When puppies are born they receive some natural protection against disease from their mother's milk. This protection is only temporary and it declines in the first few weeks of the puppies life. When this happens the puppy is at greater risk of infection and disease.
The mother can only pass on the immunity that she herself has, her ability to do this depends on whether or not she has been properly vaccinated and has had regular boosters. The puppies only absorb the antibodies associated with immunity during the first few days of their lives. The amount of milk they consume relates to the amount of immunity they acquire.
The immunity that the mother passes on diminishes in the puppy at certain ages. Your veterinary surgeon will probably vaccinate your puppy at both 8 weeks and 10 or 12 weeks of age, depending on which vaccine they use. Puppies are vaccinated at this age because it has been found that their immunity levels are starting to decrease or disappear altogether at these times. These vaccines take time to become effective, usually between 7 to 14 days after both doses have been given. During this time after vaccination it is essential that, to reduce the risk of infection, you keep your puppy away from other dogs, especially if you don't know their vaccine status, and avoid places where other dogs might have been.
Vaccinations contain a harmless form of the virus or bacteria which causes that particular disease.
The vaccination works by stimulating the puppy's natural defense mechanisms to set up a protective screen against the disease. This protective response is remembered and triggered whenever the puppy encounters the disease.
The main diseases that puppies and adult dogs can be vaccinated against are;
Canine distemper is transmitted by droplets of moisture which the dog picks up by sniffing where the infected dog has been. Once an outbreak has begun it is usually too late to vaccinate as the incubation period can be as much as three weeks long. The symptoms include coughing, diarrhoea, high temperature, vomiting, sore eyes and a runny nose. Sometimes the nose and foot pads can become hard and cracked. In severe cases pneumonia, fits, muscle spasms and paralysis can occur. Distemper is often fatal and those that do survive can be left with permanent disabilities, nervous twitches and epileptic fits.
Canine parvovirus appeared in the late seventies and caused the death of thousands of dogs. Regular outbreaks have been common where unvaccinated dogs are. It is transmitted through contact with infected faeces. It can be carried by the dog via its hair and feet. It is an extremely difficult virus to get rid of and can stay in the environment for many months. Although dogs of all ages can become infected with parvo it is most commonly seen in puppies and dogs under one year old. The signs of this disease appear quickly and the symptoms are depression, severe vomiting, high temperature, refusal of food and water, abdominal pain and profuse foul smelling bloody diarrhoea. As a result of these symptoms the dog can become severely dehydrated very quickly, it may collapse, and some can die within 24 hours of contracting the disease, even with veterinary treatment.
Canine hepatitis is a disease which attacks the liver, kidneys, eyes and lungs of the dog. It is transmitted by direct contact with infected urine, saliva and faeces. Dogs that are recovering from this disease can still be infectious to other dogs for more than 6 months. Again dogs of all ages can contract this disease but they are most commonly infected in their first year. The symptoms of hepatitis most commonly includes lack of appetite, high temperature, pale gums and conjunctiva, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea. As a result of this the dog can develop jaundice. The disease can develop quickly, between 24 to 36 hours, and can sometimes cause respiratory failure and death. However dogs which recover sometimes suffer from 'blue eye' which is a clouding of the cornea. This usually resolves itself through time.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease which can be picked up from contact with urine of infected animals. There are two ways in which it can be picked up. Firstly, it can be picked up from the urine of infected rats. Dogs can get it from rats if they drink or swim in canals or rivers that are inhabited by these infected rats, or even from sniffing where a rat has been. This is also known as Weil's Disease. This disease affects the liver, sometimes the kidneys may be infected too. The symptoms of this disease are depression, high temperature, severe thirst, lethargy, increased urination, abdominal pain, vomiting, bloody diarrhoea and jaundice. In severe cases death can occur within a few hours, at the very least serious liver damage can occur. This form of lepto can be transmitted to people too. Secondly, it can be picked up from the infected urine of other dogs. The damage that this causes is mainly to the kidneys and may cause problems as the dog gets older. Jaundice can also be seen but this is not common and is not too severe. Dogs that recover from this can still excrete the bacteria in their urine for up to a year making them a source of infection. Cats are seldom, if ever, infected with leptospirosis.
Canine parainfluenza virus is an infectious agent which causes kennel cough. It can be contracted anywhere where dogs meet, for example, at the park, training classes, boarding kennels and dog shows. It is passed on by contaminated airborne droplets or direct contact with infected dogs. It is highly contagious and can spread rapidly. The symptoms are a dry, harsh cough, which may cause retching. Owners refer to it as though the dog has something stuck in its throat. This coughing can last for several days or weeks, with treatment it can take up to 2 or 3 weeks for the dog to recover. If the dog has no treatment they can develop secondary infections which can lead to pneumonia.
Vaccination of your dog against these major infectious diseases is necessary to the health of your dog. The vaccine protects your own pet and prevents it from being a carrier of disease and spreading infection. Immunity to these diseases does not last indefinitely so regular boosters are vital to maintain this.
Once your dog has had its primary course of vaccinations you will be given a vaccination certificate which will have your pet's details on it, the dates the vaccine was given and when the booster is due. This certificate is important if you are putting your dog into boarding kennels or going to training classes. Many of these places will not accept your dog unless you can show this certificate and it is up to date. Your veterinary surgeon will send you out a reminder when the next vaccination is due.