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As vets and pet owners, one of the most important things we can do for our puppies and dogs is to make sure they are protected against infectious disease by vaccinating them. At their annual health check appointment, your vet will carry out a full physical health check and let you know what vaccinations they recommend your pet receives.
The vaccinations given to a dog will depend on their lifestyle and disease risk. Pets which travel, stay in a kennel, or attend classes, daycare or shows require more protection than pets which stay at home.
All dogs in the UK should be vaccinated against distemper, canine hepatitis, parvovirus, and leptospirosis. Dogs which attend daycare, classes, shows or kennels should be protected against kennel cough.
Dogs which travel require rabies vaccination (by law). If your dog also spends time in the Mediterranean region, you might wish to consider vaccination against leishmaniasis.
When they are first born, puppies receive protection against infectious disease from their mother in her colostrum. Unfortunately this protection doesn’t last very long, and as it starts to fade, we need to vaccinate them so they produce their own immunity. We want the period of time when they are unprotected to be as short as possible, so vaccinations are usually started from 8-10 weeks of age, though they may be given younger if there is a risk they inherited little protection from their dam.
As we don’t know exactly when the protection from the dam wanes, young puppies are given more than one dose of vaccine, to maximise their chance of responding to them.
Here at Orchard Vets, our routine puppy vaccination program is as follows:
Before their first vaccination, your puppy should not be walked in public areas. Puppies should still be exposed to new sights, sounds, smells and experiences, but they should be carried, and not allowed on the ground in public areas. Access to your own secure garden is generally safe, as long as you have not previously had a dog with infectious disease. If you have friends with healthy dogs that are fully vaccinated, it is safe for the puppy to meet these dogs.
After their first vaccination, puppies will not necessarily develop significant immunity, so the advice above should still be followed.
As long as your puppy is 10 weeks old or older at their second vaccination, they will be immune to distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus one week after this vaccination. So, one week after their second vaccination, your puppy can be walked in public areas, and usually attend puppy classes. They will not be protected against leptospirosis yet, and areas that are high risk for lepto – for example stagnant water, areas with rat infestations, livestock farms – should be avoided.
Your puppy’s third and final vaccination will be their second leptospirosis vaccine, which must be given 4 weeks after the first. Onset of immunity after the second L4 vaccination is not until 3 weeks after this injection, so you should continue to avoid areas with a high leptospirosis risk after this.
Some vaccines (known as modified live vaccinations) stimulate long lasting immunity. Currently, we administer these vaccines, including DHP vaccines for dogs, and rabies vaccines, every three years. Some other vaccinations don’t stimulate such a long lasting immunity and require re-vaccination annually. Examples of these include leprospirosis vaccination and kennel cough vaccination. At your pet’s annual health check your veterinarian will be able to tell you which vaccinations are currently due.
Vaccination stimulates the immune system, which can trigger a mild fever. This is most commonly seen after initial vaccinations, though it is sometimes seen after re-vaccination. Your pet might be a little sleepy after their appointment: don’t be alarmed if this is the case. In most cases, pets feel and behave absolutely normally!
An allergic or adverse response to a vaccination is possible, as with any medication, but very rare. Signs of an allergic reaction may include swelling around the nose or mouth, diarrhoea or occasionally vomiting. If you have any concerns that your pet seems unwell after a vaccination, please contact the surgery for advice.
Pets can go about their normal routine in the run up to their vaccination appointment and after it. There is no need to withhold food before or after, or restrict exercise or activity.
The more ‘technical’ name for kennel cough is infectious canine tracheobronchitis. (You can certainly see why kennel cough became a more popular term!) It is generally caused by two possible infectious agents or pathogens.
The first of these is a bacteria known as Bordetella bronchiseptica. This is quite closely related to the bacteria which causes whooping cough in people. Infection with B bronchiseptica causes an unpleasant, harsh cough. Even with treatment this cough can persist for up to three months. This bacterial pathogen doesn’t generally take the form of multiple “strains”.
The other component of the kennel cough vaccine is a viral pathogen known as parainfluenza. As the name suggests, this is fairly similar to, though not closely related to, the human “flu” virus. Viruses often mutate rapidly and thus multiple strains of virus might
be circulating at any one time. Vaccination with one strain will confer some protection against other, similar strains (a phenomenon known as cross-protection).
In addition, you may have noticed that the kennel cough vaccine is administered into the dog’s nostril (intra-nasally). We don’t just do this for fun, there’s actually an immunological reason to do this. Part of the body’s defence mechanisms against disease are associated with the most common places for disease to enter – the mucous membranes of the gastrointestinal and upper respiratory tract. These non-specific defence mechanisms are based around “mucosal associated lymphatic tissue”. Administering the vaccine near this tissue helps the cells to prepare for any pathogens entering by this route, not just the specific ones contained in the vaccine. Just like the flu vaccine in humans, dogs vaccinated against kennel cough are not 100% guaranteed not to pick up an infection. However, they are much less likely to; if they do vaccinated dogs also recover much more quickly and are much less infectious to other dogs.
A similar situation occurs with leptospirosis vaccination – there are multiple different strains or serovars of Leptospira interrogans, the bacteria which leads to leptospirosis. However, most cases of disease in dogs are caused by a small number of these strains, so currently vaccinations for dogs are against four serovars of leptospira bacteria.