What is vaccination?
Vaccination (‘booster/ annual jabs’) is a process by which we carefully expose our pets to a harmless form of an infectious agent (a virus or bacteria which has been ‘killed’ or ‘attenuated’ (altered) by injection under the skin. This stimulates the animal’s immune system to respond and generate a memory of this response. This memory protects your pet as it enables the animal to be better prepared in killing the infectious agent if/when it is exposed in future.
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Vaccinating your pet helps protect your pet from infections that may be fatal or cause severe disease affecting their welfare. Vaccination also helps promote the overall level of pet population immunity, which should reduce the number of at-risk animals and therefore the prevalence of disease.
What can be covered?
At Shires Vets we aim to protect pets against the main infectious diseases which occur in the UK, but tailor each animal’s vaccination needs relating to their lifestyle and exposure risk or whether they are to travel abroad. The full range of diseases that we can vaccinate your pet against at Shires Vets are listed below, alongside a brief description of what the disease can do if your pet were not vaccinated.
- Parvovirus (‘parvo’): this is the most common infectious disease we see in the area affecting dogs of any age, but especially young unvaccinated dogs. Severe diarrhoea and sickness are common signs. Sadly only some dogs pull through intensive treatment in our isolation kennel facilities at the surgery.
- Leptospirosis: The vaccine given at Shires Vets has been upgraded to cover all four strains of leptospirosis (many other vaccines only cover 2 strains): this is a fatal bacterial disease affecting the liver and kidneys, causing fever, lethargy & severe illness. It is transmitted through water, puddles and rat urine and is potentially zoonotic (can be spread to humans, known as Weil’s Disease).
- Distemper: Severe respiratory and nervous signs which can be fatal. Rarely seen in the UK following successful vaccination protection however without cover there is risk of re-emergence from wild fox/badger populations.
- Canine Infectious Hepatitis is a severe infectious disease affecting the dogs liver and eyes.
- ‘Kennel Cough’ (Bordetella): this is one of the main causes of infectious cough in dogs which can be ‘caught’ when out on walks, mixing with other dogs or in kennels. It causes a hacking cough which can persist for several weeks. It is separate from the above vaccinations but lasts 12 months and is commonly given at annual vaccination.
- Rabies: Mandatory for dogs and cats travelling abroad.
- Leishmaniosis: A serious infectious disease transmitted by sandflies to dogs travelling in southern France and Europe. Ask the vet for further information on getting your travelling dog protected!
- Herpes vaccination: discuss with the vet if you are breeding from your bitch.
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- Cat ‘flu’ (feline calicivirus and herpesvirus) is spread by aerosol/ sneezing and indirectly. Those mixing with other cats, at cattery or shows are at greatest risk. It causes sneezing, fever, mouth ulcers and can make them off colour and off food. It can become a lifelong recurring problem with some cats developing chronic ‘snuffles’ from the damage to airways.
- Cat enteritis (feline panleukopaenia) causes a severe gastroenteritis (sickness & diarrhoea) and is often fatal and spread easily between cats either directly or indirectly.
- Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) generally affects younger cats (<5 years old) causing anaemia, immune system failure and lymphoma (cancer).
- Chlamydia: this can cause respiratory and sore eye signs in young kittens. Most commonly seen in multi-cat households/ breeding or shelter environments. Vaccination can be given on request.
- Rabies: Mandatory for cats and dogs travelling abroad.
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- Myxomatosis: is caused by a pox virus which is spread by biting flies and fleas. Your rabbit therefore does not need to be in close contact with wild rabbits to pick up the disease, just be exposed to the insects. It is commonly seen and causes swelling of eyes and genitalia and is sadly usually a lethal disease.
- VHD (Viral haemorrhagic disease): is a fatal disease with very sudden onset, spread by saliva, bird droppings and other animals
Vaccination is achieved against both of these nasty diseases by a single yearly vaccine to your rabbit.
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What age can we start cover? What’s the plan?
- Puppies: Two vaccinations one month apart when puppy is over six weeks old. Protection is on board one week after second injection. Re-vaccination every 12 months is then important to maintain protection (see below ‘annual vaccination’). We would advise that pups have their first vaccine at 6-8weeks old if possible, to enable socialisation as soon as possible. Taking your puppy out on walks before their cover is complete puts them at serious risk!
