Vaccinations: What you need to know
Vaccination is an essential part of a healthcare programme for our pets, maximising the beneficial effects of vaccination whilst minimising risks to the pet. This ensures that each pet receives only the most appropriate and effective vaccinations.
The effectiveness of vaccines is reduced by poor storage and inappropriate administration techniques but is also determined by the health of the animal. For this reason we perform a full clinical examination before vaccinating your pet so that signs of disease are detected and appropriate action can be taken. Early detection, particularly of neoplasia, and management of breed-associated disease, can significantly improve the quality of a pet’s life. Pets with chronic conditions receiving medications require periodic examinations and monitoring of their therapeutic blood levels and organ systems.
By encouraging the yearly vaccination of pets, we are able to recognise and treat disease earlier than might otherwise have been the case. In addition, the annual visit provides an opportunity to inform clients about new and important aspects of pet healthcare.
Vaccination of a pet already incubating infectious disease is likely to be ineffective. Vaccination is even more important if your pet is suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes mellitus that should receive regular vaccination. The ability of an animal to mount an adequate response to vaccination can also be affected by poor nutrition, concurrent drug therapy, e.g. immunosuppressive drugs, 'stress'.
In any population, even with the strictest attention to correct administration, a small number of individuals may fail to respond to any vaccine.
VETCall adheres to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s (WSAVA) Vaccination Guidelines Group (VGG) that strongly recommends that ALL dogs, cats and rabbits enjoy the benefits of vaccination and to:
maximise the number of animals within the population that receive vaccination
ensure that only animals that have a realistic risk of contracting disease are vaccinated
minimise the total number of vaccinations each animal receives in a lifetime
acknowledge there is minimal benefit derived from vaccinating an individual for which likelihood of exposure is low and where clinical disease is, in any case, mild.
Join our VETCall Pet Health Plan to make savings and spread the cost of your pet’s vaccinations. We encourage the idea of “vaccination is a medical procedure, tailored to the individual animal”.
Why should I vaccinate my pet?
Vaccines are a key factor in the control of serious infectious diseases and have played an important part in the improvement of canine and feline health.
The VGG defines two categories of vaccination:
Core (recommended) vaccines that pets, regardless of circumstances, should receive that protect from severe, life-threatening diseases.
Dogs: canine distemper virus (CDV), hepatitis or adenovirus (CAV-2), parvovirus (CPV-2).
Cats: feline panleucopaenia virus (FPLV), calici virus (FCV), herpes virus-1 (FHV-1).
Non-core (optional) vaccines are required only by those animals whose lifestyle places them at risk of contracting specific infections.
UK is rabies free and vaccination against rabies is only given as part of the PET passport travel scheme
in dogs that visit kennels, groomers, hydrotherapy spas and dog shows are potentially at greater risk from ‘dog flu/kennel cough’ (parainfluenza virus,). Leptospirosis (Weil’s disease) is a zoonotic disease, transmitted via the urine of rats that can infect people too. This vaccine is least likely to provide adequate and prolonged protection and is given annually in the UK, especially for dogs in the east of London, where there is an abundance of urban rats, waterways and dams.
in cats, vaccines for Chlamydophila and feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) are administered in multiple-cat environments, such as catteries, grooming parlours, show cats and especially for cats that have free access to the outdoors.
Viral diseases are almost always fatal and are spread rapidly through direct contact with infected animals, biting insects such as fleas and mosquitoes, or through the contamination of equipment, bedding or clothing.
What is an adverse event?
An adverse event is an unfavourable side effect or unintended consequence associated with the administration of a vaccine. Whether or not the event can be attributed to the vaccine, we report it to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.
Reactions to vaccines are divided into 3 groups:
Acute - occurring within 24-72 hours of vaccination, e.g. swelling of the face.
Medium-term - delayed immune response occurring 1-6 weeks after vaccination. These reactions may include suppression or stimulation of the immune response, e.g. development of joint stiffness or other diseases of the immune system.
Chronic - often years after initial vaccination, e.g. injection site tumours in cats.
Can vaccination harm the immune system?
There is evidence to support claims that some diseases of the immune system may be associated with vaccination. It should be remembered that these complications are extremely rare and the risk of serious illness (or death) is much higher from the infectious diseases that the vaccines are protecting against.
Can vaccination cause tumours?
In cats, studies show evidence of an association between the use of particular vaccines containing adjuvants (substances added to enhance immune response) and the development of feline injection site sarcomas (FISS) at injection sites. The risk increases with the number of vaccinations.
We promote the use fully non-adjuvant vaccines for improved local tolerance at the injection site and reduced risk of local adverse reactions.
If you are concerned about this risk in your cat, raise the subject with us. We will be happy to discuss the issues with you. Most vaccinations are given between cats’ shoulders and this is a reported site for the formation of FISS. The infiltrative nature of these tumours means that radical, extensive surgical resection is necessary to attempt removal, which often carries a poor prognosis. VETCall has a practice policy that cat vaccinations are administered through and under the skin, and not into the muscle, of the left abdominal wall during one calendar year, and then alternated with the right side the following year. The skin of the lateral abdomen represents the best choice, as FISS that might arise at this site is more readily excised.
