Why are pet vaccinations important?
Protecting your pet against deadly diseases is an important part of responsible ownership. Pet vaccinations help protect against serious, life-threatening diseases for your furry friends.
There is a huge amount of conflicting information online about vaccinations for pets which can, understandably, cause pet owners to question whether it is the best thing for their animals. The outbreak of Covid-19 illustrated in humans how rapidly and severely a disease can spread and kill when there is no vaccination or cure available.
All pet vaccinations are designed to prevent them from falling ill with serious, potentially life-threatening diseases. Many of the diseases we vaccinate against can prove fatal and do not have a reliable cure – which is why prevention is so important.
For vaccination to be truly successful, it requires adequate numbers of a population to be protected in order to prevent the disease from spreading to vulnerable individuals – this is often discussed in the media as ‘herd immunity’. Regular vaccination of pets has made diseases like Distemper and Canine Hepatitis in dogs much less common, in part, due to this effect.
Diseases like Canine Parvovirus in dogs, Feline Leukaemia in cats and Myxomatosis in rabbits are much more widespread – we still see far more instances of these diseases in our clinics than we would like. Sadly, many of the animals with these conditions do not recover. Treatment is aimed at reducing the symptoms and supporting the animals to give the immune system time to respond, but there is no specific treatment. So we believe that questions like “are dog vaccinations necessary?” and “do I need to get my cat vaccinated” have a simple answer – yes.
How do pet vaccinations work?
Pet vaccinations work by training the animal’s immune system to fight against viruses and bacteria that can cause disease. This is done by introducing either a live, mild form of the disease or a fragment of the pathogen to stimulate an immune response.
Often, a second dose is required to ensure the immune reaction is strong enough to provide protection, should your pet come into contact with the actual disease. Over time, immunity will start to decrease and this is why pet booster vaccinations are carried out to ensure the protective level of immunity is maintained.
All kittens and puppies should have the full course of vaccinations (usually two doses) before they start to go outside and socialise with other animals. You should allow 2 weeks from completion of the primary vaccination course before taking your pet anywhere that other animals go (i.e. 2 weeks after the second vaccine). The first annual booster is also essential to ensure your pet maintains a protective level of immunity. After this, we will advise according to your pet’s individual risks of disease and likely protection.
For most pets, yearly vaccine boosters for some of the diseases are indicated. We do not routinely give all the components of the vaccine every year, just the ones that are needed. This is because research has shown that, following the first annual booster, most dogs will maintain protective levels of immunity against Distemper, Hepatitis and Parvovirus for up to 4 years. Approximately a third of dogs in these studies did not have protective immunity to one or more of the three diseases by 4 years. Therefore, we will give the full booster once every 3 years to ensure adequate protection. Similarly, cats only require a FeLV vaccination every third year following the first annual booster. Leptospirosis, kennel cough (dogs) and CVR (cats) vaccinations are advised to be given yearly. Antibody titre testing is available and can be carried out to check your pet’s level of immunity to certain diseases if requested.
Which conditions can pet vaccinations protect against?
What do dog vaccinations cover?
The ‘core’ diseases that we vaccinate against (those advised for all dogs) at Animal Trust are:
Canine Distemper Virus
Canine distemper virus is highly contagious and potentially lethal. It is spread through direct contact, airborne exposure or through the placenta. Canine distemper symptoms include fever, discharge from the eyes, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea, progressing to difficulty breathing, pneumonia, seizures, paralysis and death. Dogs who do survive usually have permanent nervous system damage.
Canine Hepatitis (Canine Adenovirus types 1 and 2)
Canine hepatitis is spread by direct contact with the urine, nose and eye discharges of infected animals. In the mild form, the affected dog may have a fever, be depressed and lose its appetite. Some dogs develop ‘blue eye’, cloudiness of the corneas, one to two weeks later. In severe cases, there is additional abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, fluid swelling and jaundice. These cases are usually fatal.
Parvovirus (types 2a, 2b and 2c)
Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious disease, spread by direct contact with an infected dog or their faeces. Most cases are seen in puppies, but adult dogs can also be affected if their vaccinations are not kept up to date. Parvovirus can spread quickly in kennels and even vaccinated puppies can become unwell in the face of an overwhelming infection.
Symptoms include severe, bloody diarrhoea, loss of appetite, vomiting, lethargy, abdominal pain, fever or low temperature and shock. In some puppies, the virus can attack the heart muscles – leading to death or heart failure – or the wall of the intestine – resulting in overwhelming bacterial infection of the body and sepsis.
