All the latest info on caring for your pet

Looking for something in particular? Check our categories!

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

injection

Karen Taylor asked: How often should our dogs be re-vaccinated (boosters)? Answer: 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). 2)      An inactivated (“killed” or “dead”) form of the organism. These cannot ever cause disease, but allow the immune system to recognise the protein coat of the organism and therefore attack it next time. They may be used for particularly dangerous or unpredictable diseases such as Rabies or Leptospirosis, but don’t always give such long-lasting protection. 3)      Subunit vaccines, introducing part of the organism to teach the immune system what it “looks like”. For these, part of the protein coat of the target organism is replicated in a lab, and included in the vaccine; this means the immune response is really tightly targeted at one particular, vital, part of the organism. These are used, for example, in the Leishmania vaccine. There are 2 groups of vaccines – core and non-core. Core vaccines are those that should be given to every dog – they protect your dog and everyone else’s against dangerous, highly contagious and potentially fatal diseases. Non-core vaccines are those that are given to protect dogs that are particularly at risk of a specific condition because of their location, lifestyle, etc. The core vaccines that every dog should have are against:
  • Distemper.
  • Parvovirus.
  • Canine Infectious Hepatitis.
The vaccine against Leptospirosis is technically non-core; however, it is generally agreed that every dog in the UK is at risk of Lepto (which is spread by rat urine), and so it is treated as a core vaccine by most vets. The non-core (optional) vaccines available are:
  • Rabies (only necessary for pets travelling abroad).
  • Parainfluenza (one of the causes of kennel cough).
  • Kennel Cough (the bacterial sort, Bordetella bronchiseptica).
  • Lyme Disease (only necessary for dogs at high risk, e.g. gundogs, in high risk areas, e.g. the South West peninsula).
  • Leishmania (only necessary for dogs travelling to southern Europe).
  • Canine Coronavirus (only usually needed in breeding kennels).
If vaccines are so good, why do they need boosting? Because nothing lasts forever! Eventually, the immune system starts to “forget” how to handle a particular disease organism. Booster vaccines effectively remind the system and refresh the immunity. However, immunity to different diseases (and different types of vaccine, for that matter) lasts a variable amount of time, and that’s the problem. Some dogs will retain immunity for longer than others – unfortunately, there’s no easy way to tell which dogs are immune to what for how long. Is there any way to tell whether my dog actually needs a booster? Not really! The trouble is that although some vaccines operate by producing protective antibodies (e.g. Rabies), others rely on inducing a Cell Mediated Immune Response (immunity that doesn’t rely on antibodies in the blood, but circulating immune cells, e.g. T-lymphocytes and Natural Killer (NK) cells) – such as the Leishmania vaccine, which may not produce any antibodies at all. And most of them probably rely to some extent on both systems. It's easy to test the dog’s blood for antibodies (and there are some commercial companies that will do this and say “yes, high levels of antibody, so the dog is protected” or “no, not enough antibody, the dog needs to be vaccinated again”. However, this is not generally considered reliable, because:
  • The serological titre (level of antibodies in the blood) can only tell you how much antibody there is in the bloodstream at the specific time the test is done - it cannot tell you whether the levels will remain high for the following 12 months.
  • The link between antibody levels and protection isn't consistent - some dogs utilise other parts of the immune system (cell mediated immunity) – for example, dogs can be protected against Leptospirosis in the presence or absence of significant circulating antibody levels.
So how long does immunity actually last? How long the vaccine lasts depends on the exact formulation of the vaccine; at the time of writing, the three Core vaccines generally need boosting 1 year after the initial course, then every 3 years. Most Rabies vaccines needs boosting only every 3 years; and the others usually require annual boosters. To get a license for a vaccine, the manufacturer has to demonstrate that the product has a protective effect, however that is defined. For Core vaccines, they have to demonstrate onset and duration of immunity such as to fulfil the license claim to:
  • “Prevent mortality and clinical signs caused by canine distemper virus infection”.
  • “Reduce clinical signs of infectious hepatitis and viral excretion due to canine adenovirus type 1 infection”.
  • “Prevent mortality, clinical signs and viral excretion following canine parvovirus infection”.
If this cannot be demonstrated to the regulator (in the UK, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate - VMD), they won’t get a license for the product. This means that manufacturer’s recommendations for duration of immunity are those that will protect the vast majority of dogs for the quoted time (3 years or 12 months, depending on the vaccine). To make life a little more complex, any vet who uses a different vaccination interval, unless they can document a good clinical justification, is technically acting illegally by using the vaccine off-license (i.e. not as licensed by the manufacturer). This sort of behaviour tends to lead to unpleasant interviews with the VMD and has led to vets being struck off (although not, to my knowledge, for vaccine infringements as yet). Can over-vaccination harm my dog? There’s no reliable evidence that it can. In cats, every subcutaneous injection (of anything, even saline!) slightly increases the risk of an Injection Site Sarcoma, but despite a lot of scientists, vets and owners trying to find a link, there’s no evidence that it causes any problems in dogs. That said, absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence, so a responsible approach would be to vaccinate as infrequently as the current evidence suggests is sufficient to provide protection – in other words: 1)      Get a health check for your dog at the vets every year. 2)      Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations (unless your vet has a particular clinical reason not to):
  1. Distemper, Parvo and Infectious Hepatitis – boosters every 3 years.
  2. Lepto – annual booster.
  3. Rabies – boost every 3 years.
  4. Other Non-core vaccines – usually every year.
  I hope that helps; this is a really controversial area in some quarters, but the evidence base for the current vaccination protocols is pretty secure, and it is what I’d advise you to follow. David Harris BVSc MRCVS
2 Comments

