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Ask a vet online – How often should my dogs get boosters?

Karen Taylor asked:

How often should our dogs be re-vaccinated (boosters)?


Hi Karen, thanks for your question about booster vaccinations. This is an area that’s become quite controversial in the last few years, and there’s a lot of confusion about the subject. In addition, there’s a lot of very poor-quality information out there, so I’ll try to make this quite clear and obvious!

To put it as simply as possible – see your vet every year for a health check, and discuss your vaccination strategy with them.

For more detail… now read on!

What are vaccinations?

Put simply, a vaccination is a way of teaching your dog’s immune system how to recognise and defeat the micro-organism that causes an infectious disease, without the risks (of illness, potential long term health problems or death) inherent in a “natural” infection.

This is achieved in one of three ways:

1) A weakened form of the disease-causing organism.

These are called “modified live” or “attenuated” vaccines, e.g. for Distemper and Parvovirus; the organism included is unable to multiply and/or cause clinical disease, but it is active enough to stimulate a strong immune response. Most modified live vaccines give a stronger and more long-lasting immune response than an inactivated vaccine; however, they aren’t suitable for every disease (because some organisms cannot be weakened enough to make them safe)…

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The story of Dan, a coughing Springer Spaniel

 Dan was a nine year old Springer Spaniel who loved strenuous physical exercise. His owner, Dr Mullen, was a medical doctor who was an enthusiastic hill walker, so they made a good team. They would spend days off in the Dublin mountains together on six-hour hikes through the countryside. Dan was brought to see me because he had developed an irritating cough, and Dr Mullen was worried.

The cough did not affect Dan during exercise. He was still able to run for hours without any problem, but the following morning, immediately after getting up, he would cough repeatedly as he walked around the room. It seemed to be a productive cough: sometimes he swallowed after the cough, and other times Dr Mullen found patches of white phlegm on the floor. When Dan had been up and about for half an hour, the cough seemed to clear, and he’d be fine for the rest of the day…

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Why would an experienced vet go back to college? Here’s why…


The university course leading to a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery is by necessity a hard-working, information-packed five years. The focus has traditionally been on accumulating facts, with the presumption that other aspects of being a vet can be learned later, when life in practice has commenced. As a result, there has sometimes been a perception (which may or may not be true) that new graduates can be over-academic, with a tendency to be impractical.

An innovative response to this criticism has been established at many vet schools, with a concept known as the “Practitioner-in-Residence”
. An experienced veterinary surgeon leaves their own practice for a period of ten weeks, to spend time at the Veterinary College, teaching students about “real life”. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to fill this role at my own local vet college….

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Preparing for Fireworks – with Sound?

Firework fears are one of the commonest behavioural issues we see in practice – unsurprisingly, a lot of dogs spend the week on either side of Bonfire Night terrified.

In almost every case, this is because of the noise – a sudden, sharp and loud sound, with no obvious warning (from the dog’s point of view). Although a few dogs are afraid of the light show, it’s pretty rare – it’s usually about the sound. The dog’s natural dislike of loud noises is worsened because we get really excited about fireworks, and tend to jump around, shout and exclaim loudly. We know that’s because we’re enjoying the display – but dogs often get the wrong end of the stick and think we’re alarmed, or scared ourselves. Therefore, in their mind, it must be something truly terrifying if humans are afraid of it too…

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What should be done about vets collaborating with puppy farmers?

The BBC Watchdog exposé about a puppy farm in Bradford was shown last night: it provided a shocking reminder of this horrific industry.

Puppy farming is one of those hidden issues in our society. We all know that it goes on, but it happens behind closed doors, and it’s generally only with hind sight that people realise that they have bought a puppy-farmed dog. Typically, somebody sets their mind on a certain breed. They try the “quality breeder” route, but discover that they’ll have to wait four months, and there’s a hefty price tag. So when they find a pup on the internet that’s immediately available, costing 30% less, it can be tempting. They meet the seller in a car park, because “it’s much easier than giving directions to our place in the countryside”. It’s only later, when the initial excitement of welcoming the pup has worn off that they notice the fleas, the worms, the poor body condition and the nervousness, all indications of a classic puppy farm upbringing.

It’s one thing for an unscrupulous breeder to be producing puppies in sub-standard conditions, but what about the vets who may be involved in helping them? I came across one purchaser of a puppy-farmed dog recently who was incensed that her puppy came with a vaccine certificate signed by the local vet. She was furious, and she wrote to the vet, demanding answers to her questions. “Do you do any checks in people bringing litters to your practice? Do you ask to see the parent dogs? Do you do background checks on breeders? Do you not wonder why there are so many puppies? How many litters of pups have you vaccinated for this man?” These are all good questions: how much responsibility should vets take in such situations?

