Why Vaccinate ?

Erica Softley, BVetMed.MRCVS

As a vet in general practice this is a question that I routinely get asked by clients. And it’s a good thing. We should wholeheartedly encourage owners to be well informed and take an active role in their pet’s health; however it can be difficult to know which sources to turn to for reliable information.

With the internet being so accessible, many people take to Dr Google and are exposed to a whole array of views regarding vaccination, some of which is very biased, inaccurate or pure scaremongering.

Here are a few FAQs regarding vaccinations and our answers to them:

Why is it necessary to vaccinate my pet?

It is really important to vaccinate your pet. The diseases that we vaccinate against are very unpleasant and can be fatal.

Some are zoonotic (this means that humans can catch them too – such as leptospirosis), so vaccinating your pet is in the best interest of your human family too.

Prevention is better than cure, often, we won’t know that a pet has come into contact with a disease until it contracts it and that is generally too late.

“But I’ve never vaccinated my dogs and they’ve always been fine”

This is the “herd health” principle. In areas where a high percentage of the population is vaccinated, the occurrence of the disease in the population is lower so unvaccinated pets are less likely to be exposed and therefore catch the disease. This is why vaccinating your pet is not just important for your pet, but for everyone else’s. In the areas where vaccination uptake for a particular disease is low, we do still see cases.

Are we over-vaccinating? What about titre-testing?

Owners are commonly concerned that yearly vaccinations are more than our pets need. What most people don’t realise is that, in accordance with World Small Animal Veterinary (WSAVA) guidelines, we don’t vaccinate against everything every year – only against the diseases that the body doesn’t produce good immunity to from vaccination – such as leptospirosis and kennel cough.

For some diseases we can titre test (that means doing a blood test to measure the levels of immunity to the disease) but to be done properly this needs to be done regularly (every few months), as it tells us nothing about when the immunity will run out. In addition our knowledge as to what titre result equates to protective immunity is very limited.

In particular, yearly vaccination for Leptospirosis is important for three reasons:

  • It’s a bacteria and so harder to stimulate long lasting immunity from a vaccination
     
  • Titre testing for Leptospirosis antigen is not possible as it is very inaccurate
     
  • We see it commonly in the UK, so despite the WSAVA stating that Leptospirosis is not a core vaccine (worldwide), it is considered so in the UK

Do we need to continue vaccinations when they are older?

Yes! In actual fact it’s even more important. Very young and older animals have weaker immune systems, so even if they have had their vaccinations throughout their lifetime, the immune system needs all the help it can get by continuing vaccination.

What about the side-effects?

They are rare. And those that amount to anything greater than 24hrs of lethargy are extremely rare and very preferable compared to catching the disease!

My dog has been vaccinated and he still caught the disease.

We most commonly hear this in regards to the Kennel Cough vaccination. The problem with Kennel Cough is that it is actually made up of several viruses/infectious agents and we can only vaccinate against some of them. What we do know is that vaccinated dogs are much less likely to get the disease; if they do it is usually far less severe.

Some viruses mutate frequently or have multiple strains. In this case it may not be possible to vaccinate against all the strains (leptospirosis) but we cover those most commonly seen.

Please contact us here at Larkmead if you have any questions regarding vaccinations for your pet.