“Me and My Dog” – working together to eradicate rabies

[caption id="attachment_4069" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Pete with his own dog, Kiko Pete with his own dog, Kiko[/caption] Most dog owners adore their pets, and "pet selfies" are a popular way of expressing the joy of the bond between human and animal. A new campaign by a charity is using pet selfies to drive forwards an important goal: the global eradication of rabies. The concept is simple. Take a selfie of yourself with your pet, then upload it to the charity website. When you reach the uploading page, you'll be asked if you want to make a donation: even a couple of pounds will do. The idea is to make this a viral campaign: if enough people do this, the charity will raise a game-changing sum of money, and the goal of rabies eradication will be a step closer. There's an irony to the idea of "dog and owner" pictures being used to counter rabies: 99% of human cases of rabies are caused by dog bites. If it wasn't for the close relationship between humans and dogs, rabies wouldn't be an issue. The fact is that rabies is a big issue: over 150 people die of the disease every day, mostly in Africa and Asia. Scientists have worked out how to eradicate rabies. If 70% of all dogs in an area are vaccinated once against rabies, the disease dwindles and disappears. They've done it in South America over the past thirty years. In 1983, Latin America committed to mass dog vaccination: dog rabies cases in the region declined from a peak of 25,000 in 1977 to just 196 in 2011, and human cases fell by 96 per cent to only 15 across the whole continent. The aim of the Global Alliance for Rabies Control is to achieve the same levels of success in Africa and Asia. While it sounds simple to vaccinate 70% of the dogs in an area, it's difficult to do this in practice, on the ground, in real-life situations. A level of systematic organisation is necessary and in many parts of the world, it's difficult to make dog vaccination a high enough priority for this to happen. But although it's difficult, it's not impossible. Every year, more than 15 million people worldwide receive a post-exposure rabies vaccination, after being bitten by a dog, to prevent the disease – this is estimated to prevent hundreds of thousands of rabies deaths annually. This includes millions of people in Asia and Africa, and it's a fact that may contain the seed of an answer to the problem. It's much more costly to give post-exposure vaccination to a human than to give a one-off vaccine to a dog. If some of the funds used for human treatments could be diverted to vaccinate dogs, this would make it much easier to reach the goal of 70% vaccine coverage. If this was achieved, there would no longer be the same need for post-exposure vaccination: money spent would translate to money saved. On the ground, it's difficult to move funds around like this: human health departments fund the human vaccinations, whereas animal health departments pay for dog vaccines. Under the new concept of "One Health", it's recognised that human and animal health are closely intertwined. The human and animal health departments should be talking to each other, and funds should be easily transferred between them for projects like rabies control. Unfortunately, due to tradition and human issues of control, it isn't easy to make this happen. The Global Alliance for Rabies Control is doing its best to achieve this type of change, and the good news is that you can help them today. Go to this website: https://meandmydog.rabiesalliance.org/ and scroll down. You'll see a blue box that says 'Share' and if you click on 'choose file', it will automatically launch a window that will allow you to select a photo from your computer. You and your dog may only make a small difference, but if we all do it, we and our dogs together may be enough to change the world. Our generation can eradicate rabies and wouldn't it be fitting if our own dogs joined us in that goal?
No Comments

Caring for your new rabbit – essentials for proper bunny welfare

Did the Easter bunny come this year?  Not the imaginary kind that drops off chocolate, the real kind that lives for 10 years or more and deserves to have a better life than being trapped in a hutch at the bottom of the garden.  If they did, or you are thinking of getting one, here’s my guide on how to care for them.

