Vaccinating your pet - why is this important?

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26/06/2018
Our pets depend on their humans to keep them healthy. Vaccination is just one of several measures to prevent illness from common infectious diseases. Vaccination programs are advised for dogs, cats and rabbits alongside an annual examination with one of our vets. Preventative health, such as vaccinating and regular worm/flea treatment help to give your pet the best possible quality of life for the longest possible time.
Vaccinations help protect your pet from a number of common viral and bacterial diseases. At some time in its life, your pet may be exposed to a serious or even fatal infectious disease. Without proper vaccination, it’s left unprotected. Whether your pet spends time indoors or outdoors, he may be at risk of exposure to infectious diseases. Fortunately, we can vaccinate your pet to prevent many of these diseases. 

Vaccinating your pet is the best and least costly way of preventing disease. Prevention helps assure the best quality of life for your pet and is less costly than treating for a serious illness that could have been prevented. 

How does vaccination work? 

When your dog, cat or rabbit is given a vaccine, its immune system produces special substances called antibodies. The antibodies work against viruses or bacteria that cause disease and can be regarded as the bodies “fighter pilots”. 

Later, if your pet is exposed to that same disease, these antibodies will help destroy those viruses or bacteria. It is important to note that vaccines are preventative rather than curative. Vaccinating a sick animal is not going to help and in fact is not advised. 

A healthy pet and healthy immune system is required in order to build these protective antibodies in response to a vaccine. In many cases, vaccines which help protect against several diseases are combined, thereby reducing the number of injections your pet receives at one time.

How often should my dog be vaccinated? 

The number and frequency of vaccinations, can be determined during a routine examination by your veterinarian. 

Your vet will take several factors into consideration when making decision about what diseases to vaccinate against and the frequency this needs to be administered.  Your pet’s lifestyle, life stage and risk of exposure are part of that process. 

Since the protection provided by a vaccine may gradually decline after an animal is vaccinated, periodic re-vaccination is necessary. Such booster vaccines are necessary to “remind” the immune system to produce enough protective antibodies or fighter pilots. 

A regular health examination performed by your vet at vaccination time, will help him/her identify any problems with your pet. Early detection of problems allows for early treatment and a better prognosis in general.  Two vet health examinations are included in your pets Millennium Care Plan as we believe this early detection is important.  For more information on our Millennium Care Plan for dogs and cats and the annual savings you will benefit from, click here.

How do I know which vaccine my pet needs? 

The vaccines your pet needs are dependent upon his lifestyle, life stage and risk of exposure to certain diseases. As a general rule of thumb, puppies and kittens typically receive a course of
vaccinations followed by annual boosters. Rabbits require vaccinations every year, but an initial course of vaccinations is not necessary.   

Why do puppies and kittens require more vaccination injections than older pets? 

Puppies and kittens are as vulnerable as they are adorable, and their immature immune systems can’t fight off diseases as well as older dogs and cats. A nursing puppy or kitten receives antibodies from its mother’s milk that protects it during the first months of its life. 

However, the protection received naturally through maternal antibodies can interfere with early vaccinations, making it difficult to pinpoint when vaccines stimulate immunity. Thierefore puppies and kittens need vaccinations several times during their first few months of life. That way, if maternal antibodies interfere with early vaccinations, later doses will still stimulate the puppy/kitten to produce its own antibodies & protection to the disease. 

Puppies need 2-3 initial vaccinations for optimal protection and kittens 2 initial vaccinations. The best time for vaccination is at 8 and 10 weeks for puppies and 9 and 12 weeks of age for kittens. This may vary if your pet has already had its first vaccination before you picked them up from the breeder, but we can advise you if this is the case.

Time to produce protection

Vaccines do not stimulate immunity immediately after they are administered. Once a vaccine is administered, the antigens (virus particles in the vaccine) must be recognised, responded to, and remembered by the immune system. In most puppies, disease protection does not begin until five days post vaccination. 

Full protection from a vaccine can take up to fourteen days. In general, modified live vaccines provide the fastest protection.  

Are vaccines dangerous? 

