How does vaccination protect my pet?
Vaccination is the most effective way of preventing infectious diseases in both humans and animals. Vaccination works by injecting an inactivated form of the organism into the animal, which then mounts an immune response with antibodies.
On first encounter with a new infectious organism the body takes some time to produce antibodies. If the body overcomes the infection it produces ‘memory’ to the specific organism it was infected with. The next time this organism is encountered the immune response and antibody level rises much more rapidly reducing the window of opportunity for the organism to replicate.
In essence, the vaccine aims to ‘prime’ the immune system and produce the memory, so that the body can respond more quickly to subsequent infection.
My pet has always been very healthy; why do I need to vaccinate?
When an animal is infected, even if it does not look ill it can still release more organisms into the environment and infect other animals. The more animals
that are infectious the more opportunity the organisms have to spread and infect more animals.
Vaccination reduces the rate of spread of disease and in some cases can even bring the level of disease down to such a low level that it is hardly ever seen by vets. For this to work however, the vast majority of the population of cats and dogs must be vaccinated. Therefore, it is not only important for your own pet’s health but it also benefits the health and welfare of the rest of the animal population. This is known as ‘herd immunity’.
Do I need to vaccinate my animal every year?
In 2016 the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) reviewed and updated its guidelines for the vaccination of dogs and cats (JSAP, 2016). In these global guidelines it advises that all animals should be vaccinated with ‘core vaccinations’. These are for severe, life-threatening diseases which are distributed throughout the world and include canine distemper virus, parvovirus and adenovirus for dogs, along with feline parvovirus, calicivirus and herpesvirus for cats.
Additionally, non-core vaccines should be given when the geographical location and population indicates that they would be beneficial. Within the UK most dogs are also vaccinated against a bacterium called Leptospira, which causes leptospirosis, as dogs within this country are considered to be at high risk of encountering the bacteria.
The WSAVA recommend that the vaccines are boosted at their minimum duration of immunity (DOI), which is the length of time that immunity to that pathogen has been tested to last, but may last longer. For leptospirosis, the DOI is as short as one year so this should be given annually. This means that in the UK most dogs are vaccinated annually but the constituents of the vaccine change from year to year.
Feline core vaccines for the respiratory viruses (calicivirus and herpesvirus) have a less robust immunity and therefore it is recommended that high risk cats (those that go outside or contact other cats) should be re-vaccinated annually. For low risk cats (e.g. single indoor cats) this can be extended to every three years.
The annual health check
It may be useful to move away from thinking ‘my pet is going for their yearly booster’ and more towards ‘my pet is going for their yearly check-up’. This takes the emphasis off the vaccination and on to the individual animal.
Many diseases and illnesses may be picked up at the health check with a vet, which may not have been apparent to the owner. Common conditions often noticed are dental disease, heart disease and arthritic problems as well as many others. Recognising and treating these conditions earlier will lead to a longer and happier life for your pet. You can also discuss the vaccination protocol for the individual animal at the appointment if you would like.
Vaccination provides a relatively safe, effective method for protecting domestic species against life-threatening diseases. Dog and cats should be vaccinated with at least the core vaccines against the globally important diseases and should be vaccinated using non-core vaccines when deemed necessary following a discussion with the veterinary surgeon.