Diet

The majority of problems that vets see in rabbits are related to an inadequate diet.  So, if you get their food right, you will give your pet the best chance of a healthy life!

The mainstay of a rabbit’s diet should be hay and every day they should eat a pile as big as they are. Rabbits have teeth that are constantly growing and chewing on hay keeps them in good shape.  One of the most common issues for rabbits is sharp, overgrown teeth that can be so painful they stop eating altogether. Hay is also vital for healthy digestion, particularly important in rabbits for whom diarrhoea can be fatal.

Rabbits should also have a handful of fresh food everyday and a small amount (a tablespoon at most) of hard, pelleted food.  Avoid the museli mixes as these allow your pet to pick out their favourites and become short on vital vitamins.  For the majority of their day, your rabbits bowl should be empty (just like a dog or cat!), so they only have their hay to nibble on.

Vaccinations

All rabbits should be vaccinated annually against Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD).  These are both fatal and vaccination is the only protection.  The injections can be given from 8 weeks of age.  This visit to the surgery is also an opportunity for your vet to ensure your new pet is healthy and for you to ask any questions.

Neutering

Having your rabbit neutered is very important.  Females should be spayed when they are around 6 months and males can be castrated from 4 months.  Entire rabbits can be grumpy, prone to biting and often urine spray, so not great pets!  Also, 80% of entire female rabbits will develop uterine cancer in later life.

Training and handling

Rabbits are prey animals, so they are naturally nervous.  This can mean they can be flighty and startle easily.   As soon as you get your new rabbit, work with them to gain their confidence.  Sit on the floor with them, offer treats, encouragement and try to get them to come to you.  Don't pick them up until they are used to you and always handle them calmly but firmly.

Also, rabbits should never be kept alone.  For a social animal, solitary confinement is akin to torture.  Neutered pairs of the opposite sex work best and they can be bonded in later life, if they have previously lived alone.

Parasites

The most common parasite in rabbits is a fur mite. It causes flaky, itchy skin and is easily treated with veterinary ´spot-on´ drops. They can also get fleas, just like dogs and cats, and again these are easily treated with veterinary products.  They can also suffer from internal parasites (worms) but they are not common.

Fly Strike

Fly strike is a horrific, and often deadly, problem.  It develops when flies lay their eggs on the dirty fur around a rabbit’s backend.  These develop into maggots which burrow into the rabbit’s flesh, causing huge pain and damage, often within just a few hours.  This is why all rabbits should be handled and checked at least twice daily and there are preventative treatments available from your vets.

Pet Insurance

There are now several companies which provide insurance policies for rabbits and it is something all rabbit owners should consider.

Rabbit are entertaining, inquisitive and rewarding but they do need the similar levels of care and attention as other pets.  They are not the low maintenance, children’s pet  many people think they are.  Hopefully this article has helped you if you do have a bun and if it has inspired you to own one, get in touch your local rescue, they always have rabbits needing loving homes!

Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS - Read more of her blogs at www.catthevet.com

If you have any worries about your rabbit or any pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.

2 Comments

Ask a vet online – ‘How imperative is having the annual booster jabs for cat flu/ Felv/ Fiv/ Leukemia?’

