What is a vaccination?
A vaccination involves the deliberate administration of a weakened or killed virus or bacteria into your pet. It is usually in the form of an injection, although this is not always the case. For example, the Kennel cough vaccination is usually given intra-nasally (where a mist is sprayed up the dog’s nose). Vaccines introduce viruses or bacteria to the body so that the immune system can be exposed to the disease. As the organisms are weakened or killed they don’t trigger the full disease but they allow the body to build immunity (prepare itself to recognise and fight) against the diseases should they come across them for real.
Why should you get your puppy vaccinated?
Many owners ask why vaccinations are necessary when the diseases they protect against are now quite rare. However, it is due to a widespread vaccination programme that the incidence of these infectious diseases has been dramatically reduced. If everyone stopped vaccinating their pets, the diseases would make a comeback. There is nothing worse than nursing and then losing a pet to an illness that could have been easily prevented through vaccination.
What diseases can puppies be vaccinated against?
Core vaccines are considered essential for dogs because they protect against infectious diseases that can be fatal.
The four main infectious diseases your puppy will be vaccinated against are:
- • Canine Parvovirus (‘parvo’)
- • Canine Distemper
- • Infectious Canine Hepatitis (adenovirus)
- • Leptospirosis
Kennel cough is not considered a core vaccination because although it sounds terrible, it’s not usually a serious illness. However, if your pet is at a higher risk than normal pets (e.g. regularly at close proximity to other dogs, attending dog shows for example) then it is something to consider. Many boarding kennels will insist on your dog being protected against kennel cough before they are allowed to stay.
At what age can my puppy be vaccinated?
Very young puppies are usually protected from disease by maternal antibodies in their mother’s milk (assuming she has been regularly vaccinated). However, this immunity declines after a few weeks and they will need vaccinating from 6-8 weeks old with a second injection 2-4 weeks later.
Why do puppies need two vaccinations?
Puppies receive antibodies from their mother (MDA), which are extremely important in providing the pup with protection from developing the diseases whilst their immune system is getting up and running properly. These antibodies protect the puppy for its first few weeks of life. However, the levels of MDA are constantly declining overtime as they are used up, and once they fall below a certain level, the animal is at risk of picking up the disease if they are exposed. The amount of MDA present in a pups system depends on lots of factors, how much they initially receive from their mother, how much is absorbed and how quickly they decline in circulation, and all of these together mean that the levels in pups vary greatly. In an ideal world, you would monitor the levels of maternal antibodies in the blood stream until they fell below a protective level and then vaccinate the pup, but as this is done by obtaining blood, it would be an unfair process to put a young animal through, not to mention costly. Unfortunately, the MDA antibodies can interfere with how effective the vaccine is and this is why two are needed. The first vaccination is estimated to be given at the earliest point that MDA will not provide protection and the second scheduled for when we know that MDA in most pups will have fallen below levels that cause vaccine interference.
The first vaccination is also super important in allowing a pup to go out and learn about the world sooner as socialisation is extremely important. There is only a very short window of time from 0-16wks of age where the pup accepts new things and experiences as normal. After this point they become fearful of the unknown. So the more a young pup can experience safely at an early age the more acceptant they will be of these throughout its life.
What is a booster and how frequently should my dog have them?
The vaccines we give puppies when they are young do not provide lifelong immunity, they therefore require an additional dose (boosters) in order for your dog to maintain immunity and stay protected against certain infectious diseases. It is recommended that your dog has a booster vaccination every year. Recently there has been speculation about how necessary yearly boosters are and the internet is full of misinformation regarding this subject. It is true that some vaccines give immunity for three years, whereas some only provide immunity for one year and this is why although your dog will be vaccinated yearly, it’s usually against different things. Parvovirus, Distemper and Hepatitis are done every three years and leptospirosis every year. Leptospirosis has different strains (like flu) and there are different vaccines available that cover different strains of the disease. It is best to speak to your own vet about what’s available and best for your pet.
If you’re planning on using a boarding kennels or travelling abroad then your dog needs to be up to date with all his or her vaccinations. If the time lapse between vaccinations is too long then your vet may suggest starting the vaccination course again – like they would for puppies.
What is titre testing?
An alternative to yearly boosters is titre testing. This involves taking a small amount of blood from your dog. The blood is then tested for antibody levels to determine if the animal has enough immunity to protect against that disease, should they be exposed to it. This may be a better option for elderly dogs, poorly animals or those that have previously had an adverse reaction to a vaccine, however it should be decided on a case by case basis so it is recommended you speak to your vet for more information.
Travelling abroad with your dog?
If you are planning on travelling abroad with your dog then additional vaccinations against rabies will be needed and your pet will need to be up to date with boosters, flea and worm treatment. Ask your vet for more details about the Pet Travel Scheme (P.E.T.S.).
The Kennel Club - General Puppy Health; vaccinations, fleas and health checks: https://www.thekennelclub.org....
PDSA - Puppy and Dog Health: https://www.pdsa.org.uk/taking...
Pet Travel Scheme – Gov.uk https://www.gov.uk/take-pet-ab...