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Training dogs: can old dogs learn tricks? And what about residential “boot camps” for dogs?

The early autumn is a bit like a mini-New Year. The summer has ended, schools have gone back, and the term-time routines start again. It can be a great time to start new projects, and for many dog owners, that can include tackling the complicated issue of training their pet. Many dog owners have pets with bad habits that they want to change.

Dogs behave in response to the way that their owners treat them. A dog will only beg from the table at mealtime if her owner has taught her to do this by feeding titbits in the past. A dog will only jump up onto the settee if she has been allowed to do this by her owner. It then follows that it is possible to re-train dogs by changing the way we behave towards them. A dog can be re-trained at any age, by using modern dog training methods.

Anybody can set themselves up to be a dog trainer, and so there’s a wide variety of styles and standards in the dog training world. Some have had formal instruction in dog training. Some have even passed exams. Others are self-taught. It’s best to choose trainers who have been taught the latest techniques, and who continue to make an effort to keep themselves up to date….

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Killing badgers: a necessary evil or the unwarranted destruction of a scapegoat?

Badgers are at the centre of one of the biggest rural controversies of our time.

On the one hand, many farmers  see them as disease-carrying pests that need to be controlled in the same way as urban dwellers control rats, with poison, traps or guns.

On the other hand, animal lovers see them as benign, harmless characters, going about their own business, and certainly not “guilty” enough to deserve death.

How can there be such a huge gulf between these opposing views? Is there a central “truth” that we can all agree about?

It is true that badgers can spread TB to cattle

There are some definitive facts. Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) is a complex disease which needs to be controlled to maintain the UK’s international animal health reputation. Control measures include improved on-farm hygiene, accurate identification of cattle, records of animal movement, regular testing of cattle by vets, and unfortunately for badgers, strict control of wildlife that can carry TB.

You see, there is no doubt that badgers can carry TB.

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Grazia: fashion news, beauty tips and terrible advice about breeding pets

Grazia is an Italian women’s magazine, first printed in 1938 when it was modelled on the USA magazine, Harper’s Bazaar. At the time, it was said to focus on traditional family values, such as cooking and child rearing. In recent years, the magazine has expanded its frontiers, now having over twenty international editions, including a British edition which started in 2005, and had a circulation of over 160000 by 2013.

So why is a vet writing a blog about a women’s magazine? Well, in the latest UK edition, Grazia has taken an ill-judged foray into the world of pet breeding. The magazine includes a feature on easy ways to earn extra income, with someone called “Ella”, said to be an estate agent, enthusing about the ease with which she makes extra cash by breeding her Ragdoll cat and Shih Tzu dogs. “Ella” seemed to give lip service to the idea of responsible breeding, saying “You want healthy animals or you get a bad rep. If you think Netmums is bad, you haven’t seen how bitchy pet forums are!”…

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Communicating with pets: body language versus speaking English

One of the biggest challenges for vets is our lack of ability to have conversations with our patients. This isn’t always a huge problem: for example, if a dog has a broken leg, or a cat has an abscess, the problem is very easy to identify just by examining the patient. But we could still learn useful information from a verbal discussion. I would like to ask “How painful is it?”, or “Which cat attacked you?”. Treatment would also be easier to give if we could give our patients verbal instructions, such as “You must not chew this plaster cast off” or “You must let your owner bathe the sore area twice daily”.

Pain is a specific area where communication would be particularly useful….

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The BBC is wrong to allow an unqualified person to recommend unproven treatments to animals

The Hay Festival is not a place where you might expect to learn about the treatment of animals: it’s an annual literature festival held in Hay-on-Wye, Powys, Wales, for ten days at the end of May every year.

Caroline Ingraham has written an interesting book – “How animals heal themselves” –  which is presumably the reason she was given the opportunity to give an account of her subject at the Hay Festival last week. The BBC have created a podcast from her talk,  but I believe that the editors were wrong to give her this uncritical forum to propagate her views. Caroline has a controversial belief in the ability of animals to choose their own medicine. There’s nothing wrong with her having these beliefs, but there is a problem when her views are broadcast without any “public health warning”. There is a serious risk that animals could suffer unnecessarily if members of the public follow her advice to the letter….

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