Not usually. Unfortunately, a perfect, risk-free vaccine does not exist in human or animal medicine. Without question, vaccines have saved countless lives, and they continue to be indispensable weapons in the battle against infectious diseases. 

However, as with any medical procedure, there is a small chance that reactions may develop as a result of vaccination. In most cases, the risks associated with vaccination are much smaller than the risks of disease if vaccines were not given, i.e. the benefits far outweigh the risk of a reaction. 

What possible risks are associated with vaccination? 

Mild reactions usually start within several hours to a day after vaccination, and last no more than a day or two.  These can include: discomfort at the site where the vaccine was given; mild fever; diminished appetite and activity or development of a small, firm non-painful swelling under the skin at the site where the vaccine was given. The swelling usually goes away after several weeks, but if you notice such a swelling, please contact us.  

Severe reactions to vaccinations are very uncommon. Your pet is at far greater risk of contracting an infectious disease than of experiencing side effects from a vaccination. Speak to us if you have concerns about vaccinating your pet and to find out more about the risks associated with the vaccination. We understand how important your pets are to you and that's why we encourage every pet owner to visit us regularly, so we can make sure your pet is up to date on vaccinations and in general good physical condition.  

Fact: Vaccination remains the single most effective method for protecting against infectious disease in healthy animals 

Understanding Vaccination and Immunity in your Puppy better

How can it be possible that even vaccinated pets still contract the diseases they were vaccinated against? Some people may refer to it as “vaccine failure”, however it is more likely a failure of the immune system to respond to the vaccine than a problem with the vaccine itself. Parvovirus, often referred to in layman’s terms as “cat flu”, is a good example. 

Why does it sometimes happen that a puppy can get parvovirus infection and possibly die, if it was already vaccinated? 

Maternal antibodies. What does that mean? 

A new born puppy, kitten or rabbit is NOT naturally immune to diseases. It does have some protection though, which comes from its mother's blood via the placenta, while it is still in the womb. The next level of immunity is from antibodies derived from the first milk. This is the milk produced from the time of birth and continues for 24-48 hours. This antibody-rich milk is called colostrum and all antibodies derived from the mother, either via her blood or colostrum are called maternal antibodies. 

Antibody transfer through colostrum does not continue for longer than 2 days, it starts to decline at a predictable rate. The young animal will lose half of its maternal antibodies every 10 days to the point when they will no longer be protected.   The age at which it will become susceptible to infection, will be determined primarily by the antibody level of the mother. 

Young animals born to mothers with NO antibody titre will be susceptible from birth.  Young animals born with a low level of antibodies may be susceptible from as young as 6 weeks after birth, but those from mothers with a high level of immunity (those that have received their booster vaccinations annually), will be immune for longer.    It is therefore important that the adult dog, cat or rabbit receives its annual vaccinations to give her young the best possible start.

Another important factor playing a role in the passive immune status is the number of antibodies it actually ingests and absorbs. Think about the little runt, or even the weaker animal in the litter - battling to get a chance to suckle at the teats, competing with its bigger brother and sisters. Once 48 hours have past the little runt’s chances of getting any antibodies will have past. This little one will be more susceptible to a wide variety of diseases compared to it’s larger siblings. 

Mothers who are too malnourished or who have a heavy parasite burden, will produce less colostrum. Often giving birth for the very first time, they will not have the initial experience to allow sufficient suckling opportunity for each of their young. Those that are hypothermic (too cold) shortly after birth will absorb less antibodies than their siblings who are snug and warm. Therefore, if the young have a good mother she will ensure that each gets the best chance for survival. If she’s inexperienced or not a good mother (which includes her temperament), good supervision from the owner, is necessary to ensure each of the young receives a fair share of the golden milk in the first two days especially the first 24 hours.

Breeding from your pet

Getting the right advise is vital before you consider breeding from your pet.  The importance of the mother and father's temperament can't be underestimated, the environment and the way the mum is handled throughout their pregnancy and the early experiences of all the pups are only some of the considerations.  Vaccination and worming programs are vital for health parents and health pups.  Feeding a good quality food is also important.  

Please seek our advice before you breed from your pet or if you have further questions about vaccination.

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