Young puppies are most at risk from any infection, but they do benefit from immunity against diseases to which their mother has been exposed. This immunity comes in the form of maternal antibodies, which are passed on in the first milk that is suckled. Such acquired protection gradually fades and disappears almost completely by, at the latest, 12 weeks of age. Eventually, a dog will generate its own protection when its white blood cells learn how to produce antibodies. They do so when exposed to specific infectious agents. They also do so when exposed to the modified infectious agents used in vaccines. 

A vaccine harnesses the body’s natural ability to defend itself. Vaccination or immunization stimulates an immune response that will protect a dog from the natural form of a disease. 

Vaccination can be a highly effective way of preventing many killer diseases. Until a few decades ago, serious viral illnesses such as canine hepatitis and the highly contagious canine distemper were feared, but now they are rare wherever efficient vaccination programs have been routinely used. Most vaccines are given by injection but some can be given by aerosol in the nose. The effectiveness of vaccines varies – some give lifelong immunity while others give only partial protection against a particular disease. This is because certain viruses can modify their form and the vaccine would be effective against one form but not against other forms. The best vaccine manufacturers keep pace with changes in the viruses but some companies and some vaccines are more efficient than others. 

Vaccines work by sensitizing the immune system to a particular disease causing bacterium, bacterial toxin or virus. Most vaccines contain the organism or toxin against which protection is sought. However, this organism has been killed, genetically modified or weakened so it does not cause illness but still stimulates the body t produce antibodies against it. If the vaccinated dog later encounters the disease, it remains healthy because it already has the antibodies to destroy the disease producing agent.

Types of vaccines and schedule

According to the Australian Veterinary Association  (AVA), dog vaccines can be divided in two categories:

  • Core vaccines – recommended for all dogs because they protect from life-threatening diseases. Core vaccines include canine distemper, canine parvovirus and canine adenovirus. The combination of these three viruses is commonly known as C3 vaccine.
  • Non-core vaccines – vaccines that are needed depending on the local environment and lifestyle. Non-core vaccines are for protection against leptospirosis and the causative agents of kennel cough. 

Young puppies usually need to receive three separate vaccinations given 4 weeks apart. The first vaccination should be received at 6-8 weeks of age and it offers only a temporary protection. To achieve longer-lasting immunity, the puppy needs at least one and preferably two more booster vaccines. The second vaccine is administered at 10-12 weeks of age and it is considered as booster immunization. The last or final vaccination is administered at 14-16 weeks of age. Although socializing is an important part of raising a healthy puppy, interactions with other dogs are not recommended until the puppy has formed some level of immunity. Generally speaking, it is safe to start socializing your furry baby at least 10 days after the third or final vaccine. 

Then, once adult, dogs require annual booster vaccinations for life. However, newer vaccines do not require annual booster vaccination. Instead they can be administered very 2 or 3 years.  Vaccination cost may different to each vet, however most pet insurance companies in Australia would have routine care cover and you would be able to claim the cost through your policy.

Diseases that can be prevented with vaccination

Rabies

Rabies can be defined as an invariably fatal viral disease of carnivores and bats. It exists on all continents except Antarctica. Vaccinations have significantly reduced its incidence in many developed countries. However, rabies remains prevalent in many developing nations where dogs are important carriers. It should be noted that dogs are not the only common carrier. Specific wild carnivores in different parts of the world play a primary role as transmitters of rabies and reservoirs of the disease – foxes, bats, skunks, raccoons and mongeese. 

Rabies is caused by a rhabdovirus. The microorganism is transmitted in contaminated saliva, usually through bites but sometimes through licking. The saliva of a rabid dog is teeming with viruses. It is an interesting fact that the saliva is often turned into a froth because of the dog’s increased rate of respiration. 

The rabies virus follows a specific cycle. It travels from the site of the wound via the nerves to the brain where it causes encephalitis (inflammation). The journey can take between two to eight weeks, or even longer depending on the wound’s distance from the brain. Then the virus travels via the nerves to the salivary glands, where it concentrates, ready to spread through bites to other animals. The virus also travels to the lungs and digestive system. The time that elapses between the bite and the manifestation of the disease can be as little as a week or as long as a year, depending on how long the virus remains in the muscle where the bite has occurred. One of the alarming aspects of rabies is that the saliva may be infected with the virus for as long as two weeks before the dog shows any signs of infection. 

