Vaccinating My Dog
There are a number of highly infectious and potentially
fatal diseases which can affect your dog.
There is no treatment for many of these diseases and young puppies who
catch them often die. However, for many
of these conditions there is a simple protection in the form of
vaccination. Ensuring that your dog
completes an initial course of vaccinations and then receives regular booster
jabs is important if you want to keep your dog fit and healthy.
How do vaccines work?
Most vaccines are given by injection under the skin although
some may be given as a spray up your dog’s nose. They all work by training the white blood
cells in your dogs body how to recognise and attack the viruses or bacteria
contained in the vaccine. This should
prevent infection with that particular bug if your dog is in contact with it
Current vaccines fall into two main categories:
Live vaccines: these contain a strain of the bug which has
been altered so that it cannot cause disease but does stimulate immunity.
Dead vaccines: the bug in these has been killed by heat or
Each type has their pros and cons – Live vaccines generally
give better and longer-lasting protection but they can sometimes cause more
side effects. Live vaccines are not
recommended for certain groups of dogs, such as pregnant females.
Which vaccinations does my dog need?
There are many vaccinations available for dogs but not all
the dogs need all the vaccinations every year.
Nowadays, vaccines are either classed as ‘core’ or ‘non-core’. In general, ‘core’ vaccines are considered
those that should be given routinely to most dogs because of the highly
infectious, widespread distribution and potential severity of the disease. ‘Non-core’ vaccines are considered those for
diseases against which, not every animal needs to be protected. The decision to use a ‘non-core’ vaccine
should be based on assessment of individual lifestyle and risk.
Lifestyle influences are key to the risks of infectious
disease and useful questions to consider include:
What is the age and background of your dog?
Where and how does he/she live?
Are there any other pets in the home?
Does your dog live in an urban or rural area?
Will your dog stay in a boarding cattery or attend dog
These questions may have a direct relevance to determining
the appropriate vaccination programme for your dog.
Almost regardless of the individual lifestyle of a dog, UK
vets recommend vaccination against distemper, parvovirus, infectious hepatitis
and leptospirosis – these are generally seen as ‘core’ vaccines. There may be other vaccinations that may be
appropriate for your dog and you should discuss the individual vaccination
programme with your vet.
What vaccinations are there?
Canine Distemper (Hard pad)
Canine Distemper is a serious disease of dogs caused by a
virus. Affected dogs are often very ill
and many die from the disease. Symptoms
include coughing, a snotty nose, vomiting, diarrhoea and convulsions. Animals which recover may have ongoing
illnesses for the rest of their lives.
The vaccine is very effective and if given every 2-3 years will produce
full protection against the disease.
Canine Infectious Hepatitis (adenovirus 1)
Canine infectious hepatitis is a disease caused by a virus
which attacks the liver and can cause liver failure. Many animals who succumb to this disease will
die. Less severely affected dogs may
have a cough and a high temperature and may also develop a white layer on the
front of the eye. There is no specific
treatment for the disease but vaccination gives good protection.
Canine Parvovirus (Parvo)
Canine parvovirus a disease due to a virus which causes severe
vomiting and diarrhoea, usually in young puppies. Many puppies affected by the disease will
die. The disease is often less severe in
older dogs but if bitches are infected while they are pregnant the puppies may
be born with deformities. Vaccine protection
is generally very good although in some breeds, eg Rottweilers, there have been
reports of young puppies catching the disease despite having been
vaccinated. If this happens, it is
usually because the immunity from the mother had not worn off when the vaccine
was given and so the vaccine did not work properly. However, giving the final injection when the
puppy is older should overcome this problem.
Leptospirosis (Weil’s disease)
Leptospirosis is an infection caused by a bacterium. The disease is usually spread by rats which
pass the bacteria out in their urine.
The bacteria only survives well in moist conditions outside the rat, so
dogs which spend a lot of time I water are most at risk. The disease is very serious and can cause
jaundice and liver failure and can be spread to people as well as infecting
dogs. Vaccination gives very good
protection and usually lasts for a year (although dogs at high risk may need to
be vaccinated more often).
