Why it is important to protect your pets against diseases

There are so many conspiracy theories out there regarding vaccines, that it has become difficult to differentiate between fact and fiction. Some people are really worried about vaccines, while others are just poorly informed.

We all love our domestic pets and only want what is best for them. But love, food, shelter and cuddles are not all that they need. They are at risk from contracting a variety of potentially dangerous diseases and illnesses, which can be prevented by essential vaccinations recommended by all vets. Animaltalk asked Dr Leon de Bruyn, President of the South African Veterinary Association (SAVA), to clarify the pros and cons of vaccinating our pets.

Protection

“Not only can owners protect the wellbeing of their animals – be it a cat, dog, or other common household pet – but it can also be a significant means of avoiding potentially costly treatments, which may be necessary if their pets are not protected by the vaccines. Certain diseases, such as rabies, can be passed from animals to humans if pets are not properly vaccinated, so it is a critical way of protecting the family too, especially children,” says Dr De Bruyn.

There are a variety of ways in which a vaccine can be administered to an animal – which should always be done by a qualified vet – including intramuscular and subcutaneous (under the skin) injections. Such vaccinations have been proved to save the lives of millions of domestic animals during the last century alone. The basic purpose of a vaccination is to allow the immune system to produce antibodies, which fight against the spread of bacteria or viruses within the body, without causing the disease itself. The body thus ‘remembers’ the infectious agent against which it has been vaccinated.

Vaccine types

“There are two principal types of vaccinations: core vaccinations, which are necessary for all domestic pets, and non-core or ‘lifestyle-based’ vaccinations, which are only necessary depending on the living circumstances of the animal – for example, if he has to spend time in a kennel surrounded by other potentially diseased pets. While certain vaccinations need only be administered once, others must be repeated at particular intervals,” explains Dr De Bruyn.

Legal requirement

He adds that some vaccines are a legal requirement, such as that against rabies. Puppies should be given a combination vaccine three times in the first year of their lives and, in some cases, once a year thereafter (also referred to as booster shots). Among other illnesses that affect dogs, this combination provides protection against cat flu (parvovirus – a deadly virus that affects dogs younger than one year of age), parainfluenza (an upper airway disease), Bordetella (also known as kennel cough), and leptospirosis, which can cause liver and kidney disease.

“On the other hand, the combination vaccines for cats protect against such diseases as rhinotracheitis (eye and respiratory infections) and chlamydiosis (which causes pneumonia), that can even be passed on to humans,” says Dr De Bruyn.

Risks

The risks posed by certain vaccinations are not very common but, in some cases, animals have displayed symptoms of allergies, such as pain or swelling at the site of the injection. Occasionally, cats have been found to develop tumours due to particular vaccines. “To avoid the dangers of over-vaccinating, your vet can perform a titer, which is a blood test that determines whether your animal is still protected by a previous vaccine,” explains Dr De Bruyn.

“It is critical to the health of domestic pets and their owners to make regular visits to a trusted vet and to ensure that all precautionary vaccinations are administered. This allows greater peace of mind and an enjoyable life for all. If necessary, you can contact SAVA, a voluntary association for registered veterinarians, that represents more than 60% of all vets in South Africa.”

Dr De Bruyn concludes that the final decision remains with you, the owner, whether or not you want to vaccinate your cat or dog against certain diseases. Do keep in mind that you have to vaccine your pet against rabies. For more information about vaccines, please visit the SAVA website, or their Facebook page.

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