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Boarding the family pet over the summer holidays is one situation that requires regular vaccinations but it is not the main reason that we vaccinate. Many diseases that were killers in the past and responsible for many chronic conditions are now seldom seen; but relaxing our vigilance over vaccinating could see a re-emergence of fatal illnesses.

 

Many people perceive vaccinations as “just a jab”, but they offer much more than that. At vaccination your animal receives a complete physical examination. You have an opportunity to discuss any concerns you may have and the vet will offer advice on general health care, worming, flea treatment and other potential problems such as dental disease or obesity. Many life threatening conditions are picked up during routine vaccinations, allowing timely treatment before the animals health is seriously affected.

 

The diseases that are regularly vaccinated for in South Otago are as follows:

 

In dogs:          
Distemper, Infectious Canine Hepatitis, Parvovirus and Parainfluenza.

 

In cats:                       

Panleucopaenia, Rhinotracheitis and Calicivirus.

 

In rabbits:      
Calicivirus

 

Viruses cause all of these diseases, and a number of them have a high mortality rate in animals that are infected.

 

My dog had its vaccinations when she was a puppy – should she still need yearly injections?

Just as in humans, vaccinations do not necessarily confer immunity for life. At Clutha Vets we currently recommend boosters every two years for dogs (once they have had their initial vaccinations) and yearly for cats. We also vaccinate pet rabbits against the killer disease caused by Calicivirus – Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease.

As advances in vaccines are made and our understanding of their efficacy improves, these intervals are adjusted, but the main aim of vaccination is to protect your animal from illness. While one animal may be protected for life by a single injection, another may only get two years protection. As there is no easy way to tell one from the other, it is safer to vaccinate every animal using the shorter interval.

 

We live on a farm and our animals never go anywhere, why bother vaccinating?

Animals that are isolated from the general population are usually the most at risk of contracting virulent illnesses, as they have no regular exposure to the diseases. In this case vaccinations are even more important. Although there may be no regular exposure to other animals there are always cases when it will occur: - the feral cats passing through the area, neighbours dogs jumping down for a sniff when they stop for a chat, or even a visit to the vet clinic for a wound to be sutured. Most of the cases of Parvovirus that we see at Clutha Vets are in farm dogs with no vaccination history.

 

I have heard that puppies and kittens get immunity from their mother – do I still need to get them vaccinated?

All newborn animals receive a certain amount of immunity from their mother in the colostrum. The immunity lasts for a varying amount of time depending on a number of factors, such as the immune status of the mother (if she has been vaccinated she will have much better immunity to pass onto her offspring) and how much colostrum the pup or kitten drank. It is only a temporary immunity that is called ‘maternal immunity’; at some time from 6 to 12 weeks of age it will run out and the pup or kitten will be unprotected against diseases. This is why we recommend that first vaccinations be started between 6 to 8 weeks of age; if your puppy or kittens’ maternal immunity has run out early it will be protected. The final vaccination is given after 12 weeks of age when all maternal immunity has worn off and the vaccination will definitely “take”. Some of the diseases vaccinated against require two injections to establish protective levels of immunity.

 

We have just booked our cat into a cattery for the holidays – when should we get him vaccinated?

If your animal has not had a regular vaccination through its lifetime you should get him vaccinated as soon as possible. As immunity is not instantaneous (the body requires time to produce the antibodies that protect against disease), vaccines need to be done at least 2-3 weeks prior to kennelling. It can be done at shorter intervals (and often is!) but this could mean that when your cat enters the cattery, he does not have very high levels of immunity. If he gets exposed to a disease, he may still contract it. (Rather like people who have had the ‘Flu vaccine still getting the ‘Flu!). Any vaccination is better than none though, and as catteries and kennels are highly stressful environments for animals, protection is important.

Written by: Suzanne Craig BVCs - Small Animal Vet, based at Balclutha and used in the local newspaper (The Leader) in the monthly Pet Corner section.