Leptospirosis (L.canicola and L.icterohaemorrhagiae)
Leptospirosis infections usually occur as a result of direct contact with urine from an infected animal (rats, cattle, dogs), or by contact with soil contaminated by infected urine. Symptoms include fever, increased thirst and changes in urination due to acute kidney failure, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhoea, jaundice (yellow skin and gums), painful eyes.
Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, meaning that all people in contact with the dog are also at risk of becoming infected. At Animal Trust we currently provide the L2 version of the vaccination, rather than L4.
Other vaccinations, which are not deemed essential for all individuals, and therefore not classed as ‘core’ diseases include:
Kennel Cough is caused by the Bordetella Bronchiseptica and/or Parainfluenza virus. Vaccination against Bordetella is required for most boarding kennels, but is also advised for any dogs who are attending shows, competitions, or classes where multiple dogs are in contact.
Kennel cough symptoms may include a fever, persistent productive cough, nasal discharge, sneezing, loss of appetite, lethargy. A combination of both Bordetella Bronchiseptica and Parainfluenza can cause a severe episode of Kennel Cough which can, rarely, prove fatal to vulnerable individuals, e.g. very young, old or immunosuppressed dogs.
The rabies vaccine for dogs is only required for pets who are travelling abroad.
Canine Herpes Virus
The canine herpes vaccination is required for breeding animals only, to reduce cases of ‘fading puppy syndrome’. Adult dogs do not usually show any symptoms, but can carry the disease. The infection is the leading cause of death in newborn puppies. Puppies usually contract the disease from the birth canal or secretions from the eyes or nose of the mother shortly after birth and may die suddenly. The disease can affect several – or all – puppies in a litter.
What do cat vaccinations cover?
The conditions our cat vaccinations protect against are:
Cat flu is not one single entity but can comprise two highly contagious viruses: Calicivirus and Feline Herpesvirus. These viruses may cause a fever, lethargy, inappetence, upper respiratory infections and mouth ulcers.
Kittens can be severely affected and if they survive, can suffer long term eye and upper respiratory tract conditions. Cats can become carriers of cat flu for life once infected and are likely to suffer with ‘flare ups’ from time to time during periods of stress.
Feline enteritis/ Panleukopenia
A type of parvovirus, feline enteritis is often spread through direct contact between cats or following contamination of the environment or objects. This is a highly contagious, severe infection that causes vomiting, bloody diarrhoea, fever, depression and, in some cats, sudden death. The panleukopenia virus in cats can also spread to the immune system and cause nervous system disease.
Feline Leukaemia Virus
This is only spread through close cat to cat contact, so feline leukaemia virus vaccination is optional for cats who never go outside. This condition can cause an acute viral illness in which the cat becomes feverish, lethargic, anaemic and loses weight. If the cat survives, it can develop a number of different symptoms over months or even years, including repeated infections, difficulty walking (due to effects on the brain) and cancers of the white blood cells. About one-fifth of FeLV infected cats die of cancer.
The feline rabies vaccination is only required for cats who are due to travel abroad.
What do rabbit vaccinations cover?
Diseases covered by rabbit vaccinations include:
Myxomatosis is a highly contagious, often fatal disease. It is spread by biting insects such as fleas and mosquitos. Initial signs include a change in behaviour, followed by swelling of the nose, eyes and genitals, developing into extreme lethargy, blindness, respiratory problems and usually death.
Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease
There are 2 strains of Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease – RHVD1 and RHVD 2. These viruses attack the rabbit’s internal organs causing them to bleed. They can spread by direct contact, via the droppings of an infected rabbit or by flies, birds, and on clothing. Often the only sign is the sudden death of an animal. Both RHVD1 and RHVD2 are now included with the myxomatosis vaccine for rabbits.
Basic Pet Vaccination Scheme
Pet vaccination schedules are dependent on the brand of vaccine used and may vary depending on location, availability and pet. The below vaccination scheme is based on the medicines we use at Animal Trust.
Some breeders may have already started your pet’s vaccinations before you bring them home. This is not a problem; we often stock some different vaccinations, that are compatible with most of these. However, the schedule may differ slightly, so please follow the vet’s advice.
- The onset of immunity (i.e. the time taken for a strong enough immune response to occur ) so that your puppy or kitten can start to go outside into public areas is two weeks following the second dose of the vaccination schedule.
- Puppies require two doses of vaccine 14-28 days apart, and kittens require two doses at 21-28 days apart.
- In puppies, the first dose can be given from as early as 7 weeks of age, although we usually advise starting puppy vaccinations at 8 weeks, as the second dose has to be given once your dog is at least 10 weeks old.
- In kittens, the first dose of cat vaccination can be given at 9 weeks of age and the second from 12 weeks old.
