Q:What is a vaccine?

A: A vaccine is a weakened or killed pathogen, such as a bacterium or virus (“germ”), or some of the germ’s structure that when given, stimulates antibody production and protection against the pathogen but is generally incapable of causing clinical disease.

Q:What is immunity?

A: Immunity is the body’s natural ability to fight infection. Vaccination confers immunity by exposing the body to a small but relatively harmless dose of the infectious agent in question. This means that when natural infection does occur, the immune system is able to produce a much faster and stronger response. It is this quick and strong response of a vaccinated animal’s immune system that prevents the disease from becoming debilitating and spreading to others.

Q:What diseases should my pet be protected against?

A: Dogs should be vaccinated to protect against Canine Distemper, Parvovirosis, Infectious Canine Hepatitis, Leptospirosis and Canine Cough. Dogs travelling on the Pet travel Scheme (PETS) need to be vaccinated against rabies even though this disease is not present in Ireland or the UK.

Cats should be vaccinated to protect against cat flu, feline panleukopaenia and feline leukaemia. Cats travelling on the Pet Passport Scheme must also be vaccinated against rabies.

Rabbits should be vaccinated against myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD).

Q:Are these diseases still a threat?

A: Vaccination has dramatically reduced the frequency of most of these diseases but, unlike for example smallpox in humans, none has been eradicated altogether.

Q:What are core vaccines?

A: Vaccines are divided into two major categories – core and non-core. Core vaccines are those that protect your pet against common, fatal conditions, and every pet should receive these without fail. Core vaccines for dogs include those that protect against parvovirus, distemper, infectious canine hepatitis and leptospirosis. Although not typically a fatal disease, dogs walked outside their home should be vaccinated against canine cough. This disease is transmitted by air borne droplets and dogs need not actually come in direct contact with one another. Cats require protection against cat ‘flu’ and panleukopenia. All rabbits should be vaccinated against myxomatosis and VHD.

Rabies is an example of a non-core vaccine but is mandatory for dogs and cats travelling on the Pet Passport Scheme. Feline leukaemia is advised if your cat goes outside at all and is typically transmitted between fighting cats by means of their saliva.

Q:When should I vaccinate my pet?

A: Young animals are usually protected during the first few weeks of life by an immunity passed through the mother’s first milk (colostrum). However, this immunity fades rapidly, leaving the young animal susceptible to disease within a few weeks. At this point, vaccination can take over in providing much needed protection.

The first time a puppy or kitten is vaccinated, a course of two injections is usually given, separated by a couple of weeks. This primary course can be given to pups as young as six weeks of age and kittens as young as nine weeks of age – but if you acquire an animal that’s already older, talk to your vet as soon as possible about starting a vaccination course. The vet will also want to give your new puppy/kitten a general check-up.

Rabbits can be vaccinated from 5 weeks of age and require only a single vaccination with a booster vaccine each year.

Q:When can my pet go outside?

A: Vaccination doesn’t work immediately; it takes a few days for immunity to develop. Your vet will advise you on when it’s safe to let your pet interact with other animals – and how to let it outside for the first time, safely.

Q:Does a single vaccination protect my pet for life?

A: Every pet responds differently. Legally, the manufacturer’s authorisation to sell the vaccine and the recommendations for use are based on the minimum period of protection for any animal vaccinated with the product in question. Major studies have already been carried out to determine whether this minimum period can be extended. As each of these studies have justified longer duration of immunity for certain vaccine components, and these data have satisfied the authorities, the manufacturer’s recommendations have been amended.

As a result, some vaccines are now licensed to protect pets for up to three years against some diseases. But it’s vital to realise that protection is much shorter for some diseases. Especially for leptospirosis in dogs – no vaccine will protect your pet for more than a year. This is a real effect, rather than the result of the licensing taking time to catch up: studies have shown that even with one of the best leptospirosis vaccines, protection starts to decline after about 12 months.

Q:Are annual boosters really necessary?

A: To simplify the previous point: yes, annual boosters are still necessary against some diseases, but not all. Each year, on your annual visit, your vet will administer those vaccines needed to maintain protection. These days the vet’s primary objective is to use the minimum number of vaccine components while at the same time maintaining the optimum protection for your pet.

Q:What is a zoonosis?

A: A zoonosis is a disease which may be passed from an animal to a human. Leptospirosis and rabies are both examples of zoonoses.

Q:Can my pet be vaccinated if he/she is unwell?

A: Only healthy animals should be vaccinated. Therefore, your vet will thoroughly examine your pet prior to vaccination. Routine health checks can often result in early detection of disease.

Q:Can I vaccinate my pregnant pet?

A: A bitch may be vaccinated during pregnancy depending on which vaccines are used, as certain vaccines are not licensed for use during this time.

It is not advised to vaccinate a queen during pregnancy.

Does (female rabbits) can be vaccinated during pregnancy. It is not recommended to vaccinate breeding bucks (male rabbits) as the impact of vaccine on fertility has not been investigated.

Q:Do vaccinations cause more illness than they prevent?

A: As with any medicinal product, whether for human or animal use, an adverse reaction is possible. Serious adverse reactions are relatively rare. Pet vaccines are tested thoroughly for both safety and efficacy. A recent independent epidemiological study involving almost 4,000 dogs, found that there was no evidence to suggest that dogs suffered any increased level of illness after vaccination. If anything, vaccinated dogs have had less disease recently. No pet owner is under any legal or other obligation to vaccinate their animals – it is recommended simply because it offers a significant health benefit: it protects your pet from serious illness.

Q:Are combination vaccines more likely to provoke adverse reactions than single shots?

A: There is no intrinsic additional risk. Combination vaccines must be tested as combinations and compared with the single components in respect of both safety and efficacy. There is no evidence to suggest that our licensed combination vaccines are less safe or efficacious than single component products.

Q:Do I need a record of vaccination?

A: On completion of your pet’s primary course, you will be given a record of vaccination advising when the next booster is due. Boarding kennels, catteries and training classes will almost certainly require this before accepting your pet. Remember to take this record of vaccination to the clinic when your pet has been vaccinated so that it can be updated.