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Vaccinating your dog

Dogs can suffer from some nasty diseases, some which cause discomfort and others that can kill. Thankfully, we can protect our dogs from some of these diseases with vaccination.

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More than just a jab

Dogs can suffer from a range of nasty diseases, some which cause a lot of discomfort and others that can kill. Thankfully, we can protect our dogs from some of these using vaccination. Vaccination is a great way to give your dog immunity to some of the worst infectious diseases, and make sure they are as safe as they can be.

Vaccination is given as an annual injection, which keeps immunity topped-up and your dog protected. The only vaccination not given by injection is kennel cough. This is given via an annual intra-nasal vaccine – a squirt up the nose! This gets the vaccine right where it is needed to give local immunity. 

Although it is important that your dog has a vaccination appointment every year, not all the vaccines will be given at every appointment. This is because different vaccines last for different amounts of time – your vet will be able to tell you about the schedule for your dog. Your dog will need at least one vaccine every year, however, and your pet should have a thorough health check at least once a year as part of their general healthcare. This helps your vet check that no developing health problems can be detected.

Keeping your annual vaccination appointment every year is really important for both you, and your dog. If you would like to learn more about vaccinating your dog, contact your local companion care practice

When should I vaccinate my dog?

Once your puppy is 6 - 8 weeks old, they can have their first vaccinations – usually called the primary course. This consists of two injections, given 2 – 4 weeks apart. Some puppies will have their first of these vaccinations while they are still with their breeder.

For adult dogs, if you do not know if your dog has had vaccinations previously, or if you know the last injections were more than 15 months ago, your dog will also need to have a primary course of two injections.  Adult dogs can start this at any time, but if you know your dog is currently not protected by vaccination, the course should be started as soon as possible. Your vet will check your dog over before administering any vaccines, to make sure there are no clinical reasons not to give the vaccine – for example, a dog already fighting any active infection would need to recover from this before a vaccination was given.

Once any dog has had their initial course of injections, they will only need one injection per year afterwards to keep that immunity ‘topped up’.  

What happens at a vaccination appointment?

A vaccination appointment is much more than a quick injection for your dog – it is you and your vet’s chance to really see how your dog has been doing. Your dog will be weighed, and have a thorough medical exam. Your vet will probably ask you lots of questions about how your pet has been behaving, about any changes, and about specific topics such as their eating and drinking habits.  Your vet is trained to spot subtle changes, helping any developing issues be managed as soon as possible. Your vet will also listen to any concerns you may have, and help you manage these.

As well as the thorough exam, your vet will administer the vaccinations. The exact vaccine will differ year on year depending on the vaccine schedule, but all dogs require vaccination against at least one disease annually. Injectable vaccines are combined into a single injection, so your dog only has to have one needle. This is given under the skin at the back of the neck, and is well tolerated by the vast majority of dogs. The infectious tracheobronchitis (kennel cough) vaccine is the only vaccine which is not injectable. This is a liquid which is given as a squirt up the nose – no needles involved! 

Titre testing

An alternative to some of the annual vaccinations is titre testing. In dogs which have previously had vaccinations, it is possible to measure the markers of immunity in the blood. Checking these markers annually with a blood test, and giving vaccinations if the levels fall below a likely-protective level, is an alternative to routine vaccinations for some diseases. Your dog would still need an annual vaccination against leptospirosis however, as titre testing is not possible for this disease.  

Although titre testing is an alternative to vaccination, it does have drawbacks. As titre testing requires a blood test, there is an increased cost. The results are also not definitive – they are a snapshot of the immune system at a single moment in time, and this means that it is impossible to guarantee the validity of results, or if any immunity will be protective across the next 12 months. Due to this, some kennels and insurers will not accept a titre test result in lieu of vaccination.

If you’re interested in this service please contact your local practice for more information.

What can I vaccinate my dog against?

Infectious Canine Hepatitis is a viral disease which affects the liver, kidneys, eyes and lungs of a dog.  It is spread by contact with saliva, urine, faeces, blood or nasal discharge of infected dogs. The urine of an infected dog can be infectious for up to a year, and the virus can survive in the environment for many months.

