Vaccinations are also referred to as ‘jabs’ or inoculations. In simple terms, the term vaccination refers to the inoculation or injection of an antigen into the body which stimulates the immune system of that body, to react, recognise and remember that antigen. The body ultimately reacts to form antibodies. An antigen is a dead or very mild form of the vaccinated disease. This ultimately leads to the creation of immunity. In dogs and cats, vaccinations are given as injections under the skin.
Why are vaccinations important to my pet?
In short, proper vaccination leads to the prevention of disease.
It must be said that immunity does take time to develop. Vaccinating a sick animal does not cure the disease. Also remember that an animal is not considered fully vaccinated until two weeks after all of the booster series is complete. It takes about two weeks following the vaccine administration in order to have an adequate vaccine response.
Vaccine preventable vs. non-vaccine preventable diseases
Not all diseases can be prevented by vaccinations. First of all, there are many infectious diseases out there, not only the ones we vaccinate for. Because the costs involved in researching, testing, patenting and producing new vaccines by pharmaceutical companies are huge, the decision whether to have a vaccine for a certain disease has to be taken seriously. The commercial viability of a vaccine are among other things determined by the seriousness of the disease and the frequency of the disease. All the vaccine-preventable diseases mentioned in this article are either considered to be serious (with regards to their contagiousness and/or their ability to kill an infected animal) and/or frequently encountered on the South Coast.
Necessary or core vaccinations
The necessary or core vaccinations refer to the bare minimum recommended required vaccinations. It is usually area-specific and might differ from veterinarian to veterinarian. The core vaccinations recommended for here are for the Hibberdene – Port Shepstone – Shelly Beach area.
Necessary or core canine vaccinations
The core canine vaccinations are against Canine Parvovirus (the incorrectly, so-called ‘cat-flu’ virus – severe gastrointestinal disease), Canine Distemper Virus (‘Hondesiekte’ – severe respiratory and neurological disease), Parainfluenza Virus (respiratory disease), Adenovirus Type 1 (Infectious Canine Hepatitis), Adenovirus Type 2 (respiratory disease) and Rabies virus. The Adenovirus Type 2 vaccine protects against both Adenovirus Type 1 and Type 2.
For the recommended core canine vaccination frequencies, see the Dog Vaccination Basics for more information.
Necessary or core feline vaccinations
The core feline vaccinations are against Feline Panleukopenia Virus, Feline Rhinotracheitis, Feline Calicivirus and Rabies virus.
For the recommended core feline vaccination frequencies, see the cat vaccination basics for more information.
Optional or non-core canine vaccinations
The optional vaccines are catered more towards the lifestyle of a dog. These will specifically be recommended by your family veterinarian during visits or correspondence. Available non-core canine vaccinations in South Africa include the Bordetella bronchiseptica (Kennel cough), Coronavirus, Leptospirosis, Canine Herpesvirus, Canine Babesiosis and Melanoma vaccines. On the South Coast, we strongly recommend the Bordetella vaccine for high-risk dogs.
For the recommended optional canine vaccinations and frequencies on the South Coast, see the dog vaccination basics for more information.
Optional or non-core feline vaccinations
As with canines, feline optional vaccines are also catered towards the lifestyle of a cat. We at Vet Hospital Port Shepstone also recommend the Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) and Chlamydia vaccine. The correct way to vaccinate for FeLV is by giving two primary vaccinations one month apart and then an annual FeLV booster. It can be done in kittens from 9 weeks of age and it can be given with the necessary vaccinations. Our routine feline vaccinations include the Chlamydia antigens at no extra costs and these are given as per the core feline vaccinations as above. The vaccine for the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is also available.
Background on vaccination frequency
Every time an animal is vaccinated against a certain disease, its body produces an efficient amount of antibodies against that disease. Do not confuse this with antigens, mentioned earlier in this article. Newborns also receive antibodies from the mother’s milk just after birth. This is called colostrum or first milk. Antibodies (Ab) are like the body’s own “soldiers” fighting that disease as soon as they spot it (e.g. when the animal is exposed to that disease). The amount of antibodies can be measured by doing certain blood tests.
To effectively fight a disease, the body needs a certain amount of antibodies. If the amount of antibodies in the body is insufficient, they will “lose the war” and the disease will become evident.
Just like animals can obtain new antibodies, they can also lose antibodies:
- Naturally, the Ab a newborn receives through colostrum have a very limited life span of a few days to a few weeks.
- During nursing, a mother of newborns loses Ab to give to her offspring through colostrum. The amount a mother loses depends on many things such as the number of offspring, the type of antibodies and the breed.
- During exposure, Ab are used up every time they fight a disease.
It must also be said at this stage that when a newborn receives antibodies from the mother, during the time these antibodies are active, vaccine antigens are usually ineffective in stimulating immunity. Although this period can be much less, we know that natural immunity in dogs in cats lasts for example less than 12 weeks.
By looking at the ways an animal loses antibodies, we can make the following conclusions:
- Newborns who did not receive first milk from their mothers are more prone to a range of diseases. These animals are not only prone to the vaccine-preventable diseases, but also to non-vaccine-preventable diseases. Even weaker diseases can be life-threatening to these animals.
- Youngsters need early and booster vaccinations. Because we don’t know when the natural antibodies are going to fade away, we recommend at least two boosters in dogs and one booster in cats.
- Soon-to-be mothers, whether first-time or not, should be vaccinated around mating. This is for the mother to produce enough antibodies to give to her offspring and remain some to protect herself.
- Frequent and annual booster vaccinations. Because we don’t know how many times an animal was exposed to a certain disease, instead of guessing and taking a chance, we rather protect and prevent.
A new trend in vaccination fashion is to do blood tests to see whether an animal has sufficient antigens or not before vaccinations. This is becoming popular, especially in developed countries. When there are enough antibodies, they then recommend retesting in a certain period of time and the animal is not vaccinated at that stage. When there are insufficient antibodies, they are then vaccinated. Apart from being very expensive (and not available in most cases in South Africa) this protocol has some flaws – especially when extrapolated to the South African environment.
Not all pets carry the same risk for contracting a certain disease. A problem that frequently arises is the introduction of a new pet into an area where it is known that that animal is going to be exposed to certain diseases. Two important diseases to mention here are Canine Parvovirus (CPV) and Kennel Cough.
CPV is a very stubborn, highly contagious disease in dogs that is known to be very difficult to kill in the environment. This virus can survive and be transmitted to dogs for close to a year after it was shed (in this case through faeces). Very often, people introduce a new puppy into the household shortly after the death of a previous dog or a puppy friend for a lonely loved one. If any dog, dead or alive, has been diagnosed by your family veterinarian with CPV or has died or suffered from very bad bloody diarrhoea in the case where the dog was not seen by a vet, chances are high that your property is infected with this virus! From a vaccination point of view, it is important that the new puppy is fully vaccinated (all three primary vaccines, 3 weeks apart) before he/she is introduced onto that property.
Kennel cough (Borditella bronchiseptica) is a highly contagious respiratory disease in dogs. It is highly recommended that a dog is vaccinated for this disease when exposure is anticipated, for example when a dog is being kenneled, or going to a dog show or agility contest. Because immunity takes time to develop, it is senseless to vaccinate a dog only a day or two prior to the event. We recommend to vaccinate a dog at least two weeks earlier.