Does my pet need a booster?
Protection afforded by vaccination is not life-long. The duration of immunity varies depending on the circumstances of the individual animal, the vaccine used, the long-term protection afforded by vaccinations according to the manufacturer and the antigens contained. The level of infection currently in the environment of many of the diseases against which we vaccinate is low. This means that it is unlikely that a vaccinated animal will come into contact with the wild strain virus sufficiently frequently to receive natural boosts to its immunity. Repeated vaccination is necessary to maintain adequate antibody titres in these cases.
How often should I vaccinate my pet?
Pets require an annual vaccination. Not every type of vaccination needs to be given every year and we will advise on the components to help your pet avoid unnecessary vaccinations. More importantly, your pets have a yearly health examination.
VETCall doesn’t give vaccines unnecessarily. We tailor vaccination courses according to your pet’s age, lifestyle and risk factors. It’s important that pets are vaccinated early in their life so they are protected before they might meet other pets. Unlike immunisation in people it is essential to have your pet vaccinated annually as some of the vaccines only last a year.
Instead of offering revaccinations or boosters, VETCall offers the alternative of serological conversion (antibody) titer testing as a simple, reliable and cost-effective assay for dogs (Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvo) and cats (Panleucopaenia, Calici, Herpes).
In practice, blood test sampling can be part of an annual health examination in place of boosters and is preferential to unnecessary vaccination and its potential for adverse reactions. It provides clients with the assurance that your pet is protected and that the duration of immunity (DOI) can be many years – possibly for the lifetime of the pet.
Seronegative animals should be revaccinated and retested. If they again test negative, they should be considered a non-responder and possibly incapable of developing protective immunity.
Feline core vaccines should not be expected to give the same robust protection, nor DOI, as canine core vaccines.
Kitten and puppy vaccinations
In kittens and puppies, maternally derived antibodies (MDA) from the mother’s placenta and first milk colostrum interferes with the efficacy of vaccines administered in early life. The level of MDA varies significantly among litters. MDA will generally decline by 8-12 weeks of age to a level that allows an active immunological response. Puppies and kittens with poor MDA may be capable of responding to vaccination at an earlier age, while those possessing high MDA levels are incapable of responding to vaccination until after three months of age. No single primary vaccination can cover all possible situations.
Kittens and puppies are highly susceptible to infectious diseases as the natural immunity provided in their mother’s milk gradually wears off.
When you acquire a new kitten or puppy, please book an appointment at VETCall for a free kitten or puppy health check. Bring any information you have about your new acquisition with you.
For aging pets, senior care programmes are increasingly popular. There is no evidence that older dogs and cats that have been fully vaccinated as puppies or kittens require any extra-specialised programme of vaccination. Immunity can be boosted by administration of a single vaccine dose. By contrast, aged animals may not be as efficient at mounting primary immune responses to novel vaccine antigens that they have not previously encountered.
Studies of UK dogs and cats vaccinated for the first time against rabies for pet travel did show that more aged animals failed to achieve the legally required antibody titre.
Cat vaccinations protect against:
Feline Leukemia: A important cause of illness and death among cats, especially young cats, causing cancer (lymphoma and leukemia) and contributing to other infectious diseases by suppressing the immune system and infecting the bone marrow.
Feline Panleukopenia (parvo virus): A very contagious, dangerous disease primarily affecting the gastrointestinal system, causing fever, loss of appetite, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, hypothermia, and, all too often, death; mortality is higher in kittens than cats; becoming infected when they ingest contaminated feces of an infected cat, either directly or indirectly.
“Chronic Respiratory Disease/Cat Flu”: Feline Herpes virus (FHV, viral rhinotracheitis), feline calicivirus (FCV), and Chlamydophila felis (C.felis) contribute to chronic upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) in cats, a syndrome characterized by sneezing, runny nose and runny irritated eyes, sneezing and coughing.
FHV and FCV are responsible for the majority of feline URTI cases. Viruses are spread either indirectly, by contaminated litter boxes and food/water bowls, or directly, through contact with infected fluids such as saliva, nasal secretions and eye discharge. Painful oral lesions are also a common symptom seen with calici virus infection.
Feline Bordetella causes upper respiratory tract disease and is more prevalent in boarding catteries than the general cat population. Like kennel cough vaccination in dogs, it is recommended that cats be vaccinated to protect against Bordetella prior to entering catteries.
A basic immunisation schedule for kittens with core vaccines is a minimum of two doses, an initial dose of multivalent vaccine from 6 weeks of age and a second dose 3-5 weeks later.
The optimum model for a committed pet owner, willing and able to bring their animal to VETCall for the full recommended course of vaccination, includes a third and final vaccination at 14-16 weeks of age or older.
Vaccinations against Bordetella and Chlamydophila may also be considered. The risk of development of severe forms of these diseases is low in most cats. Special considerations need to be taken in cats suffering from concurrent viral immunosuppression, e.g. FIV. These diseases are of primary concern in catteries and breeding colonies where large numbers of cats are in close contact. Specially tailored vaccination protocols are designed, taking into account the nature of the colony, i.e. open (admitting new cats) or closed; presence of other disease (FeLV/FIV) and the likely risk of contact with disease against which vaccination is being considered.
