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Vaccinations: Your Questions Answered

Ever wondered about vaccinations? Why they have to be repeated or whether the rumours and opinions you hear are true? We have written the following article to answer all these questions and more. If you would like to print a copy of this article, we have a handy PDF document available for download here

Why Do We Recommend Vaccination?

Vaccinations protect animals from disease. The principle was first used to save a human life in 1885 by Louis Pasteur, when a boy would have otherwise died from rabies. Today as animal lovers, we use vaccinations to reduce and prevent diseases that are either deadly or debilitating to pets, namely dogs, cats, and rabbits. The more animals that are vaccinated against these diseases, the less likely it is that they will be able to spread and infect your pet, and if an animal is vaccinated, they have their own protection against these diseases. 

What Do We Vaccinate Against?

Here is a brief description of the main diseases that we vaccinate against:

Dogs:

  1. Distemper: Causes snotty eyes and nose, depression, and brain injury. It is rare now that most dogs are vaccinated although there have been cases in our local area over the past few years.
  2. Parvovirus: Causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea and often death. It is common in Northern Ireland, especially in young dogs.
  3. Hepatitis: Causes severe vomiting, diarrhoea, and death. It is rare now that most dogs are vaccinated bu we have had cases where older dogs' vaccines have lapsed.
  4. Leptospirosis: Can cause kidney failure in animals and humans. It is spread by contact with urine e.g. sheep, cattle, rats.
  5. Kennel cough: Caused by combined infection with parainfluenza virus and Bordetella bacteria. Although called kennel cough, this condition may occur in any dog that is walked in areas where other dogs have been. (See Appendix 2 for a note on Kennel Cough).

Cats

  1. Feline parvovirus: Causes often fatal diarrhoea.
  2. Cat flu: Caused by a combination of viruses. Vaccination greatly reduces the incidence and severity of the respiratory and ulcerative lesions that these viruses cause.
  3. Feline leukaemia: Cats which are positive for feline leukaemia are at risk of developing other serious illnesses and are considered 15 times more likely than non-infected cats to develop cancer in later life.

Rabbits

  1. Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease: Causes sudden death with little warning.
  2. Myxomatosis: Causes swellings, illness, blindness, and death.

Are Vaccines Safe?

Some people have been suggesting, particularly on the internet, that vaccines are dangerous, boosters are unnecessary, and we should be doing a blood test known at 'titre-testing' instead of vaccinations. A few of these people are vets, others are not. (See Appendix 1 for where to look for real and dependable expert guidelines)

So, do vaccines cause problems? It is true that, as with any medical product, it is possible for vaccines to very occasionally cause an unwanted reaction or side-effect. The most common in our experience is a small lump in the area in which the vaccine was given, which goes away after 2-3 weeks. I estimate these to occur about once in every thousand vaccinations. Or, to put it another way, I reckon I see it perhaps two to four times a year.

A slightly more serious reaction that we very occasionally see is where we get a generalised swelling of the face or other part of the body. This can cause a quicker breathing rate but usually settles within 24 hours if an anti-inflammatory is given. I see this perhaps once in every five thousand vaccinations, or once every couple of years.

With kennel cough vaccination, about one in thirty dogs get a very mild version of kennel cough about a week afterwards. This can be annoying, but it does show that the immune system is responding as it should to the vaccine. Occasionally this can be more persistent, in which case we can treat it with a course of anti-inflammatories if necessary.

There is no evidence to suggest that spontaneous or chronic diseases are caused by vaccinations, and any online claims that this is the case are misleading. If you would like further information, please have a look at the National Office of Animal Health's (NOAH) statement on vaccinations and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) position paper on vaccines for dogs.

One American study (WSAVA), recorded 38 reported 'reactions' in 10,000 dog vaccinations, or 1 in 263. This included the very mild local skin reaction mentioned above, which will have accounted for most. I don't think we see them as frequently as this here in Dundonald. On the other hand, there is a huge amount of evidence that vaccinations provide excellent protection against dangerous diseases and that the benefits outweigh the risks in vast measure.

How Often Should We Vaccinate?

