Should I vaccinate my dog?

DrPaul -

Should I vaccinate my dog?

Most owners know that they need to get their dogs vaccines done every year and vets will send out handy reminders to make sure you don’t miss these annual appointments. But do you know why these visits are important and what you are actually vaccinating your dog against?

There has been a lot of debate recently around potential issues with vaccination and over-vaccination both in veterinary and human medicine. As with anything concerning your pet’s and your family’s health, it’s important to make informed choices based on evidence. So here are the facts around vaccination in dogs:

Firstly, your annual vaccination appointment is not just about vaccines. Your pet will get a full health check to make sure everything is in working order. Your vet should check your dog’s heart, lungs, weight and teeth. This is so that they can pick up and treat any potential diseases early on. If you have noticed any issues with the skin, ears or digestion then this is a good way of checking those body systems too.

Also, your vet can only prescribe parasite treatments if they’ve done a physical check on your dog within the last 12 months. You therefore need to take your dog to the vet annually to access prescription flea, worm and tick products.

So if we agree that the annual health check is important then what about vaccination? Traditionally vets have recommended vaccination once a year and this has been very effective in reducing the incidence of many debilitating and even fatal diseases in the general dog population.

However, there is some evidence to suggest that some diseases, such as auto-immune problems and cancers, could be more common in vaccinated pets. This has pushed vets and vaccine manufacturers to try and reduce vaccination to the minimum frequency required to control the risks of the specific infectious diseases. Many vaccine protocols only require annual injections of certain components of the full vaccine.

So whilst there may be some risks of actually vaccinating your dog, what are the diseases that you risk exposing your dog to if you choose not to vaccinate?

● Parvovirus: A highly contagious disease that causes severe vomiting and bloody diarrhoea, this disease can be fatal without urgent treatment, especially in young pups.
● Canine Distemper: a contagious virus that attacks your dog’s lymph nodes before attacking their respiratory, urinary, digestive and nervous systems. This can be passed easily between dogs through saliva, blood and urine. There is no cure for distemper and at best your vet will only be able to manage the symptoms. In many cases it sadly proves fatal.
● Leptospirosis: This is a nasty bacterial infection that attacks your dog’s nervous system and organs. It can also be passed on from infected dogs to humans and is known as Weil’s disease.
● Infectious Canine Hepatitis: A nasty viral disease that attacks your dog’s liver, kidneys, eyes and blood vessel linings. Again there is no cure so in severe cases it can lead to liver failure, seizures and death.
● Kennel Cough: This is a bacterial infection which affects the throat, airway and lungs and can spread quickly between dogs as it an airborne disease. The vaccine can protect against some strains, although your dog may still get the disease, but it should be less severe than if your dog was unvaccinated.
● Rabies: The UK is a rabies free country but if you are going abroad you will need to vaccinate your dog against Rabies so that they can safely enter and re-enter from other countries.

In the UK we generally give puppies their first vaccination course between 6 and 12 weeks but it’s worth checking with your vet which vaccine they use and when they’d recommend the jabs to be given.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that we rely heavily on a ‘herd health’ concept with vaccination. this means that if most pets are vaccinated in your area then the risks of the virus passing around is much reduced. If trends lead us to vaccinate our pets less, then there is the risk that our pets will be greater exposed.

I’ve personally seen most of the diseases against which we vaccinate in the UK and I’ve sadly seen many dogs die of these preventable diseases. For now I would always recommend vaccination but if you are worried about the risks then speak to your vet for the most up to date position and research on this topic.

Paul Manktelow

Veterinary Surgeon

Dr Paul Manktelow is a vet who's worked for almost 20 years on the front line in some of the UK's busiest veterinary hospitals. Paul also appears regularly in the media as a TV and radio presenter, writer, public speaker and podcast producer.