Rabies may initially cause little more than a limp. More commonly the first signs are mild changes in the dog’s behavior. Usually affectionate dogs may become irritable and reclusive, while nervous dogs may become more outgoing. 

Rabies manifests itself in two forms, with most individuals having mixed clinical signs or both. In the paralytic or dumb form of the disease, affected dogs find it difficult to move. In addition, paralysis of the throat muscles prevents them from swallowing which leads to drooling. In the more excitable form, knows as furious, dogs become overly aggressive and show no fear. Excessive light sensitivity is also common. The furious stage may last for up to a week. It usually ends by giving way to the final paralytic stage which lasts for a couple of days and is followed by death. 

Diagnosis

Clinical signs may suggest rabies, but a conclusive diagnosis depends on microscopic examination of the brain tissue. 

Treatment

There is no effective means of treating an infected dog. 

Prevention

  All dogs living in regions were rabies is endemic should be routinely vaccinated against rabies. Dogs should also receive booster vaccinations according to the manufacturer’s instructions and recommendations (usually every two to three years) and in compliance with the local laws. Booster vaccinations can also be administered when already vaccinated dogs get bitten by other dogs. 

Parvovirus

Parvovirus was first recognized in North America, Europe and Australia in 1978 after an outbreak of gastrointestinal hemorrhaging occurred in domestic dogs. It is assumed that the canine parvovirus arose as a mutation of the feline parvovirus or the parvovirus in foxes.

Known as canine parvovirus type 2 (CPV-2) the virus is extremely tough, capable of surviving outside a dog for as long as six months. It is resistant to soaps, detergents and many disinfectants but it is sensitive to chlorine bleaches. 

The virus is spread in contaminated feces. It enters the victim via the mouth, when the dog does something as simple as licking its food pads. Young pups, under 16 weeks of age, are prone to the most serious forms of parvovirus infection. 

The virus penetrates the tonsils and then progresses via the lymph system and the bloodstream to the lining of the intestines, as well as the bone marrow, lymph nodes and thymus gland – areas where the body cells multiply rapidly. In severe cases the results include abdominal pain, lethargy, fever, vomiting and bloody diarrhea. Some dogs may have milder signs like loose, bulky stools. Heart failure, although rare can be seen in infected young puppies. 

Diagnosis

Te diagnosis is based on history and symptoms but usually confirmed by identifying virus antigens in stool samples. There are simple antibody blood tests but in these tests false negative results can be common. 

Treatment

Shock control is vital, as well as pain control and prevention of dehydration. Antibiotics can be used to prevent secondary bacterial infections entering the blood stream through the damaged intestines. 

Prevention

With prompt and effective veterinary attention, most dogs should survive a parvovirus infection. They will then have lifelong immunity to the disease. However, new strains of parvovirus are constantly evolving. 

Vaccination gives very good but not necessarily full protection against the disease. The level of protection depends on the virus strands that are used by the vaccine manufacturer. In addition, the antibodies, young pups inherit from their mothers are particularly troublesome in preventing effective parvovirus vaccination. With early types of vaccines, the maternal antibodies would destroy the virus in the vaccine. Further inoculations are necessary until the pups reach 16 weeks of age or even for longer periods, until the maternal antibodies fully disappear. Recently manufactured vaccines are efficient at combating the maternal antibodies. 

Coronavirus enteritis

This is a gastrointestinal infection caused by canine coronavirus (CCV). The virus was discovered almost by accident, when canine parvovirus spread worldwide in the late 1970s. 

Dogs of all ages and breeds can pick up the infection from other animals or their feces. In most cases the infection is subclinical, causing no signs of illness. Young dogs are more likely to develop the clinical disease and show symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes bloody) and lethargy. The symptoms usually last for a week but they may last for up to ten days. 

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is usually based on clinical signs. Additionally, the virus can be identified by microscopic examination of stool samples. 

