this virus are commonly seen in Britain especially in Rottweiler and Doberman puppies as they are more susceptible to the disease. Unfortunately dogs of all breeds and ages can be infected with parvo and infected dogs will pass the virus in their faeces 3-4 days after infection and before they show any clinical signs. The virus is extremely hardy and can survive in the environment for months to even years. It invades the lining of the gut destroying it leading to vomiting and severe bloody diarrhoea. Immunity can last up to three years but extra vaccines may be required in high risk areas.
- Leptospirosis - This is a bacterial disease that is spread by the urine of infected animals. Humans are also susceptible which means that an owner can catch this disease from their pet if it gets infected. There are two types of leptospirosis that are covered by the vaccine. One is commonly known as ‘Weil’s disease’ and dogs get infected from contact with rats urine. Clinical signs include lethargy, depression, jaundice and liver damage. The second type of leptospirosis is specific to dogs and it mainly affects the kidneys leading to kidney failure or sudden death. Dogs that recover can become permanent carriers and shed the bacteria in their urine so they are a longterm risk to other dogs and their owner. Studies have shown that immune protection starts to wane after 12 months therefore a yearly booster is required.
- Kennel Cough (Canine Infectious tracheobronchitis) - This is a highly contagious multi-factorial disease of a dog’s respiratory tract. It can cause a severe, long lasting cough that can develop in to pneumonia especially in young puppies and old or debilitated dogs. The vaccine is strongly recommended in dogs going in to boarding kennels or dog shows. There are many different viruses and bacteria thought to be involved in kennel cough and the intranasal vaccine covers Bordetella bronchiseptica and Parainfluenza. Immunity only lasts one year.
- Rabies - Rabies is a fatal virus that can infect all mammals including humans. Britain is rabies free therefore only pets that plan to travel outside the country on the pet passport scheme require regular rabies vaccination.
Kittens can get their first vaccination at 9 weeks old and then they get their second injection 3-4 weeks after the first one. After your kitten has received the primary course of injections, it then requires a yearly booster to maintain immunity. The diseases in cats covered by vaccination are outlined below.
- Feline Panleucopaenia - This virus is similar to the one that causes parvo in dogs. It is passed from infected cat’s urine and faeces for 6 weeks and it can survive in the environment for months or even years. It causes fever, vomiting, anorexia and diarrhoea in infected cats. If pregnant queens become infected, the virus can spread to the kittens in the womb causing death or damage to their developing brains. Cats must be vaccinated yearly to maintain immunity.
- Cat Flu - This is a highly contagious and very common disease in cats which varies in severity. Kittens are particularly at risk and may die from infection. Spread of the disease is through contact with sick cats or permanent carriers. The main causes of cat flu are feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus. Cats must be vaccinated yearly to maintain immunity. Feline Herpesvirus – The majority of cats will make a full recovery from this virus but can be left with permanent or recurrent conjunctivitis (runny eyes) and rhinitis (snotty nose). These clinical signs usually get worse in the affected cat at times of stress. Feline Calicivirus – This virus causes mouth ulcers on the tongue, roof of mouth or nose. They usually prevent the cat eating due to pain. Some cats become persistently infected and have permanent inflammation of their gums.
- Feline Leukaemia virus(FeLV) - It is estimated that 1-2% of cats in this country are infected with FeLV. This is an untreatable virus that causes tumours, anaemia and longterm immunosuppression. It may take months to years for signs of the disease to develop in infected cats. Spread of infection between cats is mainly from saliva i.e. bites, mutual grooming and sharing food bowls. The virus can also be spread from a pregnant queen to her kittens through the womb and infected milk. This vaccine is recommended in cats that go outdoors or are in contact with infected individuals and cats must be vaccinated yearly to maintain immunity.
There are are two vaccines available for rabbits and they have to be given two weeks apart. They are both strongly recommended in any pet rabbits to prevent the following deadly diseases.
- Myxomatosis – this virus is endemic in wild rabbits in Britain and spread mainly by the rabbit flea but also by other biting insects. It is most common in August-October but can be seen at any time of the year. All breeds of domestic rabbits are susceptible and if they contract the disease it is usually fatal. Prevention of this virus is important through vaccination and flea control. The vaccine can be given as young as 6 weeks old and is either repeated every 6 months to a year depending on whether your rabbit is kept indoors or outdoors and their likely contact with wild rabbits.
- Viral Haemorrhagic disease – this virus is fatal in rabbits and can survive up to 105 days in the environment. Both wild and domestic rabbits are susceptible. The vaccine can be given from 8 weeks onwards and requires a yearly booster.