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Posted by on February 11, 2012

Vaccinations are vital: Anyone who’s ever had a dog knows the enormous enjoyment they can bring. But of course, along with the pleasure, comes a certain responsibility particularly where your dog’s health care is concerned.

Both puppies and adult dogs have a insatiable curiosity, and as they investigate the world around them, they are almost certain to come into contact with infection of one kind or another. You’ve only to watch your pet patrolling its patch for evidence of other dogs, scampering off to explore some new experience or greeting another dog with boisterous energy to realise that potential exposure to diseases is an everyday part of every dog’s life. Given that, you can understand why vaccination is so vital, because quite simply it’s the best way to protect your dog against a whole range of distressing and possibly fatal diseases that are common in the UK. In fact, where most viruses are concerned, there aren’t any treatments available, so if you want your pet to be safe, follow the old saying: Prevention is better than cure.

Remember too, that while you’re protecting your own pet through vaccination you’re also helping safeguard other dogs as well, since yours is less likely to become an unwitting carrier of disease with the potential to spread infection far and wide. As you can imagine, if more and more dog owners take their responsibility seriously, we’ve a much better chance of controlling the impact of disease and avoiding all the problems and worries that go with it. And that has to be good for every dog and every owner in the country.

Q: How do vaccines work?

A: Vaccinations teach the immune system to recognise and respond quickly to certain infections before they can cause serious illness. They contain harmless strains of the viruses and bacteria that your dog needs protection against. Most of the diseases that are vaccinated against have no specific cure, and treatment can only support the animal before its immune system can hopefully fight off the disease. Recent advances in vaccine technology mean that they are safer than ever and can protect against even more diseases.

The vaccine stimulates the dog’s natural mechanisms to set up a protective screen against the disease and from then on, the same protective response is remembered and triggered whenever that specific disease is encountered.

Q: Which Diseases Are Covered By Vaccination?

A: With many people now having their dogs vaccinated regularly, the general incidence of disease has been greatly reduced. However, outbreaks are still common in areas where unvaccinated dogs are to be found – and it is vital that your puppy / adult dog is protected against the diseases described here.

Canine Parvovirus

Canine parvovirus first appeared in the late seventies, causing the deaths of thousands of dogs and since then, regular outbreaks have been common throughout the UK in areas where unvaccinated dogs are to be found. It is transmitted through contact with infected faeces and can also be carried on the dog’s hair, feet and feeding utensils. The virus is extremely difficult to eliminate and can persist in the environment for many months. Many normal disinfectants will not kill the virus.

Although dogs of all ages can become infected, puppies are particularly susceptible to the disease, and the symptoms include a sudden onset of vomiting, high temperature and foul smelling, bloody diarrhoea. Dogs rapidly dehydrate, may collapse and can die within 24 hours of the symptoms appearing, even with hospital treatment.

Canine hepatitis

Canine hepatitis is a disease which attacks the liver, kidneys, eyes and lungs of infected dogs. The disease can develop extremely rapidly, often within 24 to 36 hours, and can cause respiratory failure and death in a significant proportion of cases. Canine hepatitis is spread by direct contact with infected urine, saliva or faeces and the symptoms commonly include fever, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and vomiting.

Dogs which survive the disease sometimes suffer from clouding of the cornea (‘blue eye’) during recovery. Many will become symptomless carriers of the disease for many months and be a potential threat to every other unvaccinated dog they come into contact with. There are many causes of hepatitis in dogs – including bacterial and viral infection, drugs and other toxic substances – the most common is the canine adenovirus, and it is this particular, highly contagious form of hepatitis that vaccines are designed to prevent.


Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease which occurs in two different forms in the UK. The first is picked up from the urine of infected rats, most often through dogs drinking from or swimming in canals and rivers inhabited by rats, or by chasing rats or sniffing where rats have been. The symptoms include a high temperature, depression, severe thirst, lethargy, vomiting and jaundice. The disease results in serious liver damage in unvaccinated dogs and is frequently fatal.This form of Leptospirosis can also be transmitted to people – an additional, compelling reason to vaccinate your dog against the disease.

The second form of Leptospirosis can be contracted in the first year or so of a dog’s life from the infected urine of other dogs and the damage it causes usually only appears as the dog gets older, manifesting itself as kidney failure.

Canine distemper (Hard Pad)

Although many people assume distemper – or Hard Pad as it is commonly called – is a thing of the past, localised outbreaks still occur sporadically, with the disease spreading through unvaccinated dogs. Distemper is also carried by foxes and, in urban areas in particular, this can be a source of infection for your dog.

The disease is transmitted through moisture droplets, with dogs usually picking it up when sniffing where infected dogs have been – and since the incubation period can be as long as three weeks, it is usually too late to vaccinate once any outbreak has begun.

The symptoms include a wet cough, diarrhoea, high temperature, loss of appetite, sore eyes, and a runny nose. In some instances, the dog’s nose and foot pads can become hard and cracked- hence the common name – while in severe cases, the disease can lead to pneumonia, fits, muscle spasms and paralysis. Distemper is often fatal and even those dogs that survive can be left with brain damage and permanent disabilities such as deformed teeth, nervous twitches, epileptic fits and complete changes of personality.

Kennel Cough

Despite the name, Kennel Cough can be contracted in any situation where dogs are brought together – obedience classes, parks, camp sites, dog shows, popular walks, doggy day care and the like. It is caused by a variety of infectious agents – including canine parainfluenza virus and the Bordetella bacterium – and is passed on by breathing in contaminated airborne droplets or direct contact with infected dogs.

It is highly contagious and can spread rapidly through any area where infected dogs are present. The main symptom of kennel cough is a harsh, dry cough without mucus or phlegm, and one of the most typical signs is gagging or retching as though the dog has something stuck in its throat. This may last for any period from a few days to several weeks, and during this time, secondary infections may also lead to pneumonia.


Newer vaccines can also give protection against canine coronavirus, which can cause serious diarrhoea in infected animals.

Rabies vaccines are used only occasionally but can enable pets to travel freely from the UK to Europe provided they comply with the rules set down under the Pet Travel Scheme.

Q: Why is there a need to vaccinate?

A: The current low incidence of diseases such as distemper is principally due to dog owners having their pets routinely vaccinated. Vaccination is necessary in order to provide protection against life threatening diseases such as distemper, hepatitis, parvovirosis and leptospirosis. Vaccination is the only proven method of protecting against these diseases. Apart from perhaps leptospirosis, there is no specific cure for them, and in all cases – including leptospirosis – treatment may not only be unsuccessful but also extremely expensive.

Q: Why Does My Dog Need Annual Boosters?

A: None of the main diseases have yet been eradicated and cases of all these diseases are still reported. A dog is always at risk of potential exposure to one of them if it goes out or comes into contact with other dogs or, in the case of leptospirosis, with wild rodents or the areas they frequent. Immunity is also neither lifelong or of the same duration in every animal. Regular booster vaccination is an effective way of ‘topping up’ a dog’s immunity thereby minimising the risk of disease when challenged by natural infection. Some human vaccines are in fact boosted where there is an increased risk of exposure, for example vaccination against ‘flu or polio.

As long as the booster is carried out at the right time, a single dose will be all that’s required. However, if you’re late for any reason, a second dose of vaccine – and a second visit to your vet – may be necessary to restore your dog’s immunity to the appropriate level. Kennel Cough vaccinations may not last as long as 12 months and require boosters much more often.

Q: How Are Vaccines Given?

A: Most dog vaccines are given by injection into the scruff of the neck. The procedure goes unnoticed in most cases.

Kennel cough vaccines are given as nasal drops.



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