Treatment

The medical approach includes supportive treatment – fluids to achieve rehydration and antibiotics to prevent secondary infections. 

Prevention

There is an available vaccine that protects dogs from being infected with the coronavirus. 

Distemper

Although under control in many regions of the world, this disease is still a leading cause of death in dogs worldwide. The clinical signs may vary but they often develop from initial fever, lethargy and runny eyes and nose to vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, coughing and sticky, yellow eye and nose discharge. At first the treatment seems to work, but after several weeks brain inflammation occurs. The brain inflammation causes convulsions, confusion, irrational behavior and blindness. 

Pups that survive distemper infection develop mottled adult teeth. Some survivors may also have intermittent, painful, spasmic muscle jerks known as myoclonus. At first the jerking develops when the dog is sleeping or relaxing but later on it can occur at any time. Affected dogs often whimper or cry. Although the jerks can occur throughout life, they become less severe over time. 

Another name for distemper is hardpad disease. The virus attacks the skin on the nose and footpads, causing thickening and cracking. Today this form of distemper is particularly uncommon. 

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is based on clinical signs. If needed, analysis of spinal fluid can be performed. 

Treatment

Counteracting the various elements of distemper requires a multimodal approach. Antibiotics are used to control opportunist bacteria and prevent them from causing secondary infections. Fluid therapy is administered to control dehydration and ant nausea drugs are used for vomiting control. Dogs with neurologic signs require anticonvulsants, painkillers and sedatives. 

Prevention

Breeding females should be vaccinated against canine distemper virus two weeks before mating, to ensure that they can provide high levels of protective maternal antibodies for their pups. The pups should be then vaccinated one or more times between eight and twelve weeks of age, depending on the local risk of infection. 

Infectious canine hepatitis

This now rare disease was formerly confused with distemper. It is caused by an adenovirus called canine adenovirus type 1 (CAV-1). This virus occurs worldwide and it is a close relative of CAV-2 – one of the viral causes of kennel cough. 

Infectious canine hepatitis occurs most frequently in unvaccinated dogs under one year of age. Many dogs develop CAV-1 antibodies by the age of two years and subsequently the disease is rarely fatal.

The virus is transmitted by contact between dogs. It enters the lymphatic system and eventually the bloodstream via the tonsils. Then it targets the liver, the kidneys, the inner lining of the blood vessels and the eyes. Within a week, the dog’s antibodies have done their work and the virus remains only in the eyes and in the kidneys, from where it is excreted through the urine. 

Most affected dogs experience an infection with only a one-day fever. Young pups, younger than six weeks of age, may suffer acute abdominal pain and die of shock within a day. Death is so rapid that owners sometimes believe their pups have been poisoned. Older dogs may show signs like fever, abdominal pain, bloody vomit and diarrhea. Some individuals become overly sensitive to light. 

Recovered dogs often have clouded corneas and develop so-called blue eyes, which clear in few weeks. 

Diagnosis

The diagnosis depends on the symptoms and medical history of no vaccinations. Serology and biopsy can be performed if needed. 

Treatment

The treatment includes efficient pain management and shock management. Fluids and antibiotics are commonly used. 

Prevention

The first vaccines, based on CAV-1, protected against the virus but occasionally caused blue eyes. At the moment, all modified-live hepatitis vaccines are produced from CAV-2. They cross protect against infectious canine hepatitis and kennel cough without causing initiating blue eyes. 

Kennel cough complex

Kennel cough is also known as canine infectious trachebronchitis or canine cough. It is a contagious disease of the respiratory system caused by a variety of viruses and bacteria. Each of these germs initiates simple signs like typical dry, non-productive cough a distinctive honking sound. 

The most important cause of kennel cough is Bordetella bronchiseptica. The most important viral causes are canine parainfluenza virus (CPIV) and canine adenovirus 2 (CAV-2). Kennels and other places where dogs are kept together are prime sites for transmission of the disease. Stress, poor ventilation and the proximity of dogs that may be harboring one of the causative pathogens are all contributory factors. 

