We are all told that our dogs should be vaccinated. But do you know what your dog's being vaccinated against, how often it should be done, or if he should even be vaccinated at all?
Vaccinations are given to dogs to reduce the risk of them contracting dangerous and potentially fatal diseases. They work by stimulating the immune system to protect itself against disease.
A healthy animal is injected with a weakened or killed disease agent; once introduced into the dog's body, it is recognised as being foreign and antibodies are produced to destroy it. Should the same foreign body appear again, the body will remember it and again produce an attack team of antibodies to get rid of it. It is possible for dogs to develop immunity to some diseases without being vaccinated, but to do so they need to have contracted the disease and survived it.
What is my dog vaccinated against?
Dogs are given vaccinations against:
- Canine distemper.
- Canine infectious hepatitis.
- Canine parvovirus.
These are known as core vaccines due to the highly infectious nature of the diseases which they protect against, and their potential to prove fatal should a dog contract them.
Non-core vaccines include:
- Kennel cough.
These diseases are easily spread between dogs. If your dog is likely to spend a lot of time in kennels or at shows he may need to be vaccinated against them. Your vet should be happy to discuss your circumstances and whether it is in the best interests of your dog to vaccinate against these.
Are there alternatives?
There are homeopathic alternatives to vaccinations, called nosodes. "Nosodes are homeopathic medicines made from elements of the disease and given as a tablet in a course," explained homeopathic vet Richard Allport, from Hertfordshire. "It's important to remember that nosodes are not vaccinations. They were originally designed to treat a disease, not protect against it. The general consensus among homeopathic vets is that nosodes are not to be relied on to give protection against diseases. I would advise that you only use nosodes if your dog has had his first set of jabs as a puppy and his one-year booster, and always speak with your vet first."
Another approach owners who are worried about vaccinating regularly can take is to have their dog titre tested. Here blood samples are taken and immunity levels are measured, helping owners and vets decide whether a vaccination for some diseases is necessary.
After an initial course of vaccinations, your dog will be offered booster jabs at regular intervals. There has been much debate as to whether regular booster vaccinations are necessary.
The theory is that over time protection given by vaccinations weakens, and a booster will top up protection levels. Vet Vicky Payne, from East Sussex, said: "The booster offered at 12 months old is for all four of the diseases the initial vaccinations protect against, and it is very important your dog has this. After that it is generally accepted that dogs don't need boosters for all of the diseases every year. However, dogs should be vaccinated against leptospirosis annually. How often your dog is vaccinated against the other diseases depends on the policy of the individual veterinary practice and what vaccine manufacturers they use as some vaccines are licensed to last longer than others."
Vicky also stressed how important it was to see the vet annually. "As well as boosters your dog will be given a thorough health check," she explained. "Even if you're not sure about vaccinations it's very important to have your dog checked over. If you have any worries about vaccinations, you can also use this as an opportunity to discuss them with your vet."
Did you know?
- Your dog can pick up diseases even if he doesn't come into contact with an unvaccinated dog, as you can carry dangerous viruses on your clothes and shoes.
- Many training classes, boarding kennels, dog shows, and groomers will not accept dogs unless you can provide up-to-date proof of their vaccinations.
- During the first half of the 20th century, canine distemper was the most common fatal disease in dogs.
- The first canine vaccine was introduced in the 1940s for distemper, followed by a more sophisticated one in the 60s.