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St Anne's Veterinary Group Blog

» How do vaccines work and why do we use them?

13 years ago when I was a young trainee I remember all too well the amount of puppies that I had to spend most of the night trying to save who had parvo virus. That smell that haunts those in the veterinary profession, also passing on the bad news to a heartbroken family that had lost their cute little puppy. I'm glad to say we now see very few cases of parvo virus, this is down to vaccinations and the education as to why they are so important.

So how do vaccine's work? Well there's different types of vaccines, one is made up of viral particles that have been killed, live virus that is modified so it doesn't cause disease or a part of the virus that is known to stimulate immunity. By injecting very small amounts of the virus in one of these forms, the pet's own immune system is stimulated to produce antibodies against the disease in the vaccine. As this is making the immune system work, it is important that the vaccine is only given to healthy individuals whose immune systems are not already fighting off an illness.

So when do we start vaccinating our pets? Provided the mother has been regularly vaccinated (or she has been exposed to disease and has survived) she will carry on immunity that will be passed on to her new-born puppies or kittens. The newborns receive the immune protection by feeding from their mother in the first few days of life. This means if they are weak and have to be supplemented or hand reared they will have no or little natural protection. This is also the case when the bitch has had little or no vaccinations. The immunity given in the colostrum only lasts for about 10-12 weeks, hence the vaccines start before so they are not left unprotected.

Puppies are vaccinated at 6-8 weeks and 10 weeks ideally and kittens are given at 9 weeks and 12 weeks. The animals aren't fully vaccinated until 7 days after the second dose. Unfortunately the antibodies that are produced for most of the diseases do not last forever and will fade over a period of time. This is particularly true for Parvovirus and Leptospirosis in dogs and Flu and Laukaemia in cats. So we vaccinate our pets every year to ensure maximum protection. Some dog diseases have now been identified as having longer immunity and and so are not given with every dose of vaccine but some are still required annually.

Next week we will go over what each of the vaccinations cover.

Menna Field

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