Around five days after airborne exposure to one of the pathogens, the affected dog develops the high-pitched honking sound. While some dogs recover within a couple of days, others suffer from a more unpleasant and longer-lasting condition called tracheobronchitis. This is mainly due to complications caused by opportunist bacteria and fungi. These pathogens cause various symptoms such as lethargy, fever, eye discharge, nose discharge, loss of appetite and concentration of sticky saliva at the corners of the mouth. Additionally, affected dogs may have paroxysms or coughing accompanied by retching. In some complicated cases of kennel cough, dogs may show similar signs and symptoms like dogs suffering from the respiratory form of canine distemper. 

Diagnosis

Clinical signs and recent medical history are enough to diagnose the disease. The exact cause can be isolated from tracheal fluid washes. 

Treatment

Cough suppressants are used to reduce the paroxysms and make the dog more comfortable. Corticosteroids, bronchodilators and medications that break down the mucous are also commonly used. Dogs at risk of secondary infections should receive antibiotics. 

Supportive therapy and restricted physical activity are also recommended. 

Prevention 

Environments in which kennel cough has occurred should be thoroughly cleaned. The Bordetella vaccine given intranasally stimulates local immunity within the respiratory tract but the protection lasts for only two to nine months. Vaccines against CAV-2 and parainfluenza reduce but do not eliminate the risk of kennel cough. 

Leptospirosis

This disease is caused by the bacteria Leptospira canicola. Many dogs can have leptospirosis infection without showing clinical signs. They become carriers and spread the disease to others. 

When illness does occur, it may cause kidney inflammation or a more generalized disease involving the liver and often accompanied by blood in the urine. Clinical sign, which appear between four and twelve days after infection, include lethargy, fever, vomiting and redness of the mucous membranes and the conjunctiva of the eyes. In severe cases there may be jaundice (yellowing of the mucous membranes). 

Diagnosis

The diagnosis can be confirmed with blood tests, identification of the bacteria under a microscope in urine or tissue samples. 

Treatment

The treatment is non-specific and involves support therapy including intravenous fluids and appropriate antibiotics. 

Prevention

Leptospiral bacteria can be spread in the urine of carrier animals such as rodents and skunks. Then they contaminate the water and soil. Therefore, in areas where leptospirosis is a potential problem, dogs should be routinely vaccinated. Leptospirosis vaccine does not guarantee protection but it protects some dogs and reduces the seriousness of the illness in others. Since, present vaccines provide immunity lasting for up to 18 months, regular booster inoculations are necessary. 

Times when a dog should not be vaccinated

Dogs should not be vaccinated under any of the following circumstances:

  • Under eight weeks of age
  • Within 30 days of estrus or during estrus
  • During pregnancy or lactation
  • During or within 30 days of corticosteroid treatment
  • In cases of injuries and severe stress. 

Breed-related vaccination risks

It is not fully proven but there are tantalizing clues that breeds known to have a higher than average incidence of immune-mediated problems may be more susceptible to an ,,other than average’’ vaccination response. As an example, many breeders feel that parvovirus is vaccine is not as effective in Rottweilers and Doberman Pinschers as in other dogs. Therefore, the possible risks posed by disease versus the possible risks from vaccines should be carefully discussed with your licensed veterinarian. A risk assessment is the basis of efficient and effective vaccination. 

Vaccines’ inefficiency

Unfortunately there are certain circumstances under which vaccines may fail to work. Although rare, those circumstances include:

  • High level of maternal antibodies in the pup which neutralizes the vaccine 
  • Existing infection with the disease that has not yet produced clinical signs
  • Faulty immune system
  • Incorrect vaccine handling, storage and administration. 

All in all, it can be concluded that part of being a responsible dog parent is protecting your dog from contracting disease that can be easily prevented. Even though the vaccinations price can be quite high it is far less than having your dog hospitalized and treated for a life-threatening condition.  

So…do not hesitate. Got to your local vet clinic and discuss about having your pup vaccinated properly and in time. 


About the Author: Rachael Brown, a writer who loves to travel around the world, a reader about dog’s and cat’s health to keep them healthier and happier. She is a mother of two dogs named Bella and Foxy.