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How necessary are animal vaccines?

- Posted by in Pet Care

How necessary are animal vaccines?

If you own a cat, dog or horse, chances are your animal will have been vaccinated at some point in its life. The effectiveness of vaccines at controlling certain diseases is hard to argue with but, nowadays, more of us are stopping to ask how necessary they are, and how often they're needed to keep our pets protected.

Below is a brief summary of the key vaccines for UK cats, dogs and horses, although your vet should always make a thorough assessement of your animal before vaccinating. [The necessity of vaccines depends on your animal's age, health, lifestyle and local disease prevalence, so the following information is just a guide.]

Cats:

If you have a house cat that never ventures outside, your vet will probably suggest a different course of vaccines than for an outdoor cat coming and going as it pleases. The advice for those with multi-cat households including both ‘innies’ and ‘outties’ is to treat them all as outdoor cats and have them immunised.

1) Feline Infectious Enteritis (FEI) or panleukopenia virus, otherwise known as distemper or ‘cat plague’, is a serious viral infection affecting wild and domesticated cats. The virus is highly contagious and begins by attacking the gastrointestinal tract, which causes severe ulceration and internal bleeding. Once contracted, FEI can kill a cat in 24 hours.

2) Cat flu, otherwise known as Feline Calicivirus (FCV), Feline Herpes Virus (FHV-1) or upper respiratory tract disease, is another infection most, if not all, cats need protecting against. Although it is unlikely to be fatal, FCV can cause serious complications, especially if contracted alongside FHV-1 or feline immunodeficiency virus.

3) Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) is a serious retrovirus that severely inhibits a cat’s immune system, predisposing it to anaemia, kidney disease and cancer. As the infection is easily transmissible between cats through bodily fluids, outdoor cats are more at risk of contracting FeLV.

Dogs:

Again, depending on many factors, your dog's vaccine requirements may differ from others' and extend beyond the 'core vaccinations' listed below.

1) Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) is a highly contagious and often deadly viral infection affecting dogs and other species including foxes and skunks. The disease is either spread by direct contact or through the air, and is without cure once contracted. As it progresses, CDV causes chronic diarrhoea/vomiting and severe neurological signs, including seizures, aggressiveness and eventual paralysis.

2) Canine Parvovirus (CPV) is a nasty illness contracted by direct or indirect contact with the faeces of an infected animal. The disease takes two forms: intestinal and, more rarely, cardiac. The surival rate is typically low for adult dogs and even lower for puppies. For some reason certain breeds are more susceptible to infection, such as Rottweilers, Labrador retrievers and German shepherds.

3) Canine Adenovirus 1 is responsible for causing infectious canine hepatitis (ICH) and targets the functional parts of organs including the kidneys, liver, eyes and endothial cells (which line the blood vessels). Although the virus has a slightly more optimistic survival rate, the outlook is typically bleak even if caught in its early stages.

Horses:

1) Equine Influenza or 'horse flu' is considered a core vaccine in the UK and is compulsory if your horse competes affiliated. This highly contagious virus can be transmitted through the air or via direct contact with an infected equine. Symptoms tend to develop within 1-3 days and may include severe lethargy, a rise in temperature, a loss of appetite and clear nasal discharge. Very quickly Equine Influenza can develop into life-threatening pneumonia or bronchitis.

2) Tetanus infection is caused by Clostridium tetani bacterium (present in the soil and horse faeces) entering an open wound or, less commonly, gaining entry via the intestinal tract. The infection is serious and results in death in roughly 90% of unvaccinated horses. Symptoms include stiffness and a reluctance to move, whole body tremors, and violent muscle spasms.

Besides these 'core' vaccines, there are many more which your vet could consider necessary for your pet or horse. In some cases, yearly boosters will be recommended, or extended intervals after the initial series. Because young animals are more susceptible and fare less well when infected, it is important to consult your vet about when to start vaccinating kittens, puppies and foals. If you have any comments on this discussion, please post them below! Alternatively you can email me directly with your thoughts: hannahd@viovet.co.uk.

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