As a devoted pet owner, ensuring the health and well-being of your pet companion is of paramount importance. One of the most effective ways to protect your pet from a range of potentially deadly diseases is through vaccination. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the world of pet vaccinations, demystifying how they work, the concept of immunity, the mechanisms of disease spread, and the significance of herd immunity. Additionally, we’ll shed light on the viruses that are covered in vaccines for dogs and cats, empowering you to make informed decisions about your pet’s health.
Pet vaccines operate on the same fundamental principles as vaccines for humans. They are designed to stimulate the immune system, preparing it to recognize and combat specific pathogens.
Vaccines contain a very tiny small particle of the virus that are either weakened, inactivated, or harmless, to stimulate the body to make up its own antibodies against it that will last a long time. Then when the pet gets in contact with the virus in the real world, its body is already ready to fight it as soon as it gets in contact with the virus.
Because the body is actually getting in contact with the virus, some pets might experience side effects like pain, lethargy or mild fever that resolves in less than 48h. Most pets don’t present any reactions after the vaccine, but there are rare events where they can have anaphylaxis from the vaccination. These cases are taken very seriously and a different vaccine brand or other measures should be taken to prevent these pets from getting sick from the viruses.
There are many brands of vaccine for cats and dogs in Australia, and they each will have their own label with instructions on how they should be administered and how often. We use the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) vaccination guidelines to establish our protocols, which uses a combination of vaccination and titre testing to reduce over vaccination while still establishing a sufficient protection.
Herd Immunity in Pets: A Collective Shield
Herd immunity, often referred to as community immunity, is an essential concept in veterinary medicine. It arises when a significant proportion of the pet population becomes immune to a disease, either through vaccination or previous infections. This reduces the likelihood of an outbreak, as there are fewer susceptible individuals for the pathogen to infect.
In Australia, the eradication of Distemper and Hepatitis has been largely due to a regular vaccination schedule. The disease is only seen in remote communities where vaccination of dogs is either irregular or absent. These two conditions are very difficult to treat, most pets die during treatment or will live with long life sequelae that can impact their life forever.
On the other hand, Parvovirus is still endemic in some areas and many pets are still affected, especially puppies. It is often a cause of concern in public areas, like dog parks and the beach. The virus can live in the environment for such a long time that it is nearly impossible to eradicate it from organic matter, like soil, sand, grass etc. Unfortunately many shelters struggle with Parvovirus because puppies can be brought with the virus still in the incubation period.
The threshold for achieving herd immunity in pets depends on the contagiousness of the disease. For highly contagious diseases like canine distemper, around 85-90% of the population may need to be immune to establish effective herd immunity. For less contagious diseases, the threshold may be lower. This is why it is so important to continue to vaccinate pets with conditions that seemed to not present anymore. One individual can contaminate a large area and the disease can emerge very quickly.
Key Vaccines for Dogs
- Rabies: This viral disease is almost always fatal once symptoms appear, making it a critical vaccine for both pet and human health. There is no Rabies in Australia and any cat or dog imported must be vaccinated against it. Therefore we don’t vaccinate for Rabies in Australia.
- Distemper: Canine distemper is a highly contagious viral illness that affects various bodily systems, including the respiratory and nervous systems. It is common in very remote communities or in countries where vaccination isn’t widespread, such as Asia and South America.
- Parvovirus: This virus primarily affects puppies and unvaccinated dogs, causing severe gastrointestinal symptoms. Even though regular vaccination has reduced the impact of parvovirus, the virus can live in the environment for many years, hence the importance of regular vaccination.
- Adenovirus (Hepatitis): Canine adenovirus can lead to liver and respiratory issues, and it is an essential component of the core vaccines. It is also uncommon in Australia due to regular vaccination.
- Parainfluenza and Bordetella: A virus and a bacteria that together cause Canine Cough complex. This is endemic worldwide and is part of a regular vaccination in Australia.
- Leptospirosis: This bacterial disease can be transmitted to humans and other animals, emphasising its importance for public health as well. There are some regions in Australia where it is considered endemic in North-Eastern NSW-QLD.
Key Vaccines for Cats
- Feline Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper): Similar to canine distemper, this virus affects the digestive and immune systems and is particularly dangerous for kittens. This virus is very uncommon in Australia but kitten that are immune compromised, live in shelters or in very poor breeding conditions can be affected.
- Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (Herpesvirus): This respiratory infection is highly contagious among cats.This is a very common virus and can be found anywhere. It is often referred to as Cat Flu
- Calicivirus: Another common respiratory virus, it can cause severe oral and respiratory symptoms. This is another virus that is endemic worldwide
- Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV): FeLV is a contagious and often fatal virus that can weaken a cat’s immune system. It is uncommon in Australia, but we know that there are some cases of the condition.
- Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV): FIV is a contagious virus that cause immunosuppression in cats similar to what HIV does in humans. It is endemic in Australia.
Empowering Pet Owners Through Vaccination
Understanding the role of vaccines, the mechanics of immunity, and the concept of herd immunity equips pet owners with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their furry friends’ health. By embracing vaccinations, you not only protect your pet but also contribute to the broader community’s well-being. Remember, every vaccination is a step towards a healthier, safer world for our beloved pets.
In our next post, we’ll discuss the diseases that are protected by vaccines in pets, how they can affect your pet and the importance of prevention.