- The animal’s age at vaccination is important to prevent interference from maternal antibodies (acquired in the womb and via milk from the mother).
- Rabbits can be vaccinated from 5 weeks of age. A single dose of rabbit vaccine provides immunity after three weeks. Boosters are usually given annually, but in high-risk areas may be carried out every six months.
- The pet revaccination (booster) scheme involves a single dose of vaccine to be given annually following the initial dose.
- We do not routinely give all of the components of the vaccine every year, just the ones your pet requires, based on data or antibody testing, to provide adequate protection.
Are There Any Side Effects When Vaccinating Pets?
As with any medication, pet vaccinations can sometimes cause side effects. Fortunately, these side effects are rare. Modern vaccinations for pets are extremely effective and safe. Rigorous safety and efficacy testing is carried out before vaccines can be used on our pets. Any potential side effects are reported to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), a government agency that protects animal health, public health and the environment.
It is important to remember that millions of pets are vaccinated every year and only a very small number experience any side effects. Proper rabbit, cat and dog vaccination is the most effective way to prevent many potentially fatal diseases from spreading amongst the nation’s pets. The benefits far outweigh the possible risk of side effects.
Most pet vaccine reactions are mild and include:
- Loss of appetite
- Increased sleeping
- Mild fever
- Mild swelling around the vaccination site
These symptoms will often pass within a few days without treatment.
Less common side effects include vomiting, diarrhoea, itchy skin and limping. Severe vaccine reactions are very rare. Fibrosarcomas (localised skin tumours) in cats have been linked to a rare vaccination reaction. This is very rare, at around 1 in 10,000 cats and seems to be linked to certain types of cat vaccines. In these cases, the vaccine can cause an allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), seen as swelling, breathing difficulty, fast heartbeat, seizures, and collapse.
How Much Do Pet Vaccinations Cost?
The cost of vaccination can differ depending on the type of pet you have, their age, and their health. One vaccination per year (or a half-price starter pack for kittens) is included in the Animal Trust Pet Healthcare Subscription Plan.
Kitten vaccination/puppy vaccination ‘Starter’ pack
£70: includes both doses of vaccine, microchipping, flea and worm treatment
£47.50: includes first dose of primary course (without the additional products listed above), second vaccine of a course started elsewhere or annual booster. Includes free worming.
£24 when the first vaccine was done at Animal Trust, if not taking up the ‘Starter Pack’ (without microchip, flea or worming)
£47.50: first vaccine or booster (Myxomatosis/RHD). In certain circumstances, some rabbits may require an additional vaccine against RHD, for the cost of an additional £20.
Canine Herpes Virus vaccination
£47.50 **Please note, we do not complete travel paperwork (Animal Health Certificates) at Animal Trust **
Travel vaccinations for pets
We recommend starting the process of travel vaccinations for pets at least four months ahead of your planned travel date (and 7-12 months for Australia and New Zealand). Since Brexit, UK Pet Passports are no longer valid and an Animal Health Certificate is required for each journey outside of the UK. Dogs, cats and ferrets can travel to EU countries 21 days after a rabies vaccination and completion of all required paperwork.
**Please note, we do not complete travel paperwork (Animal Health certificates) at Animal Trust **
Non-EU countries have differing requirements; most require rabies vaccination, a blood Antibody Titre test and certification to accompany your pet. Some countries, such as Australia, require multiple tests and treatment for other diseases e.g. Leptospirosis and ticks. *
**Please note, we do not complete travel paperwork (Export Health certificates) at Animal Trust **
We recommend contacting an export agency well in advance of your travel date to start the process. Blood Antibody Titre testing is recommended to be carried out at 30 days post-vaccination to ensure that the animal has sufficient protection against Rabies. The pet cannot travel until 3 months after the date the blood sample was taken.
Does pet insurance cover vaccinations?
Pet insurance is designed to cover your pet’s treatment for any unexpected injury or illness, whether acute or long term. By having suitable pet insurance in place, you can ensure they have the best care and you avoid having to make decisions about your pet’s healthcare based on finances. Insurance does not cover routine preventative healthcare such as vaccination or parasite control, as these are expected costs involved in keeping a pet. Likewise, dental care, grooming and feeding are expected costs involved for every animal and will likely not be covered except in a few situations. You must ensure your pet’s vaccinations are kept up to date as most insurance policies will be invalidated if you do not. They will also not cover treatment of any disease that could have been prevented by vaccination. One vaccination per year (or a half-price starter pack for kittens) is included in the Animal Trust Pet Healthcare Plan Subscription Service.
Looking for your local pet vaccinations clinic? To book your pet’s vaccinations or for general pet care advice, contact your local Animal Trust team for more information.