Over the last few years there has been some confusing discussion (and
misinformation) in the media about annual booster vaccinations in both dogs and cats. This is
our professional and personal opinion. Lets be clear: most practicing vets and drug
company manufacturers have a vested interest, including me!! Having said that, I vaccinate my
pets annually as I believe it is necessary, safe and effective at preventing infectious
diseases. All my professional peers in small animal practice also do the same.
Vaccination is without doubt the most significant advance we have had in animal health care.
Diseases that used to be real killers in dogs such as distemper(hard pad), hepatitis,
parvovirus, and leptospirosis (which can pass to human beings), and feline enteritis and
feline leukemia in cats are prevented by vaccination. We only see these diseases in
unvaccinated pets, and those whose vaccination schedules have lapsed. Vaccination also helps
prevent other unpleasant diseases such as kennel cough in dogs, and cat flu.
All interventions, whether medical or surgical, do carry a risk of undesirable effects and
vaccination is no different. However, it is important to understand that the risk of serious
side effects is very low - less than 1 in 20 000. Milder side effects are a little more common
in very young animals, but are generally short lived (about 24 hours) and far less serious
than any of the diseases mentioned above (similar to feeling faint or a sore arm in humans).
The world renowned Animal Health Trust, an independent charity, recently showed that in a
survey of over 4000 dogs, that there is absolutely no link between regular vaccination and ill
health. This contrasts with many people who offer an expert opinion on the
downside of vaccination with little knowledge of the diseases vaccines even prevent, or
evidence to support their claims.
We recommend that ALL puppies and kittens receive a primary vaccination course followed by the
first annual booster. After that, what alternative is there? This is where it gets complex. We
are protecting against seven different diseases in dogs and four in cats. Each animal may
respond in a slightly different way to each different part of the vaccine.
To stay immune dogs must have an annual leptospirosis booster and cats must have annual cat
flu vaccination. In some animals immunity against some of the other diseases may last longer,
but to be sure that your animal is immune, we would need to test your pet's blood yearly to
see whether he or she is at risk. Blood tests are becoming available, but for most of our
clients we do not believe them to be a practical option, as they involve extra expense and
visits to the practice, for little or no benefit to their pets. We do know that standard
annual boosters will protect against all these diseases.
It is our strong advice that a thorough annual health examination together with an annual
booster vaccination, from puppy- or kitten hood onwards, is the best way to ensure a high
quality of life for as long as possible for your pet. We aim to give every pet that comes for
a visit a careful health check, whether they come for a vaccination, an abscess or an ear
infection! We can then pick up any health problems and nip them in the bud, discuss diet,
dental problems, weight, lifestyle, and other issues and help promote a happy, healthy, and
long life. We should not now be treating and losing pets to diseases for which there are such
simple and cost effective preventions.
can I give less vaccine to my pet?
We know that protection against some of these diseases is relatively short (like the flu
vaccine in humans, leptospirosis on dogs, and cat flu and leukemia in cats) and annual
vaccination for these is absolutely essential. It is possible to do blood tests to assess
immunity levels for other diseases, however these are expensive, and will require further
visits to the surgery for vaccination when the immunity levels become low or marginal. For
most of our clients we do not believe that this is a practical option, and there is little or
no benefit for the pet.