Dog Vaccines, What They Are and Why We Need Them

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Vaccines are used to provide immunity against specific diseases.

During an animals life they will come across foreign materials which cause disease and through exposure to these the body will produce antibodies to fight the initial infection and also retain some antibodies so they are available should they come across the infection again. Antibodies tend to be disease specific and will only fight the disease which triggered its production.

Problems can arise in the time period between encountering an infectious agent and producing the antibodies needed to fight it. Some diseases are able of causing irreversible damage or even death in this time particularly if it has not been encountered before.

So what are vaccines?


Vaccines are small amounts of a specific disease that has been made safe so that it does not replicate and cause serious illness when injected into an animal or person. They stimulate the body to create antibodies against that disease so that these are available to fight it before it can replicate to harmful levels should the animal come into contact with that disease.

Puppies and kittens require two injections at specific intervals to achieve lasting immunity. The first primes the immune system and the second tells the body that these diseases are a potential threat and likely to be encountered in the future so that it retains the antibodies it produces.

Vaccination does not provide immediate protection as it takes approximately 1 week for the immune system to mount a sufficient response. It is also not a lasting response as the body needs to be reminded of the danger of certain diseases through booster vaccinations. These tend to be given yearly although some diseases may be vaccinated against every other year as the immunity they confer is longer lasting.

The full health check which should accompany vaccination can be more important than the vaccination itself as it is an opportunity to detect medical problems as early as possible when there is a greater chance of doing something about them. A yearly vaccination can be compared to a person visiting the doctors once every seven years so it is a long period of time in the life of a dog or cat.

When should vaccines be given?


Vaccines can first be given from between 6 and 8 weeks of age depending upon the vaccine used by your veterinary surgeon. Before this age the puppy or kitten should be protected though antibodies from its mothers first milk assuming the mother is vaccinated. Vaccination is important in providing immunity in young animals as their immune system develops and matures. Conversely vaccination of the older pet is equally as important as the immune system may not work as efficiently as the pet gets older despite having been exposed to a wide variety of diseases throughout their lifetime.

It is important that the animal is fit and healthy before vaccination as pre existing illness puts a strain on the immune system and may decrease the response created by the vaccine. Similarly other stresses such as anaesthesia, surgical procedures and treatment with certain medications can also diminish the response and so should not coincide with vaccination.

Parvovirus

This is spread by ingestion or inhalation of the virus through contact with infected dogs or their faeces and it can be several days after exposure to the virus before the dog shows clinical signs and becomes unwell. Parvo virus targets dividing cells such as those found in the intestines and heart so the severity of the disease depends on the age and immune system of the dog. In young puppies the disease can be fatal as the heart tissue is the target for infection. In older puppies and adults the gastrointestinal tract is the target resulting in haemorrhagic (bloody) foul smelling diarrhoea and persistent vomiting. The dog will quickly become dehydrated which must be corrected with intravenous fluids. Even so many dogs will die from parvovirus despite excellent veterinary care. This can be an expensive process due to the intensive nursing involved to keep the patient free from soiling, comfortable and carefully monitored. The dog will also need to be kept in isolation to reduce the risk to other dogs visiting the vets. The cost of hospitalisation is likely to cost a similar amount if not more than the cost of vaccination throughout the dogs life and frequently results in owners returning home with no dog and a large veterinary bill.


Leptospirosis

This is a bacterial disease which can be passed to humans (Weils disease). It is spread through contact with infected urine and has an incubation period of 5 to 7 days. It can be carried by rats and cats without the animals themselves appearing ill. The disease itself can take two forms one attacking the kidneys and the other attacking the liver. The dog may have a high temperature, increased thirst, vomiting, generalised bleeding and jaundice. The disease is often fatal even with veterinary attention and those who do recover can shed the bacteria in their urine for up to a year after returning to full health.

Hepatitis

This disease is most fatal in young unweaned puppies and is spread through ingestion of infected bodily fluids. The virus is able to survive for up to 10 days away from a host and can be shed in urine by dogs who have recovered from the disease for 6 months post recovery. The clinical signs include jaundice, enlarged liver, haemorrhagic diarrhoea, fluid accumulation in the cornea (blue eye) and abdominal pain.
Distemper

Also known as hard pad is often seen in young unvaccinated dogs. It is spread through airborne droplets and is therefore often seen where there is a high density of dogs living in close proximity. The incubation period is from 7 to 21 days and targets the respiratory and gastrointestinal system causing vomiting, diarrhoea, tonsillitis and fever. The nose and pads become thickened, dry and cracked with the dog becoming susceptible to pneumonia through secondary bacterial infection. Neurological symptoms can be seen in 50% of cases and usually results in death. If the dog does manage to survive they may develop neurological symptoms later in life.

Kennel cough

This is caused by a mixture of virus, bacteria and mycoplasma resulting in a lower respiratory tract infection which often presents a dry non productive cough. The incubation period of the disease is 5 to 7 days with most dogs recovering in one to three weeks with treatment. It is highly contagious and so easily spread in kennels, rescue centres and parks through dog to dog contact or inhalation of infected airborne droplets.
Two of the main agents which can be vaccinated against are parainfluenza and Bordetella bronchiseptica . The vaccine for kennel cough needs to be administered into the nasal cavity for it to be effective. This is not usually included in the routine yearly vaccinations but is advisable if your dog regularly comes into contact with other dogs or is likely to stay

By Ardent Pets

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