Every caring dog owner's worst nightmare is the idea of their dog becoming sick or injured, and the associated worry at seeing your dog in distress, being able to provide care for them, and the cost of veterinary treatment. While there is no magic pill to help your dog avoid accident or injury, vaccinating your dog against the main canine illnesses and dangers to their health can potentially save a lot of pain for your dog and a lot of heartache for yourself in trying to treat and manage infections and illnesses that are in the main part preventable. If you're not quite sure what vaccination entails, the illnesses it protects against, or how to go about getting your dog protected, then read on.
Delivering a vaccination involves a highly dilute and inactive strain of a known virus or bacteria that can cause illness being introduced into your dog's system, in order to teach the immune system to recognise the strain of the illness and so develop a natural immunity against it. Vaccines are normally delivered as a solution for injection, although the kennel cough immunisation is provided as a nasal spray. Combined vaccines are widely available in the UK, which means just one or two injections will be needed to protect against several illnesses as opposed to an individual shot to cover each condition. Puppies are usually vaccinated in two stages, the first being delivered at around six weeks old, and the second stage two to four weeks later. It's important that puppies do not come into contact with any other unvaccinated dogs until they have received both stages of their initial vaccination, in order to minimise the chances of them contracting any illness or disease while their immune system is still developing. This is why puppies are not usually allowed out or walked outside of the home during the first few months of their lives. Vaccinations are not just for puppies though- If you find yourself in ownership of an unvaccinated adult dog, they too can be vaccinated for the first time at any age (overall health and any pre existing conditions permitting.) Boosters are then required on an annual basis for all dogs in order to keep your pet protected. In the UK, we generally vaccinate against the following diseases and illnesses:
Canine parvovirus is a particularly nasty disease most commonly found in young unvaccinated puppies, that has a high mortality rate despite treatment. Parvovirus attacks the cells lining the intestine, and causes vomiting and acute diarrhoea.
Canine distemper, sometimes referred to as 'hardpad' is a virus that attacks the central nervous system, gut and lungs, and unfortunately is usually fatal.
The canine parainfluenza virus is the viral strain usually found in kennel cough.
Kennel cough can be caused by many different strains of bacteria, and the kennel cough vaccination protects against the most common strain, bordetella bronchiseptica. Kennel cough is characterised by a dry, painful and hacking cough, which is highly transmissible to other dogs. It is usually mandatory to have your dog vaccinated against kennel cough if nothing else when boarding them in a commercial kennel.
This hepatitis strain affects the liver, kidneys, eyes and lungs of unvaccinated dogs. It has a high mortality rate in unvaccinated animals, although some dogs do recover if they receive prompt treatment.
Leptospirosis, is a bacterial infection that often results through ingestion of infected water, from areas such as stagnant ponds, canals and even sometimes internal water systems which harbour the disease. It can also be transmitted via the urine of affected animals, and humans are susceptible to the illness as well as other dogs. Leptospirosis is treated with antibiotics, although prompt diagnosis and treatment is required in order to prevent possible permanent damage to the kidneys. Left untreated, leptospirosis is often fatal.
Canine coronavirus is an intestinal disease that is highly contagious to other dogs. It can also cause affected dogs to become more susceptible to contracting canine parvovirus as a secondary infection. The vaccine for canine coronavirus is a relatively new introduction to the general vaccination spectrum in the UK, and not all vets provide vaccination for it as a matter of course. Check with your local vet if coronavirus is vaccinated against as standard, and ask for their advice as to whether you should seek to vaccinate your dog against it.
As rabies is considered to have been eliminated from the animal population in the UK, rabies vaccinations are no longer given as a matter of course. However if you are planning on travelling outside of the UK with your dog, he will need to have the rabies vaccination as part of the procedure for obtaining a pet passport, to avoid your dog being quarantined upon re-entry to the UK.
The cost of vaccinating your dog can vary considerably depending on what part of the UK you are in and the vaccinations delivered. The initial course of two staggered doses of vaccination usually runs between approximately £50 and £80, and the annual boosters between £40 and £60, although this is only intended as a rough guide. The cost of vaccinating your dog may seem expensive, but it would be a false economy to avoid vaccination and hope for the best. Any of the preventable illnesses and diseases mentioned above can soon become highly expensive to treat, with a 24 hour inpatient stay and monitoring in a veterinary hospital usually costing more per day than the entire cost of the initial two stage vaccination course. It would be hard to overstate the importance of vaccinating your dog and keeping their annual boosters up to date in order to protect their lifelong health and minimise the chance of them contracting an almost wholly preventable illness or disease at some stage of their lives. The responsible, caring owner always seeks to vaccinate their dogs- Make sure you are among their number.