The What, When, Why and How of Dog Vaccinations.
Dog Vaccinations have been the subject of much heated debate. Some veterinarians question whether dogs need annual booster shots, whereas other insist they as essential.
But while the frequency of vaccinations may be open to discussion, all vets agree that immunizations are essential to canine health.
This is particularly true of puppies, who are extremely vulnerable to disease and infection.
Why Dog Vaccinations Are a Must
Puppies, like most young animals, are born with under-developed immune systems making them vulnerable to disease. Nature addresses this by providing a newborn pup with immunity through an anti-body rich substance called colostrum, which is present in its mother’s milk.
Colostrum is designed to give young animals a fighting chance at survival during their vulnerable first few weeks. However, from about 5 weeks the effects of the colostrum begin to wane. By 16 to 20 weeks will have worn off entirely.
Although the dog’s immune system will have strengthened considerably by this stage there is still a threat from many common canine diseases.
This is where vaccination comes in, protecting against the most common and dangerous diseases.
How Dog Vaccinations Work
Vaccines can be given to a puppy as young as six to eight weeks of age. They are then repeated every three to four weeks until about four months of age. Some of these vaccines might be given in combination, like the 5 in 1.
The vaccination itself is a simple injection usually delivered at the back of the neck. It causes no pain, although some puppies may yelp when injected.
After the vaccine is administered, it takes about five to ten days to become effective. During this time the puppy is still protected by the colostrum received from its mother, and the vaccine will not compromise this.
Immunity, however, is only certain once the course has been completed. Until then it is advisable not to expose your puppy to unknown dogs, or to areas, like dog parks, where many dogs have been.
Diseases Your Dog Must Be Immunized Against
Dog Vaccinations are often referred to as “five in one” because they are given as a combination vaccine that protects against 5 common and potentially deadly diseases. These are considered the core vaccines while certain non-core vaccines may also be recommended depending on where you live.
These are the “core” diseases your dog will be immunized against.
Canine Distemper: A highly contagious and usually fatal disease transmitted by a healthy dog coming into contact with discharge from the eyes or nose of an infected dog. If untreated it causes seizures, convulsions and ultimately heart and respiratory failure.
Canine Hepatitis Virus: Spread by contact with saliva, urine or stool from an infected dog. It attacks the abdominal organs and can cause death within six to ten days of infection.
Leptospirosis: A serious bacterial disease spread through contact with urine from an infected dog. It has a very high mortality rate due to extensive damage caused to the digestive tract, liver and kidneys.
Parainfluenza: A highly contagious form of kennel cough. Usually transmitted by contact between healthy and infected dogs, although it can also becoming airborne.
Parvo virus: A highly contagious viral disease that can be spread through simple contact. Parvo is particularly dangerous to puppies and young dogs and is often fatal if not treated.
Dangers of Dog Vaccinations
Although uncommon, there are risks associated with vaccinations. Most of these are mild reactions like pain and swelling at the injection site, lethargy or mild fever.
Serious allergic reactions, include hives, facial swelling, and difficulty breathing, can occur but are very rare. If your dog develops any of these symptoms contact your vet immediately.
Perhaps the most serious danger of vaccinations are auto-immune disorders, which can be serious and difficult to treat. Such reactions are however very rare.
Despite the potential risks, most veterinarians agree that the benefits of dog vaccinations are far greater the risks.
There is however much debate about boosters for adult dogs. These have traditionally been administered annually, but many veterinarians are now recommending once every three years.
You’ll need to discuss this with your own vet, but whatever your decision all dogs deserve dog vaccinations against disease.