Signs can vary from slight fever to sudden death. Other signs include loss of appetite, pale gums, conjunctivitis, coughing, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea.  The disease can develop very quickly and sadly there is no specific treatment; however vets will try and alleviate the signs and dogs can sometimes survive with intensive supportive treatment.

Leptospirosis, often referred to as lepto, is caused by a bacteria not a virus.  Dogs can become infected if they come into contact with infected urine, or by contaminated water, so if your dog likes to swim or is partial to drink from stagnant water or canals they can be at risk, especially in areas with high numbers of rats. There are many different strains of leptospirosis and humans can get it as well (called Weil’s disease). It can be fatal in both dogs and humans.

The signs often start 4 to 12 days after exposure to the bacteria.  Look out for fever, muscle pain, diarrhoea, lack of appetite, jaundice and lethargy.  Leptospirosis primarily affects the kidneys and liver so more serious cases will get kidney and liver failure.

Treatment will usually consists of antibiotics, fluid replacement, controlling the vomiting and other supportive liver treatments. Less severely affected dogs will recover but still carry the bacteria in their urine for months, posing an infection risk to other animals and humans. There are many stains of leptospirosis – the most comprehensive canine vaccine available covers four strains, and is known as the ‘L4 vaccine’. 

Distemper virus can be fatal and attacks several body systems including the respiratory and nervous system. Even in dogs which recover from the virus, distemper can cause long term neurological problems. The first signs of distemper are often sneezing, coughing and a mucus from the eyes and nose, followed by fever, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhoea, depression and weight loss. Distemper is sometimes called ‘hard pad’ because the pads of the feet of some affected dogs become very thickened. 

The virus can be transmitted through direct contact with fresh urine, blood or saliva, plus sneezing, coughing and sharing food or water bowls. 

Sadly there is no known cure for distemper; the only treatment is to alleviate the signs. Even if a dog survives distemper there are often long-term effects such as muscle spasms, epileptic fits and even limb paralysis. 

Canine Parvovirus, commonly known as parvo, is a highly contagious viral disease that can be life threatening to your dog. It is most likely to infect puppies up to six months of age, but can affect older dogs as well, especially dogs that have never been vaccinated or are not up to date with their annual vaccinations. Unfortunately outbreaks are still commonly reported in the UK, and a parvo infection can kill. 

Parvo is spread by direct contact with saliva or faeces of an infected animal; humans can also carry the disease on their hands and clothing from one dog to another. Usually dogs will have severe vomiting and diarrhoea which is often bloody (haemorrhagic) and this will lead to dehydration. Anorexia, depression and fever are also common signs. 

Dogs with parvo will require hospitalisation, often for many days, and will be put on a drip to correct dehydration. Antibiotics will be given to prevent any secondary infections as well as antiviral medication if available. Unfortunately a lot of dogs with parvo won’t survive, even with intensive supportive treatment, which is why it is so important to prevent the disease with vaccination in the first place. 

We strongly recommend annual vaccination against leptospirosis. Known as ‘Weils disease’ in people, this disease causes liver and kidney failure in humans and dogs and can kill. While there is always a very small risk of an adverse vaccine reaction this is hugely outweighed by the risk of leptospirosis in dogs. Even dogs which have a very small home range should be protected as the disease is carried by rats, which are found in and around even the tidiest gardens!

The first booster, given at around 15 months of age, is vitally important as it will catch any pet who has failed to respond to their primary vaccination course. Many of the modified live virus vaccines produce a very strong immune response that only needs to be boosted

every few years. Other vaccines cannot produce the same level of immunity and require more frequent (often yearly) boosting. This is why your pet may receive a different combination of vaccines from year to year.

Testing antibody levels in the blood is a good way to assess an individual pet’s immunity level against a specific infection, although in dogs this is only reliable for parvovirus, distemper and adenovirus. If antibody levels are found to be high when a booster vaccination is scheduled, then your vet may advise you to delay the administration of the booster. Since this will be outside the licensed use of the vaccine, this deviation from vaccine protocol is termed ‘off-licence’.

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