wsava vacination

VACCINATIONS

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DOG VACCINATIONS: TRUTH AND HYPE

You can’t read a dog magazine, or join a dog Facebook group without the subject of dog vaccinations coming up. Usually the theme is, ‘vets are ripping you off and harming your dog’, but is that true?

The best place to start is probably not an anti-vaccination group, or a drug company website, but the WSAVA who have a committee dedicated to reviewing the research into vaccination and developing guidelines for vets in many different countries and situations.

The WSAVA are concerned with both an individual dog’s health, but also the health of the wider canine, wildlife, and human populations. Many writers focus on their advice that many dogs have long durations of immunity to core vaccinations…but they don’t consider the extra puppy jabs the WSAVA recommend. This article considers the recommendations for pet dogs in the UK.

WHY VACCINATE DOGS?

Vaccination gives dogs protection against a range of diseases. Vaccination pre-warns the immune system so that it can respond better when challenged with the disease. This means the dog either doesn’t get sick, or has a milder form of the disease. Many vaccines also stop dogs shedding the disease and spreading it to other dogs.

CORE VACCINES

Every dog should receive vaccination against Canine Adenovirus (infectious hepatitis), Canine Parvovirus, and Canine Distemper. Of these Parvovirus remains the most common, often being seen in puppies from poor backgrounds. It causes bloody diarrhoea, vomiting, and affected puppies often die even after extensive (and expensive!) treatment. Distemper was becoming something of a distant memory in the UK, though many colleagues have seen one or two cases (often in dogs imported from Eire). However distemper is on the rise in imported dogs from eastern Europe. Early symptoms include lethargy, conjunctivitis, and joint pain. Dogs can recover with intensive nursing, but may suffer neurological damage and problems with their pads. Infectious hepatitis is not often reported in the UK, but may be underdiagnosed with liver problems being attributed to other causes. Most UK core vaccines are proven, by their manufacturers, to give at least 3 years duration of immunity.

NON-CORE VACCINES

These should be given according to risk. In the UK almost all dogs should receive Leptospirosis vaccination. This bacterial infection is found in standing water, especially water which may have been contaminated with farm animal or rat urine. The disease is contagious between dogs, and also to people (where it is called Weil’s Disease). Infection in people starts with flu-like symptoms but the disease can become serious, even fatal. In dogs the liver or kidneys are most commonly affected. Treatment with fluids and antibiotics can be successful, but dogs can shed the leptospires in their urine for some time after recovery making them an animal and human health risk. The number of confirmed canine Leptospirosis cases each year is relatively low because a proper diagnosis required two blood samples, taken a month apart, showing a rising antibody titre. Dogs are usually either dead or recovering by the time the second sample should be taken and its cost means this step is often skipped. Many more suspected cases are treated every year, and Leptospirosis is thought to be responsible for some chronic kidney and liver disease too. In recent years with increased flooding vets have reported clusters of Lepto cases.

Kennel cough vaccines can be considered for any dog which goes to kennels, groomers, training classes, shows, or to a dog walker. Although Kennel cough is not dangerous to healthy adult dogs it can kill old dogs and puppies. Breeding bitches should be vaccinated before mating. The vaccine protects against Bordatella and the Paraninfluenza virus and is given as a nasal drop.

Leptospirosis and Kennel cough vaccines only offer short lived protection and should be repeated annually if required.

Rabies is not a core vaccine in the UK as we are rabies free. However vaccination is required for travel under the Pet Passport scheme.

In the last few years additional vaccines have become available for Lymes Disease and Leishmania; these should be given only to dogs at high risk of those diseases. Herpes virus vaccination is available to reduce the risk of fading puppy syndrome. It is only given to breeding bitches and must be given at each pregnancy.

SICK DOGS

A small number of dogs can’t be vaccinated due to ill health, previous reactions, medications, or simply don’t produce a good immune response to vaccination.These dogs can be protected by ‘herd immunity’, i.e. diseases are unlikely to reach them if all the other dogs around them are protected.

WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF VACCINATING DOGS?

Nothing that we put into our, or our dog’s, bodies is safe. The immune system can react badly to any food, drug, or vaccination. The risk of reactions from vaccinations may be higehr than for other drugs as we are directly trying to stimulate an immune response. However, vaccines are generally safe with a low risk of reactions.

COMMON REACTIONS

The most common reaction is pain at the injection site. With some vaccinations over 50% of dogs will show some pain. A few of these will get a swelling at the injection site but this is short lived.

Being ‘off colour’ for 24 hours or so is not unusual either, and reflects the stimulation of the immune system.

Some dogs, especially puppies get diarrhoea after vaccination. This may reflect the immune response, but may also reflect the stress of a vet visit on top of rehoming, a change in diet and water, and any parasite treatment given. Most cases resolve with symptomatic treatment.

These common, mild reactions usually pass with little or no treatment, but always contact your vet if you are concerned.

RARE REACTIONS

Anaphylactic reactions are extremely rare, and unfortunately are very unpredicatable. Dogs may react at their first injection, or after having a vaccine on several previous occasions. Anaphylactic reactions happen very quickly after vaccination and may include fainting, fitting, vomiting, and diarrhoea. They usually happen before a dog leave the practice and treatment with oxygen, adrenaline, and maybe steroids is usually effective.

LONG TERM REACTIONS?

Some authors write extensively about diseases caused by overvaccination, but there is actually very scant evidence for this. A ‘hypothyroid epidemic’ is blamed on vaccination, and yet the rate of diagnosis in the UK is the same as that on the Falkland Islands (where no disease risk means no vaccination). Autoimmune disease certainly seem to be on the rise, but many factors may be involved other than vaccines; we know certain breeds, and lines within breeds are more likely to get autoimmine diseases, pollution may play a factor, and understimulation of the immune system due to excellent hygiene and parasite control could be factors too. A survery examinind illnesses suffered in the three months after a vet visit showed no statistical difference between dogs which had been vaccinated, and those which had been seen for other reasons.

That said, it makes sense to only give what a dog needs when he needs it.

ALTERNATIVES TO VACCINATION

Homeopathic nosodes are not a suitable alternative to vaccination. In challenge testing puppies ‘vaccinated’ homeopathically against parvovirus got ill and died.

Titre testing is the best alternative to following the manufacturers recommendations. Titre testing is now available at a reasonable price (around £30) for Distemper, Hepatitis, and Parvovirus. Dogs with good levels of circulating antibody will be protected against disease. Dogs with low or no circulating antibody may not be protected. Advanced testing shows that some dogs with no circulating antibodies actually have cellular immunity…however this level of testing is not available in practice, so revaccination is recommended for low/no titre dogs.

Leptospirosis vaccination only produces circulating antibodies for a few weeks, then the immunity is cellular. For this reason titre testing is not suitable for assessing Leptospirosis protction.

WSAVA VACCINATION RECOMMENDATIONS AND PRACTICAL ONES

For maximum protection the WSAVA recommends either titre testing puppies monthly from 6weeks until their maternal antibody protection fades, or giving core vaccines monthly until 16weeks. They recommend a further vaccination at 6-12months and then either revaccination every 3 years for core vaccines or titre testing.

In practice very few people are going to want to either pay for monthly titre testing, or vaccinate their puppies up to 5 times in 6months. In the UK where disease risk is moderate the current protocols where vaccination starts at 6- 8 weeks and finishes at 10-12 weeks, with a booster at 12months, should provide adequate protection for most dogs. A 16week vaccine or titre test could be considered for certain breeds, or during a disease outbreak. Additionally, breeders keeping puppies which may suckle from their dam for longer than most could consider delaying their vaccine start, or titre testing.

The good news is that more and more practices are offering titre testing and individualised vaccination. Our Vet Vicky Payne offers vaccine consultations and titre testing at Companion Care Vets Eastbourne and Goudhurst Vets.