Why should we vaccinate?
Vaccinations are one of the most important weapons in the fight against infectious diseases and many diseases have been virtually eliminated through vaccination control programs. In the past many animals became severely ill because of diseases which, thanks to vaccination, are now rarely seen. Although these diseases are less common, they have not been completely eradicated. If the number of pets protected by vaccines drops our pets could be at risk from an outbreak of infectious diseases, some of which can be transmitted to humans.
Vaccination protects our pets from the many diseases that cause illness, pain, distress and even death. Protecting your pet against preventable diseases is a vital part of responsible pet care. By ensuring that your pet is properly protected against diseases, not only are you protecting them, you are preventing the spread of disease to other animals.
Remember that there are no specific cures for the diseases that our pets can get and that these diseases can cause severe illness, pain and distress and can be fatal. In the case of Leptospirosis, treatment is available but can be extremely expensive and it may not always be successful.
Parvovirus certainly seems to be on the increase again; veterinary practices usually see just one or two isolated cases a year but they are starting to see many more cases. The increase is thought to be due to the number of puppy farms in existence, meaning that puppies are just being shipped into and around the UK without having being vaccinated and new owners not checking the vaccination status of the puppy’s mother before purchase.
How do vaccines work?
Pathogens are microbes such as viruses or bacteria that cause disease. Vaccines include a small amount of the weakened or harmless microbe, which when introduced into the body stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies. The immune system is then able to remember the microbe so that if the body is invaded by the real disease, it is able to fight it instantly and stop the disease developing. With some vaccinations, the immune system ‘memory’ is fairly short, which is why booster vaccinations are needed (Leptospirosis, Parainfluenza, Feline Leukaemia, Myxomatosis & HVD are examples of vaccines that need a yearly booster).
A vaccine is usually given by an injection under the skin, although sometimes may be given as drops into the nose (kennel cough).
What do the core vaccinations protect against in Ferrets?
Canine Distemper: This can be transmitted to ferrets. It is spread by bodily secretions, e.g. saliva. Symptoms include fever, depression, coughing, vomiting, diarrhoea and discharge from eyes and mouth. Sadly most ferrets diagnosed with this disease need to be put to sleep.
There is no vaccine currently licensed specifically for use in ferrets in the UK but there are vaccines for distemper available. Your vet is able to vaccinate your ferret ‘off licence’ after a full discussion of the benefits and risks with you.
When should we vaccinate?
In the UK it is usually recommended that puppies and kittens have an initial course of two vaccinations starting when they are 8-9 weeks old (sometimes younger in high risk areas). Rabbits have an initial vaccination that can start from 5 weeks old and ferrets from 6 weeks old.
All animals may then have an annual or booster vaccination to keep their immunity levels up. Dogs and Cats do not need to have all parts of the vaccination every year and your vet can advise you on the best course of action as it may depend on your pets current health, the area you live in and which diseases are prevalent.
What is herd/community immunity?
Herd immunity refers to the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a large percentage of a population is immune to a disease or infection (either because they have been vaccinated or because they have become immune through other means); these immune individuals provide some protection for those that are not because the spread of an infection or disease is likely to be disrupted which will slow or stop it from spreading.
This Herd Immunity is often the reason why unvaccinated animals (and humans) do not contract certain diseases or infections. Unfortunately if the levels of immunity within a population drops (usually because less and less are vaccinated or there is a particularly virulent strain), we may start to see outbreaks of the disease suddenly spreading fast through a particular area.
Is vaccination necessary?
(or “I have read in the internet that vets just vaccinate for the money, not because it is necessary for my pet”!)
At Castle Vets we offer a thorough and comprehensive annual health check which is important for your pet in order to ensure he or she is in full and good health. During these annual health checks, vaccination is always discussed but not always given, depending on the individual’s circumstances.
- For dogs and cats - Providing that the animal has had its two initial (baby) vaccinations and its first year booster, your vet will usually only give the full booster vaccination for Distemper, Hepatitis and Parvovirus for dogs every three years and the Feline Enteritis booster for cats every three years . It is recommend an annual booster for the other diseases, because studies have shown that immunity to these diseases does not last very long (Leptospirosis also poses a risk to human health). However, this of course should always be based on the individual animal’s individual needs and circumstances; not every animal will require all parts of their vaccinations so frequently. At Castle Vets we offer blood titre testing for dogs and cats, on request, to check for levels of immunity (see below) if you are concerned about over-vaccination.
