I'm just back from Radio London after taking part in a round table discussion on the whole issue of dog vaccinations and it made me think I should write something about it, so here it is...
We want to maintain a high level of protection against infectious disease for our dogs, but without giving any unnecessary vaccines.
What do we vaccinate against?
Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvovirus, Leptospirosis and sometimes Kennel cough. Rabies is only given to dogs who are travelling abroad.
How common are these diseases?
Distemper and Hepatitis in dogs are now rare in the UK, but Distemper is being seen more in ferrets. In the USA, there is a rising problem with Distemper in urban wildlife, which is worrying.
Leptospirosis is always around but is probably under-diagnosed, and Parvovirus is a common disease in certain areas of the UK.
Kennel cough is common and of most concern in small and short nosed dogs, and those who spend a lot of time with other dogs, for example with dog walkers, in day care or boarding kennels.
There is no canine Rabies in the UK, but there are still regular outbreaks in Europe.
How often should we vaccinate?
Puppies should ideally not be vaccinated until as late as 16 weeks, but particularly in an urban environment we need to get them out and about earlier for them to be well socialised with other dogs and the world around them. Most puppies are therefore vaccinated twice between 8 & 12 weeks of age in order to get them protected early so that they can start going out without being at risk.
They should then have a booster vaccine a year later. In many cases, this will give a really long period of protection to Distemper, Hepatitis and Parvovirus, but the only way to find out whether your dog is still protected is to take a blood test to check their antibody levels.
The protection from Leptospirosis is much shorter and currently we recommend a booster injection each year for dogs who might be at risk.
Are there any harmful side effects of vaccination?
Surveys carried out suggest that somewhere between 2 and 40 dogs in every 10,000 show some side effects in the days after vaccination, but we suspect that many reactions go unreported, and there may be other as yet unidentified issues with over-vaccination.
The most recent advice from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association is that we try to increase the number of animals vaccinated but reduce the number of vaccines that each animal receives, consistent with them staying protected against disease.
Which is all well and good, but what should I as a dog owner do?
Go to a vet clinic that has a low vaccine protocol and ask for a vaccine blood test rather than giving a routine full vaccine every year. Don't stop vaccinating, just do it wisely.