Kennel Cough ( infectious tracheobronchitis)
Kennel cough is not a serious disease in most otherwise
healthy dogs. However, it is very
infectious and will rapidly spread around the dog population. As its name suggests, it causes coughing
which can go on for a month in some cases.
Good kennels will insist that your dog is vaccinated against the disease
before agreeing to take them for boarding.
Kennel cough is caused by a combination of viruses and bacteria
including: Canine parainfluenzavirus, canine adenovirus 2 and Bordetella. Ask your vet for details of which of these
your dog is protected against before putting your dog in kennels.
Vaccination against Rabies is compulsory in many countries
because of the risk of passing this horrible fatal disease to humans. Vaccination is unnecessary for dogs in those
countries which are free of rabies – the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand
and Japan – except in those animals which are going to be exported abroad. Dogs in the UK may now be vaccinated against
rabies for travel to some European countries or rabies-free islands and can
return to the UK without having to go through the 6 month quarantine
period. Rabies vaccination has to be
repeated every three years to maintain protection, but more frequent vaccination
may be needed to comply with travelling regulations. Contact your vet for details if you plan to
travel abroad with your dog.
When should my dog be vaccinated?
Puppies are protected against many infectious diseases
through compounds called antibodies, which they receive in the first few hours
from their mother’s milk (colostrum).
Early vaccination is pointless because these antibodies prevent vaccines
from working properly. However, by about
seven weeks the immunity provided by the mother begins to wear off. Some puppies do not have good protection from
their mother and these may benefit from earlier vaccination. For most of the above diseases, puppies can
be given their first vaccination at about 8 weeks and then given a second
vaccination at 10 to 12 weeks. Your vet
may advise starting vaccination earlier depending on individual circumstances
and the product used, so always contact them for advice.
Until your puppy has received all its injections (and for a
few days after), it should not mix with other dogs unless you can be certain
that they are fully vaccinated and free of disease.
Why do dogs need repeat vaccinations?
Most vaccination courses start with two separate injections
2 weeks apart. This course must be
completed before your puppy is fully protected by the vaccine. The protection given by most vaccines wears
off in time and at different rates for each particular vaccine. The level of environmental infection of many
of the diseases against which we vaccinate (notably distemper and infectious
hepatitis) is low. This means that it is
unlikely that a vaccinated animal will come into contact with the wild strain
sufficiently frequently to receive natural boosts to its immunity. Repeated vaccination is necessary to maintain
adequate antibody titres in these cases.
If your dog has missed the date of its regular booster vaccination by
more than 3 months, your vet may think it is safer to start again with a new
course of injections. Most kennels will
insist on seeing proof of regular vaccinations before looking after your dog.
How often are vaccines given?
Protection afforded by vaccination is not necessarily
life-long. The duration of immunity
varies depending on the circumstances of the individual animal and the vaccine
used. Long-term protection afforded by
vaccinations varies according to the manufacturer and the antigens
contained. For example, Leptospirosis
vaccines can provide adequate protection for less than a year in most
animals. Protection against diseases can
now be achieved by giving many of the other vaccines at intervals of 2 to 3
years. This varies according to the
disease for which protection is required and the brand of vaccine used so ask
your vet to explain the specific requirements for your pet.
Do vaccines always work?
The quality of vaccines available today is very high but
occasionally an individual dog may not get the full protection from the
vaccine. This may be because the dog was
already ill or stressed when it was vaccinated and its immune system wasn’t working
properly. Your vet will examine your dog
before vaccination and if any signs of illness are detected, will delay
vaccination until your dog is well again.
Can vaccinations be dangerous?
Often your dog will seem ‘off-colour’ for a day or two after
its vaccination and the injection site may also become tender and swollen. If these effect do not wear off it is worth
taking your dog back to see your vet. If
you are concerned about any symptoms in your dog do not hesitate to contact
your vet for reassurance or advice.
Infectious disease may not seem very common in dogs because
most dogs are protected by vaccination.
Your dog must receive regular vaccinations to be fully protected against