Preventative medicine is that area of veterinary care where we look to prevent problems before they start, rather than just react once they occur. Preventative treatments, then, are medications given to stop a disease developing. As always, prevention is better than cure - better for your pet, better for your stress levels, and better for your wallet too!
In dogs, there are three main groups of preventative treatment:
- Vaccinations - to prevent the development of infectious diseases.
- Flea and Tick treatment - to prevent external parasites from getting a foothold on your dog.
- Worm treatments - to clear out roundworms, tapeworms and lungworms, before they can multiply and cause disease.
What do vaccinations do?
Vaccines are essentially a method of “educating” your dog’s immune system so that it remembers how to fight a particular infection. They are very safe (there’s no evidence that even “over-vaccination”, for example, causes any problems for dogs), and can prevent a great deal of disease and suffering - some of these conditions can be fatal.
What vaccines are there?
The “Core Vaccines” that should be given to every dog to prevent the common fatal diseases are:
- Distemper, a virus (related to measles) that damages the respiratory system (nose, windpipe and lungs), intestinal system (stomach and guts), and sometimes the brain too. It is now uncommon in the UK because of vaccination, but there are still occasional outbreaks.
- Canine Infectious Hepatitis, a virus that causes liver damage. As an added bonus, this vaccine also protects against one cause of kennel cough!
- Parvovirus, also known as “Parvo”. This is the most common of the vaccinable diseases, causing severe bloody diarrhoea, vomiting, shock and collapse; it is frequently fatal. In the UK, it mainly affects puppies and young adult dogs who are unvaccinated.
There is also a vaccine against Leptospirosis, a bacterium spread in rat urine. This infection (also known as Weil’s Disease) can also infect humans and some other animals, such as cows. In dogs, it usually causes kidney and liver failure; although it is not strictly a “Core” vaccine, we strongly advise that dogs be vaccinated, as infected rats are present more or less everywhere!
There are also “Non-Core” vaccines that are available - these are aimed primarily at dogs who, because of their location or lifestyle, are at particular risk. They include:
- Kennel Cough (for dogs who frequently meet other dogs at shows, events, or in working or activity groups).
- Rabies (only needed for dogs travelling abroad).
- Lyme Disease (for dogs in a high-tick area).
- Leishmania (again, for dogs travelling abroad, e.g. to southern Europe).
Why are flea and tick treatments important?
Although flea bites are rarely harmful in themselves (although small puppies may get so many that they become anaemic), they really are uncomfortable for your dog - and for you! In addition, fleas carry tapeworms - they are the most common way that dogs become infested. In the UK’s climate, fleas multiply rapidly; the only way to control them is to treat the dog (and kill the adults) and use a treatment that will break the life cycle. These products either kill the females so fast that they can’t lay their eggs, or they have an effect on the eggs or larvae, making them unable to develop to the next stage.
Ticks are actually more dangerous because they carry a range of nasty diseases which they spread when they start sucking your dog’s blood. These include Lyme Disease, Babesia, and Ehrlichiosis. Some of the best treatments actually repel ticks, but as long as the treatment kills them within 24-48 hours, the risk of transmission is low.
What worms should I be worried about?
There are three main groups of worms - and sadly, no one drug will kill all of them:
- Roundworms, such as Toxocara. These are spread by eggs in the dog’s faeces and on the soil, but puppies can also become infected through their mother’s milk, or even from her while still in the womb. In dogs, they can often cause weight loss and diarrhoea. Some of them can even infect humans and may burrow into our bodies, ending up in the liver, brain or even eyeballs. Children are the most commonly infected - simple soap and water and regular hand washing, alongside careful worm control in the family pet, minimises the risk!
- Tapeworms. The most common are spread by fleas and lice (Dipylidium caninum), but some are transmitted in the meat of animals eaten by dogs (e.g. Taenia and Echinococcus). Weight loss and diarrhoea may occur, but the most common symptom is probably an itchy bottom, as the pregnant worm segments (“proglottids”, looking like grains of rice) crawl out of the dog’s anus and wriggle around to spread their eggs!
- Lungworm (Angiostrongylus vasorum). This worm is spread by slugs and snails, and in their slime on toys or food bowls. It lives in your dog’s heart and the blood vessels in the chest and can cause difficulty breathing, abnormal clotting, shock and collapse - infestations are often fatal.
Although no one drug can kill all three groups, some modern prescription-only worming tablets contain a combination of medications so all three groups can be dealt with!
So what do I need to do?
Firstly, make an appointment to see one of our vets! They’ll be able to help you decide…
- What vaccines your dog, as an individual, needs.
- What treatments for fleas, ticks and mites are most suitable - there is a wide range of tablets, collars and spot-ons available now.
- Which wormer will be best for them - we usually recommend a tablet form that covers all three groups, but there are other options if necessary.