Question from Jakkii Mickle: Feline question again- how imperative is having the annual booster jabs for cat flu/ Felv/ Fiv/ Leukemia ? If they have had these injections from kitten age- would they have built up a natural immunity ? One of my cats reacts very badly to these injections, so as a result, I decided not to have them immunised - also my mums dog developed canine leukemia as a result of the injection programme ( confirmed by vets )-- so what is best- assume they have their own immunity , or risk them catching these horrible ailments ? Or make them ill by injecting them....??? Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS, Online Vet Hi Jakkii and thank you for your interesting question about cat vaccinations. In order to answer your question I will discuss what is in the feline vaccines, what immunity is and how vaccines work. What diseases are covered in my cat’s vaccine? Commonly found in the vaccine your vet will offer your cat is protection against feline influenza (cat flu), feline infectious enteritis (viruses affecting the gut) and feline leukaemia (FeLV).  Other feline vaccines available but less commonly given include rabies, Bordatella bronchiseptica (airway disease) and Chlamydia.  There is currently no vaccine against feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). What is immunity? The immune system is the way in which the body detects, reacts and fights off anything it encounters. The immune system is made up of white blood cells (and the substances they produce such as antibodies) and the lymph system (nodules of various size from tonsils through to parts of the spleen).  When the body meets an antigen (something like a virus of bacteria) for the first time certain white blood cells notice the antigen and set off a reaction in the immune system which leads to the development of immunity. Certain white blood cells produce antibodies that recognise and attach to the antigen, other white blood cells come along and help destroy the recognised antigen and some white blood cells keep a memory of the antigen so next time it is met it can be fought off quickly. Once immunity has developed to an antigen the body should be able to fight it off before it can cause illness. Immunity does tend to slowly decrease over time, the longer it has been since an antigen was last met the slower the body is to react to it. This is why booster vaccines are given each year to keep the level of immunity topped up. Vaccines and naturally being exposed to an antigen stimulate the immune system in the same way to help develop immunity, but vaccines contain antigen that has been treated so as to minimise the chance of developing the actual disease in the process.  The time intervals designed for each vaccine regime are based on research as to how long the immunity levels remain in the average cat. Generally the antigens in cat vaccines are either a small part of the antigen, an artificially produced version (that is less able to cause disease) or a killed version of the antigen.  This is all done so as to provide immunity with the least risk of your cat actually getting ill. Why does my cat react badly to the vaccine? After vaccination some animals feel mildly unwell or can have a slightly raised body temperature, but this is not common. It is also possible for some cats to react badly to some vaccines and develop a full infection. The other thing that cats can react badly to is ingredients in the vaccine most commonly the adjuvant.  Animals that are unwell at the time of vaccination or have an underlying disease can also have bad reactions to vaccines.  This is a large part of why it is important for your pet to have a full health check prior to vaccination.  In the case of your mum’s dog developing leukaemia as a result of vaccinations this is very rare. The adjuvant is a chemical added to the vaccine to help the cat’s body react more to killed and part antigen components as these would otherwise cause less stimulation of the immune system.  If as is the case with your cat there is a sever bad reaction to vaccination then this should be discussed with your vet, noted on your cats medical records and an attempt made to work out what it is that your cat is reacting to. Should I still have my cat vaccinated if it reacts badly? After careful consideration it might be that your cat could tolerate the vaccines if given separately or if a different form of antigen or adjuvant was in the vaccine used.  After many years of vaccination your cat will have developed a reasonable level of immunity but it is very hard to work out exactly how long this will last if annual vaccination is stopped. In conclusion the decision as to whether or not to have your cat vaccinated every year should be made between you and your vet weighing up the chance of your cat being exposed to various diseases against the severity of its reaction.  I hope that this answer has helped you and your cat. Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet)
No Comments

Dog Vaccinations: are they really necessary?