- Kittens: Two vaccinations 3-4 weeks apart when kitten is over nine weeks old. Protection on board 3-4 weeks after the second injection. Annual vaccination is then required. (see below ‘annual vaccination’)
- Rabbits: Single injection from 5 weeks old and protection on board approximately 3 weeks later. Annual vaccination is required to maintain protection against myxomatosis and VHD.
If an adult cat/ dog/ rabbit’s vaccination schedule has lapsed (over ~15months since last vaccination) then vaccination may need to be re-started with a course as described for the puppies/ kittens, to ensure they are adequately protected.
Why an annual vaccination?
A common misconception is that once a kitten or puppy has received their first injections that they are covered for life – this is unfortunately incorrect.
The protection against some of the infectious diseases wanes after 12 months so annual re-vaccination is needed lifelong to ensure full protection. The protection against some of the diseases lasts 3 years or more so vaccination is tailored appropriately to avoid over-vaccinating against all diseases.
Annual vaccination is not just about ensuring essential cover against fatal infectious diseases. At Shires Vets we would rather think about it being your pet’s annual ‘MOT’ and an opportunity to discuss any questions you may have. The vet will give your animal a full clinical examination, monitor your pet’s weight, advise on any concerns and answer any routine healthcare questions as well as administer vaccinations.
How do Shires Vets avoid ‘over-vaccination’?
After the first annual vaccination, some of the diseases (e.g. parvovirus in dogs and panleukopaenia (enteritis) in cats) only need topping up every 3 years. Other vaccine components (e.g. leptospirosis and kennel cough for dogs and flu for cats) require annual boosting. We follow these manufacturer guidelines to keep vaccination at a proven level – i.e. it’s not exactly the same injection every year.
The vet can discuss the individual disease risk for your dog or cat and tailor vaccination cover to their needs. E.g. an outdoor hunting cat’s needs are different from the solely indoor cat who occasionally goes into cattery.
Alternatively ask the vet about performing a blood test to assess the level of protection remaining for your pet and determine what vaccinations are required. Several of the diseases (e.g. leptospirosis in dogs) only last twelve months and so blood testing is not indicated.
What are the risks of vaccination?
You may be aware of media coverage over the years regarding instances of adverse reactions in human and animal vaccines, which we should be aware of when vaccinating our pets. There is a risk of causing an adverse reaction when administering any drug or product to a human or an animal. The risk of adverse reaction, however, needs to be balanced against the very real risk of severe illness if the animal were not vaccinated (WSAVA guidelines 2010). The licensed vaccines we use have a high safety profile, however, no product can be guaranteed safe in every patient and there is evidence that occasional adverse reactions to vaccines occur.
Our experience of pets adversely reacting to vaccination is that the occasional animal is reported to have been slightly off colour, quieter or off food for 24-48hrs. One dog over the last 5 years at the practice has experienced a severe reaction involving an autoimmune response that could have been associated with vaccination, but made a full recovery. It should be noted that we see at least ten cases of canine parvovirus each year with sadly half of those requiring euthanasia due to poor response to intensive treatment.
The data sheets produced by the vaccine manufacturers occasionally report a slight swelling at site of injection (1-10%) for 1-2 days after vaccination or the pet mildly off colour or have a reduced appetite (0.01-0.1%) due to a rise in body temperature. Cats additionally may sneeze, cough or have nasal discharge or possibly lameness for up to 2 days after vaccination. Dogs given kennel cough vaccination have been reported to occasionally cough, wheeze or sneeze or have nasal discharge develop. Rarely an anaphylactic (allergic) reaction may occur (ranging from itchiness, sickness or diarrhoea to difficulty breathing and collapse) (0.1-0.01%) and in very rare cases in rabbits reports of scabs, hairloss or sore skin around injection site (<0.01%).
The most severe reactions are classified as very rare (less than 1 in 10,000 animals) and could include auto-immune disease, feline injection site sarcoma (cancerous reaction to some cat vaccines, reported in USA mainly) or death.
Detailing these risks is not meant to scare us off vaccinating our pets, but help us make informed choices and be aware of the balance between the small risk of vaccination vs the severe risk of infectious disease to our pets.