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Vaccination of cats and dogs - Why it?s still important

By Caroline Robertson

For dogs, the use of effective vaccinations has meant that infectious diseases such as hepatitis and distemper, which previously used to kill large number of dogs, are now rarely seen. Unfortunately Parvo-virus is still often diagnosed and commonly causes death in younger puppies.

The question we might ask ourselves is that if we hardly see Distemper and Hepatitis now why do  we need to keep vaccinating. The answer lies in what is called "herd immunity "i.e. we require the majority of a population to have been vaccinated and have immunity to protect the rest of the population by reducing spread and reservoirs of the infectious agents. In the human health field the decline in vaccination use, with parents making choices to not vaccinate their children, has led to the number of vaccinated people being too low to provide effective "herd immunity "to the community at large. This is one of the reasons we are now seeing worldwide epidemics, especially in tertiary institutions such as measles and mumps which were previously common before vaccinations were introduced. This could also occur in our cat and dog populations with Distemper and Hepatitis, and feline infectious peritonitis in cats if vaccination levels fall too low.

The frequency of vaccination in dogs i.e. annual or bi annual and the type of vaccine we use is determined by risk factors. It’s not simple and your vet will need to take into account a number of factors including the animal’s age, previous vaccination history, exposure to new dogs, and the risk of picking up disease as they travel around or go into boarding kennels. Working dogs can have greater risk due to the number of movementsthat occur in a dog team with sales and purchases of new dogs and pups.

In the cat population the use of effective vaccines against the common "snuffles" disease has greatly reduced the severity of the signs that we see. Kittens are still often infected at birth from their mums who may be asymptomatic carriers, but with vaccination the severity of the signs is reduced. Most cats although they may have the occasional runny eye or sneeze, go through life without severe signs of these diseases which can include eye ulceration and rupture, and permanent destruction of the nasal turbinate bones.

The vaccination of cats also protects them from a disease known as feline infectious peritonitis which is the" parvo" of the cat world and cats can also be protected by vaccination from Feline Aids. Feline Aids is spread by cats fighting and wild cats pose a huge risk to our pet cats. Feline aids is similar to human aids but is not transmissible to people. Infected cats become immune suppressed such that over time they can no longer fight against every day infections such as abscesses, dental and respiratory diseases and it will finally be fatal.

So, vaccination of your dog and cat is still very important. The type of vaccine used and the interval between vaccines needs to be carefully assessed by your veterinarian. If a two year vaccination programme is recommended it is still really important that every dog and cat has a check-up with a vet at least once a year. Don’t forget that an annual dog and cat check-up is the same as us going for a check-up at the doctors every 7 years, and we know how much can change with our own health in that time!

In both the human and veterinary medicine there are now a lot of diseases we can prevent with vaccination and a lot of diseases and age related conditions that if detected early can be successfully treated to ensure your dogs and cats can live happy and healthy lives for longer . Thirty years ago a cat or dog was deemed old at 8 years of age, now we see a lot of dogs and cats living well at 15 years. Just like our saying that "60 is the new 40', for our pets "15 seems to be the new 5".

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