- Rabbits generally need their full booster every year as the immunity to Myxomatosis and VHD provided by the vaccination does not last longer than this. More recently a new strain of viral haemorrhagic disease (RHVD2) has been discovered and for those rabbits deemed to be in high risk areas, boosters as frequently as every 6 months may be warranted to ensure full protection.
All vaccines have to undergo rigorous testing to prove they are safe and effective before they are licensed for use. When used appropriately and as recommended they are both safe and provide crucial protection for animals against a number of diseases.
It is worth pointing out that the vast majority of boarding kennels, dog walkers and groomers require pets to have had regular annual vaccinations before admittance. Some pet insurance companies also insist on annual vaccinations, but more are now moving towards an annual health check which we fully endorse.
Ultimately it is up to you the owner to decide whether or not to have your pet vaccinated.
Titre Testing – blood testing antibody levels
If you are worried about your pet being ‘over vaccinated’, the only way to know for sure that your pet is fully protected is to have a blood test done that will check the levels of disease antibodies in your pet’s blood.
We will be happy to arrange these tests if you request them and this can be discussed with your vet during your appointment or by contacting the practice.
We currently have the Vaccicheck Titre Test available at the practice which tests for Distemper, Parvovirus and Hepatitis antibodies, meaning that test results are available on the same day; for other diseases, the test results take a little longer as they need to be sent to an external laboratory.
What about harmful side effects of vaccination?
Serious side effects such as anaphylactic shock and vaccine associated disease are extremely rare. Very occasionally an animal may have a localised reaction such as, swelling or irritation at the site of vaccination, or they may have systemic effects such as fever, loss of appetite or lethargy (you might have experienced this yourself if you have ever had a flu jab). These symptoms can occur within minutes to 1 week after vaccination but usually disappear on their own.
Feline Injection Site Sarcoma – This is very rare and is not only linked to vaccinations but other types of long acting injections as well. The true cause of the problem is not yet understood, but is thought to occur as a result from an intense inflammatory response to the injection itself, or to substances within the vaccine. Because it is so rare, scientists believe that the tumors develop from a combination of a cat being genetically predisposed to the tumor, along with the stimulation caused by the actual vaccine or injection. Sarcomas can develop anywhere from 4 weeks to 10 years or more after receiving a vaccine. Vaccine technology in the UK has advanced since the condition was first reported in October 1991 and effective vaccinations now exist that have not yet been associated with this condition.
Research is still ongoing into the risks of over-vaccination and if you are investigating this for your own pet we would urge you to visit the sites where these articles are published (go to the source) i.e. Purdue University, rather than relying on hearsay from various ‘pet publications’.
The very small risk of a vaccine side effect is greatly outweighed by the benefit of protection against serious disease. This point has been endorsed by the Working Group set up by the government’s independent expert Veterinary Products Committee who undertook a thorough review of all UK licensed dog and cat vaccines (1). An independent and scientifically peer reviewed study carried out by the Animal Health Trust, has produced the clearest evidence yet that routine vaccination of dogs in the UK does not increase frequency of illness (2).
If you are worried about potential side effects, please don’t be afraid to discuss your concerns with your vet because they will always have your pets best interests at heart.
(1) Veterinary Products Committee (VPC) Working Group on Canine and Feline Vaccination; final report to the VPC published by DEFRA, May 2001
(2) Vaccination and ill-health in dogs: a lack of temporal association and evidence of equivalence; D S Edwards, W E Henley, E R Ely and J L N Wood, Vaccine Journal, Volume 22/25-26, September 2004.
Do Homeopathic Nosode vaccines work?
The age old debate about homeopathy rages all over the world and there is plenty to read about on the internet if you are interested.
Some owners may be drawn by the idea of using homeopathic ‘vaccines’ to protect their pets and may well have used homeopathic treatments that have been successful for various problems for both themselves and their pets.
Unfortunately homeopathic vaccines have no scientific basis and there is no independent evidence to show that they work in protecting pets against disease. A few properly designed trials have been carried out using homeopathic vaccines and have shown no evidence of protection against disease. Without proper trials and supporting evidence to back up these ‘vaccines’ you could be putting your pet (and others) at risk.
“A ‘nosode’ vaccine is made from infected animal tissue or live micro-organisms, but then it is diluted to the point where there is insignificant (or no) micro-organism present. Nosodes are unlicensed veterinary products and there is no scientific evidence base to support their efficacy. By contrast, there is evidence that nosodes do not generate protective immunity. The use of nosodes therefore is regarded as putting individual pet animals at risk from contracting infectious disease and moreover weakens the population immunity to infection thereby allowing the more ready emergence of outbreaks of infectious disease“.