A number of diseases can still affect dogs in the UK and one can even be transmitted to humans. Vaccination is the only safe way to provide immunity against these diseases and if carried out regularly according to your vets advice, it can protect your pet for life.
Immunity and vaccination
Immunity is the body’s natural ability to fight infection. Vaccination confers immunity by exposing the body to a small but entirely harmless dose of the disease in question.
Immunity in puppies
Puppies are usually protected during the first few weeks of life, thanks to the immunity passed through the mothers first milk (colostrum). However, this immunity fades rapidly, leaving the puppy susceptible to disease within a few weeks. At this point vaccination can take over from the mother providing protection.
The puppy’s first vaccination
The first time a puppy is vaccinated, a course of two injections is usually given, separated by two or more weeks. The vet will also give your new puppy a general check up. It is important for young puppies to socialise with other animals as it improves their behaviour in later life, however vaccination does not work immediately; it takes a week or so for immunity to develop. Your vet will advise you on when it is safe to let your puppy meet others.
What diseases do we vaccinate against?
- Canine Parvovirus, a hardy virus that can survive for long periods of time in the environment. It is usually fatal.
- Canine distemper (hard pad) another severe, usually fatal disease, rare in the UK in recent years due to vaccination.
- Infectious hepatitis still exists in the UK (although rare due to vaccination) and is often fatal.
- Leptospirosis contracted from the urine of rats and/or other dogs. Canals and rivers can be contaminated and forms of the disease are widespread in the UK. Can also cause severe disease in humans (weils disease).
- Kennel cough an extremely unpleasant harsh, dry cough, highly contagious disease of the respiratory tract, usually transmitted in places where dogs gather together (kennels, shows, parks where lots of dogs are walked). Dogs of all ages can be affected; it is caused by a number of bacterial and viral agents. The coughing can last for some weeks and during this time serious complications such as pneumonia may arise, especially in puppies or older dogs, or where there are other health problems, such complications can occasionally prove fatal. Little can be done to cure the disease once it has started; you simply make the animal as comfortable as possible and try to control the cough with cough medicines (veterinary advised), in more severe cases antibiotics and other drugs may be needed to control secondary complications. It usually subsides after a few weeks. If your dog is likely to be in close contact with other dogs, you should consider intranasal kennel cough vaccine, providing coverage for a full 12 months, this vaccine can be given at the same time as the annual vaccination and health check (it is not included in the injectable annual vaccine). It is highly recommended and most boarding kennels now require evidence of this vaccination before accepting your dog.
- Rabies fatal disease, not found in the UK. Vaccination is required if your dog is travelling abroad.
Immunity to disease may fade, leaving your dog at risk. For some diseases boosters may be needed every 3-4 years but for some annually. An annual visit to your vet will allow for a general health check and necessary boosters.