13 May 2017

Dog and Cat Vaccines: Why, What, and When?

Why?

Vaccination is an integral part of a preventative healthcare programme. Over the past few years, particularly in the field of human healthcare, the need to vaccinate has been the subject of a huge worldwide debate. Within the veterinary world, a large amount of research goes into creating guidelines regarding which vaccines are necessary and when they should be given. While the debating and research continues, one common theme remains strong throughout, which is the need to minimise the amount of vaccines given and provide your pet with the best protection against severe and life threatening diseases.

What?

There are many factors which your vet will consider when choosing the appropriate vaccine schedule for your dog or cat. These include geographical location, lifestyle, and whether or not you are likely to travel abroad. In the UK, there are about five or six diseases which dogs will usually be vaccinated against and three or four diseases for cats. These include:

Dogs: Canine Distemper virus, Canine Adenovirus/Infectious Canine Hepatitis, Canine Parvovirus, Leptospirosis, Canine Parainfluenza virus and Bordetella bronchiseptica.

Cats: Feline enteritis, cat flu (Calici virus and Herpes virus), feline leukaemia, and Chlamydophila felis (Chlamydia).

Rabies is a legally required vaccine only if you wish to travel abroad with your dog and then return to UK under the Pet Travel Scheme.

When?

A common misconception is that once your pet has had their initial course of vaccines as a puppy or kitten, then they have immunity against those diseases for life. For some of these diseases, the vaccines may last for a period of up to three years, while others, for example leptospirosis, require yearly boosters. Even though there are a number of different vaccines available for vets to use, every cat and dog will still require an annual booster each year. Each year, on your annual visit, your vet will administer only those vaccines needed to maintain protection.

Depending on their vaccine supplier, most vets recommend an initial course of vaccines 2-4 weeks apart starting about the age of 8 weeks for puppies and 9 weeks for cats. Thereafter, annual boosters are recommended for all cats and dogs.

Part of the debate about vaccines encompasses the fact that every animal will respond in a slightly different way to each vaccine. Hence the debated question arises as to whether every animal needs to have a vaccine at 12 month intervals. For some diseases, it is possible to take a blood sample and using a special test called an antibody titre test, your vet can monitor your pet’s immune status to certain diseases.  At present, there is no antibody titre test for leptospirosis, so whether you test your dog for other diseases or not, your dog will still need annual boosters for this disease.