Vaccination is a routine part of preventative health care for all dogs, but it can be confusing. There are a number of vaccinations available for dogs and a range of vaccination schedules. Learn which vaccines your dog needs and how often.
Your dog’s immune system is an amazing thing. It is designed to keep him healthy by destroying the bacteria and viruses that can make him ill. It also has a very good memory, and this is why vaccination is so effective.
When your dog is vaccinated, he is injected with the actual organisms that cause disease. These organisms have been killed or modified to make them less infectious. Some vaccines don’t contain any organisms but instead contain structural proteins that have been isolated from them. Even though the vaccine won’t cause disease, your dog’s immune system will respond to it. Should your dog ever become naturally infected, his body will quickly mount an immune response and is more likely to be able to fight the disease.
CORE AND NON-CORE VACCINES
The vaccines recommended for dogs can be divided into core and non-core vaccines.
The core vaccines are those that should be given to all dogs, because they protect against serious and potentially fatal diseases that affect animals all around the world. They include
- Distemper – a viral disease that causes a runny nose, vomiting and diarrhea, and twitching. It is often fatal and dogs that survive usually have ongoing health issues for the rest of their life.
- Infectious Canine Hepatitis – this too is a viral disease that causes fever, bleeding disorders and liver disease. It is highly contagious and the virus is able to survive in the environment for months. It can also be shed in the urine of recovered dogs for up to 6 months, which can spread the disease throughout a neighbourhood.
- Canine Parvovirus – Commonly known as parvo, this virus causes vomiting, bloody diarrhea, dehydration and death in dogs of all ages. The organism is very difficult to kill; it survives freezing and hot temperatures, and can remain infectious in the ground for up to 7 months.
Non-core vaccines protect dogs against diseases that may not be life threatening but still cause illness. They are usually only given to dogs that are at risk of those diseases, either because of their physical location or their lifestyle.
The non-core vaccinations in dogs are:
- Canine Parainfluenza Virus and Bordetella Bronchiseptica. These two organisms are responsible for causing kennel cough, a contagious respiratory illness that can last for several weeks. It spreads readily where dogs congregate. If your dog is going to places such as dog parks, obedience clubs or boarding kennels, it’s worth protecting him against it.
- Leptospirosis. This isn’t a common disease, but when it occurs, it can make a dog very ill with kidney disease. It can occur where there are large numbers of wild rats, and dogs are exposed to rat urine. Dogs that live on sugar cane farms or other places with large rat populations may benefit from being vaccinated for leptospirosis.
How often you vaccinate your dog varies with the type of vaccine and the manufacturer, but there are some general guidelines to follow.
Puppies acquire antibodies to disease from the colostrum, or first milk, so they have some level of immunity from a very young age. However, these antibodies vary in both their level and duration, so you don’t know when your pup is no longer protected by them. If there are high levels of these antibodies in your pup’s bloodstream, they will reduce his response to the vaccine and it won’t be as effective.
To take this into account, pups need to be vaccinated two to three times between 6 and 16 weeks of age. A booster vaccination is given one year later.
Core vaccines need only be given every 3 years, but non-core vaccines often need a yearly booster to maintain your dog’s protection. This doesn’t mean that you should only take your dog to the vet every 3 years when his shots are due. A yearly health check will catch any medical conditions before they become too serious, and it will give you a chance to chat to your vet about any issues that are concerning you.
VACCINATION SAVES LIVES
Vaccination is important in controlling a number of serious, contagious and potentially fatal diseases of dogs. All dogs should be vaccinated with the core vaccines, 2 to 3 times as a puppy then 3 yearly as an adult. Whether or not your dog should be vaccinated against non-core diseases is something to be discussed between you and your veterinarian.