The first 12-month booster will ensure immunity that may not have adequately responded to the initial vaccinations. Cats that respond to core vaccines maintain a solid immunity (immunological memory) for many years in the absence of any repeat vaccination. Following this first booster after 12 months, subsequent core revaccinations or boosters are given at intervals of every three years for continued protection.
Annual vaccinations maintain protection. Both herpes virus and calicivirus can induce a carrier status in infected animals resulting in chronic signs of disease. Vaccination of carrier animals may help to alleviate some of the clinical signs but will not eliminate the carrier status. There is an argument for vaccinating cats already infected with the disease but it must be borne in mind that, despite vaccination, these individuals continue to pose a risk to other uninfected, contact cats.
Not every type of vaccination needs to be given every year and we advise on this.
An adult cat that received the basic immunisation schedule but was not regularly vaccinated as an adult will require only a single dose of vaccine to boost immunity. Current vaccine data sheets advise that a pet requires two vaccinations in this circumstance, but this practice is unjustified and contrary to the fundamental principles of immunological memory. On the other hand, this approach is justified when an adult cat’s vaccination history is unknown or where serological testing of such an animal is not performed.
These considerations do not particularly apply to vaccines containing bacterial antigens Bordetella and Chlamydophila as these components require yearly boosters for reliable protection.
These considerations do not generally apply to the optional vaccines and particularly not to vaccines containing bacterial antigens. Leptospira, Bordetella, Chlamydophila products and parainfluenza components require yearly boosters for reliable protection.
An FIV vaccine may soon be available in the UK.
In the UK vaccination against rabies is only carried out under the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS).
Dogs are vaccinated against Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvo, Parainfluenza and Leptospirosis.
A vaccine for Bordetella/kennel cough is recommended in high-risk situations such as when taking your dog to kennels and shows.
In the UK vaccination against rabies is only carried out under the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS).
A basic immunisation schedule for puppies with core vaccines is a minimum of two doses, an initial dose of multivalent vaccine from 8 weeks of age and a second dose 2 weeks later. After the second vaccination, wait a further seven days before taking your puppy out for walks, to ensure it is fully covered. This allows for earlier socialisation.
The optimum model for a committed pet owner, willing and able to bring their puppy to VETCall for the full recommended course of vaccination, includes a third and final vaccination at 14-16 weeks of age or older.
The first 12-month booster will ensure immunity that may not have adequately responded to the initial vaccinations. Not every type of vaccination needs to be given every year and we advise on this.
Dogs that respond to core vaccines maintain a solid immunity (immunological memory) for many years in the absence of any repeat vaccination.
Following this first booster after 12 months, subsequent core revaccinations or boosters are given at intervals of every three years for continued protection.
An adult dog that received the basic immunisation schedule but was not regularly vaccinated as an adult will require only a single dose of vaccine to boost immunity. Current vaccine data sheets advise that a pet requires two vaccinations in this circumstance, but this practice is unjustified and contrary to the fundamental principles of immunological memory. On the other hand, this approach is justified when an adult dog’s vaccination history is unknown or where serological testing of such an animal is not performed.
These considerations do not particularly apply to vaccines containing bacterial antigens Leptospira and Bordetella as these components require yearly boosters for reliable protection.
Kennel cough can be a serious illness. The vaccine for kennel cough provides twelve months cover and this should be done at least 72 hours before going into kennels or when mixing with lots of other dogs (i.e. in training classes, dog shows) to be effective. Booster vaccinations are required yearly for continued protection.
The estimated UK domestic rabbit population, our third most popular mammalian pet, is around 1.6 million and we don’t forget them.
Myxomatosis is a viral disease that only affects rabbits, spread by direct contact with wild animals (rabbits, foxes) and blood sucking insects/parasites e.g. fleas, mites. Signs are pronounced swelling of the eyes, face and under the tail, lethargy, difficulty in breathing, anorexia, depression and in nearly all cases the rabbit dies within 4-10 days. There is no cure but you can protect your rabbits by having them vaccinated.
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) is spread by direct contact between both wild and domestic rabbits and through indirect contact with people, clothing, mosquitos and fleas. VHD can be fatal and once infected there is as yet no cure. Symptoms include loss of appetite, bleeding from the nose, difficulty breathing, high fever and paralysis. VHD can be vaccinated against from eight weeks old and then yearly boosters to maintain immunity
All rabbits, even indoor ones, require a single dose protection from 5 weeks for 12 months against Myxomatosis and VHD (RHD in Europe) with a new combined vaccine with a convenient annual booster protocol.
As part of your preventive health plan for your pet rabbit, we advice routinely deworming your rabbit with Panacur oral paste every 3 months to control intestinal worms and Encephalitozoon cuniculi, a protozoan parasite that affects the nervous system (brain, spinal cord) and kidneys.
After this, booster vaccinations are required yearly for continued protection.