Vaccinations: debate, controversy and our policy…

A report out today on MRCVS Online tells of a confirmed case of Canine Distemper in north west England.  It’s the first case of the disease seen in the region for many years and originated in a dog imported from Bulgaria while pregnant, who had Canine Distemper herself and passed it on to her puppies post-natally.  Mother and puppies all died.

The case highlights growing concern that increased pet travel and imports could be leading to the re-emergence of infectious diseases which had previously been considered rare in the UK. (Distemper case prompts pet travel warning)

Donal Murphy, NOAH technical executive and vet, made a similar point in his recent article in the Veterinary Times: ‘In the light of increased movement of pets from mainland Europe and beyond, the continued wide distribution of canine parvovirus, and indeed the re-emergence of confirmed cases of canine distemper in a number of locations in the UK, the threat of infectious disease to our pets is ever present and demands a high level of vaccinal immunity is maintained across the country.’


Distemper and Parvovirus are two of the infectious diseases that the DHPPi vaccine protects against. DHPPi (Distemper, Hepititis, Parvovirus and Parainfluenzavirus) is the core vaccine given to all domestic dogs from the age of around 10 weeks and, up until fairly recently, every year from there on in.  I say ‘up until recently’ because there has been a growing movement over the last couple of years to move from an annual DHPPi programme to it being a biennial or even triennial requirement. This is partly in response to duration of immunity studies and partly because of concerns over vaccine safety.  Much as with human MMR, there have been reported cases of dogs becoming ill apparently as a result of having been vaccinated so the question has been asked as to whether it is necessary for our dogs to be subjected to as rigorous a vaccination programme as had been formerly advised.

The question is up for debate and, as per the above, vets are busy debating it.

But while they and governments work on policy, and us dog owners read up about all their findings, we, at the House of Mutt, need to set out our policy for the vaccination of dogs staying here.

DHPPi -  is a core vaccine which all dogs coming to the House of Mutt must have.  They must have had the double starter course as young puppies and then an annual booster thereafter.   The vaccine’s efficacy has been only been officially proved and tested at one year and we feel the possible benefits of restricting our dogs’ vaccination programme is not worth the risk of their contracting one of these highly dangerous, and avoidable, diseases.

For those very against the idea of an annual vaccination, it is possible to titre test. This is where a small sample of blood is taken from the dog and checked for the presence of circulating antibodies. The test can be carried out by your vet and would be effective for providing proof of protection for a stay at House of Mutt, but short of carrying out regular titre tests doesn’t provide proof of continued protection.

Leptospirosis (‘Lepto’) is the second annual vaccine that we insist on.  Whilst not a ‘core’ vaccine it is recommended by most vet practices if your dog is likely to be walked through woods or swim in lakes, rivers etc as it’s caused by a bacteria spread through soil, water and the urine of infected animals.  So, affecting those walked in woods, near water, or to have come into contact with others who might….    In my opinion, and I know I’m married to a vet so probably biased, it’s just not worth taking that risk for my own dog, let alone other people’s.

The final vaccine we need is for Kennel Cough.  Much as with Lepto, this is not a core vaccine and will not routinely be recommended by your vet, but when dogs are regularly meeting new dogs either here or in the park at home, it makes sense to protect them as much as we are able.  The Kennel Cough vaccine is administered as a nasal spray and is an annual requirement.

Rabies is a vaccination that many dogs will have, and all who have travelled from abroad, but is not one we require for here.

Fleas and ticks are the next things to consider.   We really don’t like bugs and critters – who does! – but we recognise that treatments against them vary in their effectiveness and throw up even more controversy than vaccines. Some people really don’t like applying chemicals to their pet on a regular basis and when you find a tick on a treated dog (as is not unusual) does it mean they’re working anyway?  Who knows is the short answer, but in our experience the best programme is an alternate treatment of Frontline Plus and Advocate applied every 6 weeks from April through to November.  These bugs tend to be dormant in the depths of winter and the break gives your pet a break from treatment and the bugs less opportunity to develop immunity.

Please do talk to your vet and work out your best programme, but that is what we do with our own dogs and is what I consider a good option.

Worms are another target and demand a regular treatment plan.  For what it’s worth we use Drontal Plus.  Milbemax is another favourite.  Again, talk to your vet, work out what programme you want to follow – and then remember to follow it!

So, in summary, we require DHPPi, Lepto and Kennel Cough administered annually, and an up to date flea and tick programme. And as for the rest, be aware that the debate is happening and don’t be complacent about vaccines – these nasty diseases are out there in increasing numbers and it’s not at all unusual for people to care desperately about the welfare of their dog and yet to forget to address the vaccination issue. When there’s so much that we can’t control to protect our pets, why gamble with something that we can?


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