Vaccinating your dog: the facts

April 20th, 2015
Vaccinate your dog

Why is it so important to vaccinate your dog? Tim Falk investigates.

If you’re thinking of adding a new puppy to your family, chances are you’re probably aware that there are vaccinations available to protect your dog against a range of diseases. But have you ever stopped to think about what those diseases are, when your puppy needs to be vaccinated, and why these vaccinations are so important? To find out, Dogs Life spoke to Dr Caroline Butler from The Lost Dogs’ Home, Frank Samways Veterinary Clinic and Bayer’s Technical Services Veterinarian Dr Liisa Ahlstrom.

Deadly diseases

“All dogs should be vaccinated against parvovirus, distemper virus and canine hepatitis, even if they never mix with other dogs, as they are all serious, highly contagious and often deadly diseases,” Dr Ahlstrom says.

Although rarely fatal, most dogs are also vaccinated against canine cough (kennel cough) as it’s highly contagious and reduces the quality of life in affected dogs for weeks or months. Dogs can also be vaccinated against Leptospirosis and coronavirus, depending upon where they live, their lifestyle and their health.

But what sort of effect can the most commonly vaccinated-against diseases have on your pooch?

Canine distemper is a viral disease to which puppies between the ages of three to six months old are particularly susceptible. “Signs of distemper include profuse discharge from the ears and eyes, coughing, vomiting, diarrhoea, fits, disorientation and paralysis,” Dr Butler says.

Canine parvovirus is a highly infectious viral disease that can be especially severe in puppies, with symptoms including acute onset of lethargy, anorexia, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.

“Infectious Canine Hepatitis is an acute liver infection in dogs which can also affect their kidneys,” Dr Butler explains. “Signs vary from slight fever to fatal. The main signs are apathy, anorexia, thirst, conjunctivitis, discharge from the nose and eyes, prolonged clotting times and sometimes abdominal pain and vomiting.”

Kennel cough is also highly contagious and leads to inflammation of the upper respiratory system. Signs of kennel cough are harsh, dry coughing which can lead to retching and gagging. If left unchecked, kennel cough can potentially develop into pneumonia; however, the majority of cases are not serious and resolve without complications.

Why vaccinate?

Some dog owners hold the misguided belief that they don’t need to vaccinate their pets, with two of the most common excuses being ‘but he never goes to boarding kennels’ and ‘he rarely mixes with other dogs’.

But vaccination is important for every puppy and every dog. “Firstly, parvovirus, distemper and canine hepatitis are such deadly diseases that it’s not worth taking the risk of having your dog unvaccinated. If you’ve seen a puppy suffer with parvovirus, you’d never consider not vaccinating against this dreadful disease,” Dr Ahlstrom says.

“Secondly, you may think that your dog is at low risk of contracting one of these diseases because they never go to a boarding kennel or mix with other dogs. But unfortunately, while it minimises their risk of being exposed to these diseases, they can still contract them.”

Dogs don’t have to come into contact with other dogs to be infected with parvovirus or canine hepatitis. For example, after being shed in the faeces of an infected dog, parvovirus can survive in the environment for over 12 months and be transmitted to dogs by contaminated objects, for example your shoes after you’ve walked outside.

“The C3 vaccine for canine parvovirus, canine distemper and Infectious Canine Hepatitis is as close to 100 per cent [effective] as it can be, however some breeds, such as Rottweilers, don’t produce as strong an immune response to vaccines as other breeds and the effectiveness may be slightly less,” Dr Butler says.

Meanwhile, the vaccine for kennel cough can be likened to a flu shot for humans. Your dog may still get kennel cough but it reduces the risk and severity of the disease.

Some owners also raise concerns that their pooch may have an adverse reaction to a vaccine. The chances of this occurring, however, are highly unlikely. “The rates of adverse reactions are very low and usually not serious, such as transient fever and lethargy,” Dr Ahlstrom says.

“More serious adverse reactions, such as an allergic reaction to the vaccine, are extremely rare. Overall, for the serious, deadly diseases (parvovirus, distemper and canine hepatitis) the benefits of vaccination to the individual dog and to the dog population as a whole greatly outweigh the risk of adverse effects.”

What diseases should I vaccinate my dog against?

  • Canine distemper
  • Canine parvovirus
  • Infectious Canine Hepatitis
  • Canine parainfluenza virus and Bordetella bronchiseptica (kennel cough)

Depending on where they live, their lifestyle and their health status, dogs can also be vaccinated against Leptospirosis and coronavirus.

When to vaccinate

Every puppy should be assessed by a veterinarian to select the most appropriate vaccines and schedule for vaccination considering their health, lifestyle and where they live.

“Your puppy’s first vaccination should be when they are around six to eight weeks of age,” Dr Butler says. “They should have two vaccinations about a month apart, with their final booster at 12 weeks of age.”

Your pup will then need regular boosters over the course of their lifetime to protect them from kennel cough, canine distemper, canine parvovirus and Infectious Canine Hepatitis. It is also important to have yearly vet check-ups to maintain the health and wellbeing of your puppy.

Staying on top of your pet’s vaccination needs can greatly reduce the risk of him ever suffering one of many potentially deadly diseases. It’s the least you can do for your four-legged friend.

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