Sally and Simon are going to Africa for their summer holiday. They were complaining to me about the number of vaccinations they were having to endure. ‘There are four injections’, Sally moaned, ‘Each injection hurts, and I’m beginning to wonder whether this trip is worth the hassle’. I tried to change the subject by enquiring about Kipling, their five year old Irish Terrier. ‘Where is he going while you are abroad?’ I asked. ‘That’s another hassle’, Simon grumbled. ‘He’s booked in to those new kennels down the country, and for some reason they are insisting on a whole series of vaccinations for him! “As if we don’t have enough grief having needles stuck into ourselves without worrying about the dog!” I sighed, took a deep breath and put my professional hat on as I explained to my friends why it was essential that they do as the kennel had requested.
Vaccinations are an effective way of preventing infectious diseases. Vaccines are tiny doses of a harmless version of the disease concerned. The vaccine stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies which defend the body against the real disease causing agent. Most vaccines are against serious viral diseases which can be impossible to treat successfully if an animal develops a full scale infection. The efficacy of vaccines has been proven in real life situations where unvaccinated and vaccinated animals are exposed to the same dose of virus. Unvaccinated animals invariably fall ill, and in some cases die. Fully vaccinated animals do not even appear mildly ill – they are completely protected against disease by the vaccine. An initial course of vaccinations is given to puppies and kittens. As the animal grows older, the immune system requires regular ‘priming’ to ensure that the body is in a state of full preparation to cope with a viral infection. This is done by giving a ‘booster’ vaccination at a regular interval to ensure that the quantity of protective antibodies is at an adequate level throughout the animal’s lifetime. How often should these booster vaccines be given? This depends on the risk to a pet, which depends on their lifestyle, but in Ireland, the general rule is that a once yearly visit to your vet is the best idea: not all vaccines need to be give this often, but for nearly all pets, at least one disease will need to be topped up. If these are not given, the animal is at risk of becoming susceptible to serious disease.
Some owners maintain that their pet will not be at risk, since they never go outside the garden area, and they never meet other animals. Although the risk in such a situation may be low, it is important to remember that there is still a risk. There is a chance, for example, that viral infection could be carried in on the sole of a visitor’s shoes. There are certain times when the risk of picking up an infection is particularly high. Since viral diseases are usually picked up from other animals, any situation which involves mixing with large numbers of animals is guaranteed to be high risk. A visit to boarding kennels is a typical example. Proprietors of boarding kennels are aware of the importance of proper vaccination. If unvaccinated animals are allowed to stay in a boarding kennel, there is a chance that one animal could bring in a disease which could go on to infect every other unvaccinated animal on the premises. This is why the most responsible kennels insist that all visiting animals have fully up-to-date vaccination certificates, signed by the vet who administered the injections. Sally listened to me in silence, then stood up. ‘I don’t know about my own needles, but Kipling will have no choice in the matter.’ She told me. ‘I’ll be bringing him down to you tomorrow!’