We know that some diseases can be protected against for a number of years and there are others where we know that protection wanes quickly. Therefore, at Ashwood, our policy is to vaccinate annually against the diseases where we know that protection does not last, and less frequently for those diseases where protection lasts longer. This policy is consistent with the guidelines produced by the expert bodies listed in Appendix 1. Whenever your pet is brought in for a booster vaccination, one of our vets assesses which vaccine is most appropriate for your pet based on their vaccination history and health status. Your pet therefore receives a vaccination every year, but the components of this vaccination may differ year on year. 

What Is Titre Testing?

Titre tests assess the level of certain antibodies that the body has circulating in the bloodstream. Antibodies are part of the body's immune system and particular types of antibodies are involved in fighting particular types of disease. For some of the diseases that we routinely vaccinate against, studies have shown that if certain antibodies are above a certain level then the animal should be immune to that disease. 

In my view, titre testing can be useful to assess whether a new pet's initial vaccination schedule has achieved a full response. However, the benefit of titre testing on older pets is of very questionable value, both for the pet (who has to undergo additional needles) and the owner (who has to pay for it). This is because even if a titre test confirms that immunity is present at the time of testing, it cannot guarantee that this immunity will last for the next 1, 2, 3 or 4 years of your pet's life. We also know that vaccine immunity tends to wane over time, which is why we recommend regular booster vaccinations to maintain immunity.

What is Homeopathic Vaccination?

Homeopathic vaccination involves using extremely diluted preparations of pathologic organisms (also known as nosodes) to try and prevent disease. The British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) both state that nosode vaccinations cannot be used for the prevention of any disease and that there is no evidence to suggest that they work. As our vaccination policy here at Ashwood is evidence based, we also recommend against the use of nosode vaccinations.

How do we implement our policy at Ashwood Vets? 

At Ashwood Vets, our vaccination policy is based on the available establish science and with reference to the guidelines produced by the National Office of Animal Health, the European Advisory Board on Cat Diseases, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association and International Cat Care (formerly the Feline Advisory Bureau). These are independent organisations composed of veterinary, medical, and immunology experts.

We know that some diseases can be protected against for a number of years and there are others where we know that protection wanes quickly. Therefore, at Ashwood, our policy is to vaccinate annually against the diseases where we know that protection does not last, and less frequently for those diseases where protection lasts longer. This policy is consistent with the guidelines produced by the expert bodies listed in Appendix 1. Whenever your pet is brought in for a booster vaccination, one of our vets assesses which vaccine is most appropriate for your pet based on their vaccination history and health status. Your pet therefore receives a vaccination every year, but the components of this vaccination may differ year on year.

Is your pet up to date with boosters and kennel cough?

Or are they exposed and vulnerable?

Call Kelly on 02890 419374 to make an appointment, or e-mail us at . It's easy to bring your pet's vaccination protection up to date, so why wait?

Appendix 1: Where to find an expert opinion

Some of the best areas to look for impartial, accurate advice on such matters are guidelines and statements by independent panels or groups of experts where the guidelines are agreed by an amalgamation of views of a panel of people who have expert knowledge combined with no perceivable vested interest and no 'hobby horse'. Some such groups are:

  • Veterinary Medicines Directorate
  • National Office of Animal Health
  • World Small Animal Veterinary Association
  • International Cat Care (formerly Feline Advisory Bureau)
  • European Advisory Board on Cat Diseases
  • Rabbit Welfare Association

Appendix 2: A note on Kennel Cough

Infectious bronchitis (or Kennel Cough) vaccination is one of the ones which does not last for years and requires an annual booster. Although Kennel Cough vaccination is not compulsory, most of our customers ask for it and we would recommend it as part of our routine vaccination protocol for all dogs who are in contact with other dogs or are walked where other dogs are walked e.g. Moat Park, Comber Greenway. Contrary to what its name might suggest, Kennel Cough can occur in dogs who have never been in kennels, and we have seen a number of cases recently in the practice. If you are planning to put your dog into kennels or doggy day care, vaccination against Kennel Cough is compulsory.