There are many serious infectious diseases that affect cats and dogs. Many are not preventable, however, vaccines have been developed that can prevent some of these often fatal diseases in our pets. Many diseases we can vaccinate for are viruses - once your pet is infected, there is no cure, and treatment outcomes remain uncertain. In this blog, we recap how vaccines work, and look at some common myths surrounding them.
What is a vaccine?
A vaccine is produced using either a dead pathogen (a virus, bacterium or microbe that causes disease), a live pathogen made harmless, a fragment of pathogen, or toxin produced by the pathogen. Once administered to your pet this vaccine causes an immune response, leading to white blood cells creating antibodies to this particular organism. If your pet then gets infected in the future with the real-life version, their immune system will remember it, and act quickly in defence. This immune response means often fatal diseases cause only mild signs or no signs at all.
I have heard that my pet can get side effects from vaccines. Is this true?
The Veterinary Medicines Directorate (an executive agency of Defra) regulates all veterinary medicines in the UK, including vaccines. Before any vaccine can be sold in the UK it must pass a strict, independent, scientific assessment. They make sure it is of good quality and safe for the animals, for those giving the vaccine and for the environment. They make sure it is also effective in giving pets protection for a minimum defined period.
It is true that there will always be a small chance of reaction, but thousands of animals are vaccinated every year and it is extremely unlikely to happen to your pet (estimates suggest as few as 30-50 animals out of every 10,000 vaccinated will develop ANY side effects, and these are usually as mild as slight sleepiness for a day or so afterwards). Most reactions are not serious, whereas all of the diseases we vaccinate for can be fatal. When untreated, canine parvovirus can be fatal in 90% of cases. Clearly, the benefits of vaccines massively outweigh the small risk, and the bulk of scientific evidence supports this.
For further independent advice, and information on vaccine advice on vaccinating your pets please visit:
I have heard that my pet can still catch the disease that they have been vaccinated against. Is this true?
It is possible for vaccinated pets to be affected by certain diseases, as many viruses have different strains and can mutate over time. However, a vaccinated pet usually suffers much milder symptoms and has a far higher chance of survival than an unvaccinated pet.
Just like with human vaccines, the efficacy of each vaccine will vary. Some of the pathogens we vaccinate against are complex. For example, once infected with the feline herpesvirus, your cat may remain infected for life, only having symptoms every now and again. If you vaccinate a cat already infected, but without current symptoms, it will not work as intended.
Some diseases are not seen much anymore, so why do I still need to get my pet vaccinated?
While it is true that the incidence that some pathogens we vaccinate against is now low, some are still routinely seen, such as canine parvovirus in dogs. Canine distemper we now see rarely, but this is thanks to, and because of, vaccination. While this is great news, It still exists in the environment, and cases have been diagnosed in dogs imported into the UK. Research suggests that vaccination rates are falling, which increases the risk of re-emergence of diseases such as canine distemper. By vaccinating your individual pet, you are not only protecting them but helping your community. If vaccine rates are high in an area, there will be less of the pathogen around to infect susceptible, non vaccinated animals such as stray dogs, foxes, or immunocompromised pets.
Vaccines are expensive. Are they just a way of vets making money?
Vets, first and foremost, are interested in the welfare of your pets and the prevention of suffering. Many of the diseases we vaccinate against are potentially deadly, and the overwhelming majority of evidence shows vaccines to be a safe and effective way of preventing disease and saving lives. Treating these diseases costs more than vaccinating against them.
For example, if your pet dog contracted parvovirus, they would have the best chance of survival only with intensive nursing and veterinary care. The cost of this would greatly overshadow any initial vaccine costs, and a huge amount of suffering could be prevented by vaccination. It is worth remembering that our National Health Service shields us from the real price of vaccination in humans. Anyone paying privately for travel vaccinations for themselves may have seen some of these hidden costs first hand. One of our vets will carry out a thorough examination of your pet before vaccination, which also serves to pick up and discuss any other health issues your pet may have.