Tomorrow is World Veterinary Day (WVD), an annual event that highlights the role of veterinary profession around the world. This year's theme is the importance of vaccination to animal health. Over the past two hundred years, scientists have created vaccines that have prevented - and, in some cases, eradicated - diseases in humans and animals. Yet if you talk to pet owners online, the question of the need to vaccinate is one that keeps cropping up. People worry that vaccines may even be causing illnesses, and sadly, they sometimes feel that they cannot trust the advice from their vet, because the vet benefits financially from the sale of the vaccine. There is a danger here that pet owners may stop vaccinating their pets, and if they do, it's likely that they will get away with doing so for a number of years. Vaccines have caused serious illnesses to become rare, so that there may not be an immediate threat to most pets. The problem is that if people choose not to vaccinate, there will be a growing population of unprotected animals that are vulnerable to viral disease if an epidemic does occur. It's useful to compare the situation with measles in humans. Before the introduction of measles vaccination in the UK in 1968, about half a million people caught measles each year of whom about 100 died. The introduction of the MMR vaccine in 1988 led to a dramatic reduction in measles, with only two human deaths from the disease in the past twenty years. False claims in the late 1990's that MMR could cause autism led many parents to refuse to vaccinate their children. Vaccine rates dropped and there are now up to two million young people who remain unvaccinated: they are at risk of the disease. This is not just theoretical: an outbreak of measles is currently happening in Wales, with over eight hundred confirmed cases including over eighty patients being treated in hospital. The first death happened last week, when a twenty five year old man passed away. As one official said, "Measles is a serious, horrible disease. We need to get rid of it." The sad truth is that we know how to get rid of it: vaccinations, which have been proven to be safe and effective. Public health officials are now running large scale measles vaccine clinics to protect people who missed out on childhood vaccination, but there are still worries that the proportion of unvaccinated people may be so high that the current measles outbreak will spread to elsewhere in the UK, with further deaths. There have been similar false claims about dangers associated with vaccinations in the pet world, and as a result, there is a risk of the gradual development of a large unvaccinated population of pets. This would create the potential for an outbreak of one of the nasty viral diseases of pets in a similar way to the human measles situation. It is true that there is a low incidence of adverse reactions to vaccines. Like humans who feel a little under the weather after some vaccines, pets can suffer mild signs of illness as their immune system reacts to the vaccine. This is part of the same immune reaction that causes the body to produce antibodies against the virus, so it's nothing to worry about. More serious adverse reactions, such as allergic or autoimmune diseases, do happen, but they are exceptionally rare. Overall, the reported incidence of any type of problem is less than one in five thousand; the risk of a serious reaction is much lower than this. The aspect of dog vaccines that seems to worry owners most is the traditional model of "once yearly boosters". People don't understand why this is necessary, when in humans, childhood vaccines often confer lifetime immunity. Why do pets need so many vaccines? The answer to this is complicated: when vaccine regimes were first devised, back in the 1970's,  there was a high mortality rate from diseases like Parvovirus and Distemper. Duration of immunity after vaccines had not been clearly established, and the safest option was the once yearly booster. In recent years, more studies have been done, with many vaccines now promising immunity for three to five years for some diseases after the annual booster at fifteen months of age. In the face of this changing information about vaccines, the challenge for vets has been to recommend a reduced vaccine schedule while still ensuring that no vulnerable animals slip through the loop. Much as pet owners may appreciate the opportunity to go to the vet less often, if even one animal died of a preventable viral disease, vets would feel that they had failed. The veterinary profession has tackled this on a global scale, by setting up expert groups, using independent scientists to assess the evidence and to provide guidelines for the vaccination of pets. A simple set of recommendations have now been issued to vets across the world by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, and these offer the safest approach to pet owners. You can read them for yourself online by clicking here. Vaccines are now classified as "core" and "non-core". Core vaccines include those which all animals need to receive, which means Distemper, Hepatitis and Parvovirus for dogs. Non-core vaccines are those that are required by only those animals whose geographical location, local environment or lifestyle places them at risk. Examples include Leptospirosis, Kennel Cough and Rabies, although the prevalence of rats in many parts of the UK  is so high that many people would regard Leptospirosis as a core vaccine in this country. The aim of the veterinary profession is to vaccinate every animal with core vaccines and to vaccinate at-risk individuals against non-core vaccines if they are seen to be at risk. The WSAVA guidelines also address the recommended frequency of vaccination: for the main core vaccines, after puppy shots followed by a booster at fifteen months of age, it's now regarded as safe to repeat the vaccine every three years. If dogs need to be protected against certain other illnesses- including Leptospirosis and Kennel Cough - immunological studies have demonstrated that once yearly vaccines are still needed. This can all become over-complicated for the average pet owner, which is why it's still recommended that the safest answer is a once yearly health check by your vet. The vet will review your pet's health and lifestyle, and will then only give the vaccines which are judged to be necessary. In the United Kingdom, for most dogs, the recommendation is likely to be a once yearly vaccine against Leptospirosis, with a booster against Distemper, Hepatitis and Parvovirus every three years. Other vaccines, such as Kennel Cough and Rabies, may also need to be given, depending on the dog's activities. There is plenty more to discuss on this subject, including widely-disseminated but unproven claims that over-vaccination is the cause of a wide spectrum of illnesses in the dog world. Perhaps that's a subject for another blog.
28 Comments