Prevention is better than cure. Vaccination is the way we cause animals to become resistant (immune) to infections. A vaccine consists of a modified or killed virus or bacterium. It is prepared in such a way that the body's defences recognise it as a threat and react to it as if it were a real infection. The body will produce antibodies which are proteins which recognise and attach to chemicals on the surface of the organism, killing it. These antibodies are then available to kill any of the real infection organisms the animal might pick up during its life. They are lost gradually and the body needs occasional reminders (booster vaccinations) to keep the antibody level high enough to prevent real infections. Vaccination reactions are very rare (see below).
Up-to-date information is provided by Intervet UK Ltd, a major vaccine manufacturer and information on this site is based on objective scientific studies. The site is future-of-vaccination.co.uk and covers dog, cat and rabbit vaccines.
For details of individual animal species, click on the following listDogs Cats Rabbits
Dogs are routinely vaccinated against the following diseases:
Distemper, a virus disease which causes chest and gastro-intestinal damage from which some dogs may die and, more unpleasantly, causes brain damage in about half the dogs which get the virus. This develops over 2-3 months and cannot be prevented or treated. Dogs which get this brain damage have fits or become paralysed and need to be put to sleep.
Viral hepatitis is a highly fatal disease affecting the liver.
Two type of Leptospirosis, which are bacterial diseases. Leptospira canicola affects dogs only and damages the kidneys. Leptospira icterohaemorrhagiae can affect many mammals, including humans, and causes severe liver and kidney damage. It is carried by rats and presents a definite human health hazard. Up to date protection (which needs annual boosting) is therefore important.
Parvovirus causes a severe gastro-enteritis which is fatal in almost 50% of cases. It affects dogs only.
Parainfluenza is one of several infections causing a cough and is one of the group of infections causing 'Kennel Cough'.
Kennel Cough includes about 7 different infections. The situation is very complicated, but most boarding kennels require that dogs are vaccinated against Bordetella bronchiseptica (a cousin of the Whooping Cough bacterium). This vaccine is administered into the nose to give local protection which lasts 6 months. It is important to realise that, though this is generally described as 'Kennel Cough' vaccine, it protects only against one specific infection and that dogs may catch other infections causing them to cough either whilst in kennels or when meeting each other.Go to top of page
For cats there are two main vaccines which we use routinely. One is against Cat flu, Colds and Viral enteritis, the other is against Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV).
Flu and Colds used to be very common before vaccination, especially in catteries. Flu is a serious illness, but is rarely fatal. Cats with flu will need nursing and treating with antibiotics for about 10 days and usually refuse to eat during that period. Colds are less serious in themselves, but after both Flu and Colds there can be troublesome complications such as chronic catarrh (pus from the nose) or very unpleasant chest infections.
Feline viral enteritis is a highly fatal disease but, thanks to vaccination, is rare these days. Very few cats which develop the disease will survive.
Feline Leukaemia Virus is, in my view, badly named as it suggests only leukaemia which, whilst a very serious disease, is very rare. FeLV is a virus spread between cats in saliva so that hissing, grooming or sharing food bowls between cats can allow it to spread. The virus can cause MANY disease processes and true leukaemia (cancer of the blood) is by far the rarest. The commonest problems caused by the virus are cancer of the lymphatic system (which can take many forms), immuno-depression (AIDS) major bone marrow disease and infection by several other organisms which will normally not affect the healthy cat. There is no treatment which will get rid of the virus.
There are two diseases that rabbits can be vaccinated against: Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD). Myxomatosis is a virus infection which spreads through the wild rabbit population every few years and is spread primarily by rabbit fleas (though it can also be spread by other biting insects such as mosquitos). Hay containing infected rabbit fleas may introduce the infection to pet rabbits.
VHD is a relatively new disease of which I have not seen a confirmed case as yet (but there have been a few suspicious sudden deaths in rabbits in the town). The difficulty is that a post mortem examination is necessary to diagnose it and most people whose rabbits die want to bury them and not to have them examined. The virus is spread by birds and other animals which travel around the countryside.
Because pet rabbits do not mix with other rabbits, protecting them by vaccination is not as important, but there is always a chance that your rabbit might be exposed to one of these infections.Go to top of page
All of the vaccines mentioned above have been available for many years and whilst there is no such thing as an absolutely safe and guaranteed vaccine, these are excellent. About 4% of cats receiving their initial FeLV vaccine are off colour for 1-2 days but there is no risk of developing FeLV infection because of the vaccine. A few cats will be off colour after any of the vaccines, but this can be controlled by administering an anti-inflammatory at the time of vaccination, so let us know if your cat tends to do this. Dogs which have never had the 'Kennel Cough' vaccine before will tend to be a bit snuffly for a couple of days. Other than these I have seen no significant reactions to any of the current vaccines. Whilst I always check pets before administering a vaccine, once in a while an animal can be incubating an infection but showing no signs. In this case, the infection it already has may make the animal ill in the next few days.
If you think your pet is upset after a vaccine, do please let us know. Vets and vaccine manufacturuers really do care if there is a problem and want to solve it.
There is a report by a government working group about animal vaccines and their effects. You can access it through this link. The report is an Acrobat document obtained by clicking the link on the VPC page.Go to top of page
The views of the practice on media reports regarding vaccination are summarised as follows: