Why Do Puppies and Adult Dogs Need Vaccinating?

Vaccines prevent thousands of dogs and cats dying from potentially fatal diseases. A vaccinated animal cannot develop that disease or spread it to others.

Created: 10/5/2020 Updated: 3/7/2023 - Ross Tiffin

dogs, health, Health & Wellbeing, puppy

The diseases have now disappeared - haven't they? Some might say that we've been so effective in reducing and almost eradicating many of these diseases that we no longer need to vaccinate against them. However, as we have seen with measles, when preventive vaccination rates have dropped, recurrence of measles infections have steadily increased in children and adults.

Worried dog at the vets.

This is also true for infections in dogs; in populations where preventative vaccination rates are low, recurrence of diseases such as parvo virus and distemper have re-appeared at an alarming rate. To eradicate a disease in a population, vaccinating more than 80% of that population is necessary. Unfortunately, fewer than 50% of all dogs receive regular vaccinations - even in sophisticayted countries such as the UK and US. This means that these diseases remain ever-present in the environment, threatening any unprotected animal's health.

Do I need to vaccinate every year?

As we have seen during the Covid 19 pandemic, different interpretations of scientific evidence can have profound effects on the way different populations react to a challenge. This is inspite of the science remaining constant. Different individuals may react differently to the challenge of a disease. Most childhood vaccinations in people can provide a lifetime's protection. Unfortunately, some do not. Protection against tetanus is a good example of the limited duration of effect in some diseases. Similarly in our dogs and cats, vaccination against some diseases can provide protection lasting for longer than a year but, in others such as leptospirosis, the protection afforded by vaccination may only last around twelve months. Leptospirosis is more common in rural wooded areas, near to farms or very damp areas with contaminated water. Conversely, more dogs will be present in urban areas and, statistically, that also increases the risk to unprotected animals. It follows that, where the challenge for dogs that are at-risk is greatest, the need for preventative measures is highest.

It is always sensible to maintain protection with regular booster vaccinations.This is because protection against some diseases varies from animal to animal. Your vet will be happy to advise you about the diseases where protection is available and the duration of effective cover through vaccination.

If you are concerned about over-vaccination, there is an option of a blood test. It measures your dog's antibody levels to establish whether repeat vaccination is needed.

What about puppies?

Transient immunity from maternal antibodies in newborn puppies is very short-lasting. Puppies do not have enough time to develop any antibodies of their own and are at very high risk. Therefore, vets agree puppies need early vaccination and the usual age is between six to nine weeks.

Otto the chocolate Labrador puppy looking adoringly at his owner.

A single injection usually delivers vaccination against a range of diseases. This needs repeating after a short period. Avoid exposing your puppy to the risk of infection before vaccination is complete. Do not let your puppy walk or sniff around areas where other dogs have been unless you can be absolutely certain that every other dog has been vaccinated.

It's not just about protecting your own dog

Most vaccine-preventable diseases spread from dog to dog. If one dog in the community develops the disease, it can rapidly spread to others which are not immune. Of course, a dog that is immune cannot spread it to another dog. Therefore, the more dogs we vaccinate the fewer are the opportunities for that disease to spread. This equation works on a local level but it also works nationally. If we allow vaccination levels to slip, diseases could once more be as common as they were before vaccinations were available.

Some diseases like rabies, brucellosis and leptospirosis can infect both animals and humans. The risk is remarkably low, especially in countries like the UK, the US and Western Europe. But what would happen if we stopped vaccinations? Scientists believe we would soon be once again battling epidemics of diseases that we thought our parents and grandparents had eradicated.

Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email helpline@oscars.co.uk.