New figures from the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) have demonstrated that 11 million pets in the UK are vulnerable to preventable diseases. The research suggests that while 40 per cent of owners would risk their own lives to save their pet, nearly 50 per cent of pets are not vaccinated or neutered to protect them from disease. A spokesman said:
“More than 11 million pets could die prematurely in the next decade from devastating preventable illnesses such as Parvovirus, Feline Leukaemia and certain forms of cancer because their owners are failing to vaccinate or neuter them.”
Why Should We Vaccinate?
In the past many animals became severely ill because of diseases which, thanks to vaccination, are now rarely seen. Although these diseases are less common, they have not been completely eradicated. If the number of pets protected by vaccines drops our pets could be at risk from an outbreak of infectious diseases, some of which can be transmitted to humans. This is similar to the human measles outbreak that has been seen recently in the UK, because so many children were not vaccinated.
Vaccination protects our pets from the many diseases that cause illness, pain, distress and even death. Vaccinating your pet against preventable diseases is a vital part of responsible pet care. When you vaccinate your pet, not only are you protecting them from these diseases but you are preventing the spread of disease to other animals.
How do vaccines work?
Pathogens are microbes such as viruses or bacteria that cause disease. Vaccines include a small amount of weakened or harmless microbe, which when introduced into the body stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies. The immune system is then able to remember the microbe so if the body is invaded by the real pathogen, it is able to fight it instantly and stop the disease developing. With some vaccinations, the immune memory can reduce over several years, which is why booster vaccinations are needed.
A vaccine is usually given by an injection under the skin, although sometimes may be given as drops into the nose.
All vaccines have to undergo rigorous testing to prove they are safe and effective before they are licensed for use. When used appropriately and as recommended they are both safe and provide crucial protection for animals against a number of diseases.
Do homeopathic vaccines work?
Some people are tempted to use ‘homeopathic vaccines’ However, these should never be used – they have no scientific basis and cannot provoke the specific immune response that is needed to provide protection.
What do the vaccinations protect against?
Canine Distemper: Spread by bodily secretions, e.g. saliva. Symptoms include fever, depression, coughing, vomiting, diarrhoea and discharge from eyes and mouth. Dogs that recover, may go on to have neurological problems in later life such as muscle spasms, circling and seizures. Some recovered dogs also suffer from eye problems hand a thickening of the skin over their nose and foot pads.
Canine Parvovirus: Spread by contact with faeces from infected dogs. This virus can survive in the environment for up to nine months. It causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea (often with blood). Approximately 80% of dogs will die from this disease if left untreated.
Infectious Canine Hepatitis: Spread by contact with the saliva, urine, faeces, blood or nasal discharge of infected dogs. The urine of an infected dog can be infectious for up to a year, and the virus can survive in the environment for many months. There are two versions of this virus – one causes a kennel cough type infection, the other causes hepatitis (an infection of the liver). Symptoms include lethargy, coughing, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, jaundice and abdominal pain.
Leptospirosis: The main source of infection is via infected urine, or by contaminated water, so dogs are at risk if they swim in or drink from stagnant water or canals, especially in areas with high numbers of rats. This disease can be passed humans and can be fatal! Symptoms include fever, lethargy, increased thirst, vomiting, bloody diarrhoea and jaundice. In severe infections dogs develop kidney and/or liver failure and will often die.
Kennel Cough: A highly infectious disease that is easily spread wherever there are lots of dogs in one place. It is spread from small droplets in the air which are inhaled, or from direct contact. Even when a dog has recovered from kennel cough he can still pass it to other dogs for several weeks. Symptoms include sneezing (in the early stages), a harsh cough and nasal discharges.
Feline Herpes Virus & Feline Calicivirus: These viruses can by spread by direct contact with affected cats, in the air (sneezing and coughing cats), or contamination of the environment. Cats that recover can become carriers and transmit the infection to other cats. Symptoms include fever, inappetance, discharge from the nose/eyes and sneezing. It can also cause drooling and severe mouth ulcers. More severe strains can lead to pneumonia. Stress or illness can cause flare-ups of the virus in carrier cats.
Feline Infectious Enteritis: Spread by the faeces and urine of infected cats, the virus can survive in the environment for long periods. The virus attacks the cat’s immune system, leaving the cat unable to fight infection. Symptoms include lethargy and inappetance, fever, seizures, vomiting, diarrhoea and dehydration. Kittens born with this disease suffer from tremors and poor coordination and may also be born blind.
Feline Leukaemia Virus: Spread by saliva/nasal secretions and is thought to require close contact with an affected cat for the infection to be transmitted (fighting / bite wounds, mating, grooming between cats). It may also be transmitted from a mother cat to her kittens via her milk. Symptoms include poor body condition, poor coat, anorexia, recurrent infections or disease, gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), diarrhoea and jaundice. The virus infects the cat’s bone marrow, which can result in leukaemia (cancer of the white blood cells) and anaemia, cats may also develop lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes).
Myxomatosis: This is transmitted to rabbits by flying and biting insects such as mosquitos, rabbit fleas and mites. It causes severe swelling of the lips , eyelids, ears and genitals. Treatment is rarely successful and rabbits with this disease are often euthanased.
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease: This is a highly contagious disease and can be transmitted to rabbits from other rabbits, or contaminated food, equipment or clothing. Viral Haemorrhagic Disease is nearly always fatal and causes severe internal bleeding.
When should we vaccinate?
Puppies and kittens usually have an initial course of two vaccinations starting when they are 8-9 weeks old (sometimes younger in high risk areas) and then a yearly booster vaccination to provide continuing immunity.
Rabbits have an initial vaccination that can start from 5 weeks old
All animals then have an annual or booster vaccination to keep their immunity levels up. Dogs in particular may not need to have all parts of the vaccination every year, but your vet can advise you on the best course of action as it may depend on the area you live in and which diseases are prevalent.
Please contact us if you require any further information on vaccination or about any aspect of your pets care and well-being.