Vaccinate to prevent disease PDF Print E-mail
News - Rubrieke
Tuesday, 20 November 2018 16:46
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Dr Liesel van der Merwe is a small animal medicine specialist. Send her your questions: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Dr Liesel van der Merwe

We are seeing a dramatic increase in puppies presenting with canine paroviral diarrhoea, often colloquially called cat flu (katgriep) – why I don’t know, as it doesn’t affect cats and it’s not the flu.
Anyway, the saddest thing about these cases is that they could have been prevented with proper vaccination. And note that I say ‘proper’.

We often see vaccinations sold to people by pharmacies and co-ops, to be injected by the client or by breeders. I would be very surprised if any of these vaccines were dispensed on an ice pack. A vaccine is a ‘live’ active medication and will be inactivated if left at the higher incorrect temperature. The cold chain must be followed.

These buyers are also often not correctly advised about booster vaccinations and correct intervals. A vaccination requires a booster injection. Depending on the age at which the first vaccination is given, a puppy will require two to three initial vaccinations.

The first vaccination is given at about six weeks of age. At this age some puppies will still have antibodies, which they got from their mother, mainly through the colostrum (milk) in the first 24 hours of suckling.

At six weeks ‘maternal immunity’ starts waning. The vaccination will not be effective in puppies with maternal immunity and the circulating antibodies will block the vaccine. In those whose immunity is decreasing, the vaccine will be effective and will prime the puppy’s immune system to identify the virus. 

This is why young puppies need three vaccinations, in case the first one is blocked. Dogs which receive their first vaccination after three months, only need two vaccinations. The point of the second vaccination or booster is to ‘remind’ the immune system and boost the response.

If the first vaccination does not get a booster vaccination, the immune response will peak and then wane. Antibody production occurs in two types: IgM is a large antibody which is produced on first exposure to a virus or infection.

Once the immune response matures, the longer acting IgG is formed at about three weeks. This is the antibody / response that needs to be boosted. If the booster vaccination is given after a period of longer than three to four weeks, the IgG response, which it was supposed to be boosting, is already waning and the immunity gained is reduced. The yearly boosters are then used to keep the immune system primed.

If one puppy in a litter becomes infected, all the dogs will become infected. Parvoviral diarrhoea is a catastrophic disease, as the virus destroys the entire lining of the small intestine and we can only treat the symptoms – not the cause.

Typically treatment is intensive with IV fluids, nausea medication and feeding via nasogastric tubes and will take four to five days minimum. This will cost a lot of money on an inpatient basis. Some clients opt for outpatient treatment, but this still requires daily visits to the vet for fluid treatment and a lot more nursing at home. 

The virus particles are tough and they will remain infective for up to 18 months. Jik (hypochlorite solutions) and F10 solutions are effective in cleaning the environment.

We have seen ‘non-vet vaccinations’ increasing as people are opting for cheaper avenues of care, and then there are always the breeders who vaccinate puppies themselves before homing them. If you don’t see a vet or the words ‘clinic’ or ‘hospital’, it is not a veterinary practice. 

Veterinary professionals are legally required to give a vaccination certificate or record as proof of vaccination. Implicit with this is the understanding that they will not vaccinate a sick dog. Sick or parasitized puppies do not develop immunity to a vaccine. Implicit also is that the vaccination has been stored and handled properly.

The veterinarian has his/her practice name and details on the vaccination certificate and will sign the card – this is a legal record of vaccination. They will also give proper advice regarding booster vaccinations and other health issues.

An ‘at home’ vaccination without professional guarantee of proper vaccine handling is a meaningless document. It will not stand up to scrutiny by the state vet.

Responsible pet ownership involves primary health care such as vaccination, parasite control and sterilisation. This is the minimum. The toys, fancy haircuts and cute blankets are of secondary importance.


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