Pet Vaccinations: What you need to know

Infectious diseases of humans and animals are sadly a fact of life. Advances in modern medicine have provided us with many important tools in the battle against these diseases, and one such tool is Vaccination.

The safety and effectiveness of vaccination in the human population has been a controversial issue, highlighted by recent concerns over the MMR vaccine. However, the hugely positive impact that vaccination has had on the health of the human population as a whole cannot be understated. Worldwide, we have seen the number of cases of many life-threatening infections reduce significantly, and some diseases (eg smallpox) have even been eradicated completely. Vaccination has had a very similar positive effect on the number of cases of infectious diseases we see in our own patients, the pet population, and the continued sensible use of vaccines has an important role to play in ensuring our pets stay as healthy as possible.

What is vaccination?

Vaccination is the process whereby a patient is given either an inactivated form of an infectious agent (virus or bacteria) or a dose of material from the infectious agent, in order for the body to develop antibodies to that virus or bacteria without actually developing any disease. This way, the patient becomes ‘immunised’ against that disease and is protected from developing serious disease should it encounter that particular infectious agent naturally in the future.

What are the main diseases we vaccinate our pets against?

The main diseases we protect our pets against with vaccination are:

Infectious hepatitis
Bordetella (kennel cough)

Infectious enteritis
Feline herpes and calici virus (cat ‘flu)
Feline Leukaemia virus

Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (see last month’s blog post)

(Rabies vaccination for cats and dogs coming to the UK from abroad or returning to the UK after foreign travel under the Pet Passport scheme.)

The diseases listed here have not been eliminated from the pet population, but as increasing numbers of pets have been vaccinated, these diseases spread less easily throughout the pet population and therefore thankfully we have seen a dramatic drop in the number of cases. Sadly, once contracted, most of theses diseases are very difficult to treat, and in many cases can be fatal.

Is it really necessary to give my pet a booster every year?

The short answer to this question is ‘no, not for every disease on the list’. Here at Richmond Vets, we feel it is important that the vaccination protocol we use for each of our patients, your pets, is tailored to the needs of the individual animal. Factors such as age, lifestyle, number of pets in the household and regional disease status can all influence the risk that any one individual pet is at of picking up one of the infectious diseases we vaccinate against. For example, it may not be necessary to use the Feline Leukaemia virus vaccine for a cat kept indoors, where the risk of encountering the virus is very low. We will discuss these factors with you, and together decide on the most appropriate vaccine course.

Primary vaccination is key to successful life-long immunity, and the primary course is given to young animals, puppies from 8 weeks of age and kittens from 9 weeks of age. The primary course consists of 2 injections at a fixed interval, to make sure that protection is adequate. Following the primary course, many of the vaccines can be given every 3 to 4 years, depending on the risk factors, however, where appropriate, we do recommend annual vaccination against the cat diseases and leptospirosis in dogs.

Is vaccination safe?

Concerns over the use of vaccines and whether they cause any side effects have grown in recent times, but it is important to remember that serious reactions are extremely rare. All medicinal products have the potential to cause adverse reactions in individual patients, but this does not mean that the benefit does not greatly outweigh any potential risk. It is important that you let us know straight away if you are concerned your pet may have had a reaction to a vaccination or developed a problem following vaccination, for example, a swelling or lump at the site of the vaccine injection.

Here at Richmond Vets, our number one priority is the health and welfare of our patients, your pets, which is why we use a range of vaccines to give us maximum flexibility when tailoring a vaccination protocol to your pet. We advise an annual check up, where we will examine your pet thoroughly, and discuss any concerns you may have about the general health of your pet. After discussion with you, we may also administer a vaccination booster to your pet, using the most appropriate vaccination. This way, we can prevent ‘over vaccination’. There is also the option of checking the antibody levels in your pet’s bloodstream with a blood test, and making a decision on vaccination based on the results of the blood test. Do ask our Vets about this option if it is of interest to you.

The annual check up is an important opportunity to catch any problems early and discuss other preventive measures such as worm control and flea/tick/mite treatment.

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?

It is very important that as a pet owner you don’t feel pressurised into having your pet vaccinated without knowing all the facts. We advise regular vaccination as a very effective, low risk way of ensuring the pet population stays as healthy as possible, but we also feel it is important that each pet is vaccinated using the most appropriate protocol possible. We know that vaccination has brought about a huge reduction in the number of cases of very serious infectious disease that used to be commonplace in the UK. Feel free to ask us if you have any queries or concerns, and we will happily discuss why we think vaccination is right for your pet, and which vaccinations we think are most appropriate. Together we can make the right decisions for your pet.