Celebrating the role of vaccination in protecting our animals
April 20th is World Animal Vaccination Day, a day to recognise the importance and success of vaccination in keeping our pets and farm animals healthy and happy. The idea of vaccination has been around for hundreds of years and was first discovered by Edward Jenner, when he was able to stop a small boy from getting smallpox by vaccinating him with a similar virus called cowpox. Since then many vaccines have been created and are used daily to keep animals from getting deadly diseases such as Canine Parvovirus and Feline Leukaemia Virus.
Many of us know about vaccination for our dogs and cats, but there are also vaccines available for rabbits, chickens, cows, sheep, pigs and even fish. Vaccines are created by the animal health industry specifically for the diseases that cause illness or, even, death in animals. A canine parvovirus outbreak took place in 1978, and since no vaccine was available at this time, the virus spread worldwide within 6 months, causing illness and death in many dogs. The animal health industry acted quickly developing vaccines we still use today to prevent parvo worldwide.
Vaccination has the ability to prevent disease, which improves the health and welfare of our pets and farm animals. Even though we can treat many diseases these days, if animals do not contract the disease in the first place, the level of suffering will be much lower than if an animal falls ill and needs to be treated. Likewise, vaccination is often much cheaper than the cost of diagnostics and treatment if your animal were to get ill. A NOAH study showed 50% of pet owners would spare no expense to treat their pet if it was ill, but vaccination is the most effective and least expensive way to keep pets healthy in the first place.
Vaccination is important for your pet; however, vaccines work on the concept of herd immunity which means the more animals that are vaccinated the better they work to prevent illness. To help explain herd immunity parvo in puppies is a good example. Parvovirus causes severe diarrhoea in puppies and unvaccinated adult dogs and sometimes death in puppies due to severe dehydration. If all adult dogs are vaccinated against parvo the disease cannot spread and is unlikely to reach the puppies, however if very few adult dogs are vaccinated, the disease can spread quite quickly via the unvaccinated adult dogs and reach puppies who cannot yet be vaccinated. By vaccinating your pet, you are helping to protect the pets around who either can’t yet be vaccinated or who are can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons. For herd immunity to work at least 70% of our animals need to be vaccinated.
Some vaccines are advised to help prevent your animal from getting sick as well as yourself, these diseases are known as zoonoses and are diseases that can cause illness in both pets and people. Examples of zoonosis are rabies and leptospirosis, rabies is a deadly disease for both humans and animals. Rabies is not present in the UK. However, with an increase in pet travel to countries where there may be rabies, getting your animal correctly vaccinated for rabies is vital and is a legal requirement of the PETS Travel scheme. Leptospirosis is endemic in the UK and can cause severe liver failure in dogs and humans, yearly vaccination of dogs minimises the risk of leptospirosis, keeping humans and animals healthy.
Currently, the number of people vaccinating their animals against preventable diseases in the UK is lower than it should be. About 21% of dog owners take their dogs to the vet for their regular boosters while only 46% of cat owners do the same. A common misbelief in cat owners is that indoor cats do not need vaccination, this unfortunately is not true as cats can still contract disease even when kept indoors, even though the risk is lower. Some of the diseases we vaccinate cats against can only be passed on via direct contact, however a few can also be brought in by ourselves from the environment. Your vet can advise you further on the frequency and type of vaccines to be given depending on your pet’s lifestyle – and the vaccination appointment also gives the vet an excellent opportunity for a health check for your cat or dog to nip any other potential problems in the bud.
For further information see (link to https://www.noah.co.uk/focus-areas/vaccines-and-vaccination/)