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Health Topics

Canine Vaccinations: Explained

(Information taken from the Ontario Veterinary Assossication (OVMA) website)

Along with regular physical exams, vaccinations are a very important part of preventive health care for your pet. Many common diseases that affect dogs are now preventable through the use of vaccinations.

Canine Distemper

Distemper is a serious viral disease affecting primarily young, unvaccinated dogs. Clinical signs may include a yellowish or greenish discharge from the eyes or nose, coughing, difficulty breathing, increased body temperature, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, nervous system disorder (twitching of a limb, seizures, etc.), and hardening of the foot pads.

Distemper is a highly contagious disease. All body excretions and secretions (discharges from the eyes or nose, vomitus, diarrhea, urine) may carry the infection. The virus can also be carried by air currents, and on inanimate objects such as food bowls.

Prevention of this disease is extremely important, as distemper is often fatal. Even if a dog survives the disease, distemper can permanently damage the dog's nervous system, sense of smell, sight and sound. Vaccination has been shown to prevent the disease.

Canine Parvovirus

Parvovirus is a serious disease affecting primarily young dogs (6 weeks to 6 months of age) although any age can be affected. The breeds at highest risk include the Rottweiler, Doberman Pinscher, and German Shepherd.

Parvovirus is a hardy virus, able to withstand extreme temperature changes, and exposure to most disinfectants. Dogs contract Parvovirus through exposure to infected dogs or infected stools.

Parvovirus attacks the gastrointestinal tract, causing affected dogs to lose their appetite, become lethargic and show evidence of vomiting, diarrhea or both. The diarrhea is often bloody and has a foul odour (that of digested blood). Some dogs develop fevers. Left untreated, Parvovirus can be fatal.

This disease is very serious and can be very expensive to treat. Vaccination against this highly contagious viral disease has proven to be very successful in preventing this disease (or lessening its severity).

Canine Kennel Cough

Clinical signs of kennel cough include a dry, hacking cough and, in some dogs, nasal discharge, loss of appetite and difficulty breathing.

Kennel cough is highly contagious and is spread through sneezing, coughing and contact with infected nasal secretions. Kennel cough is most commonly transmitted when dogs are put in close proximity to one another, for example, at dog shows, in kennels, etc. In most cases, kennel cough lasts 7 to 10 days and dogs recover fully from it. In some cases, antibiotics are necessary.

If your dog is on the show circuit or spends time in a boarding facility, vaccination may be recommended. Speak to your veterinarian about your dog's risk of exposure and need for this vaccine.

Infectious Canine Hepatitis

Hepatitis is a viral disease that is most common in young, unvaccinated dogs (9-12 weeks). Clinical signs may include respiratory tract abnormalities (discharge from the nose or eyes, coughing) or evidence of liver and/or kidney disease (jaundice, loss of appetite, vomiting, change in drinking and urinating behaviour). Occasionally, an affected dog develops a "blue eye" (corneal edema).

Hepatitis is spread by contact with urine from an infected dog. Prevention by vaccination is the key as canine hepatitis is often fatal. Infectious canine hepatitis is not contagious to people.

Rabies

Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system of all warm blooded animals, including humans. Rabies is transmitted by saliva, which is usually transferred by a bite from an infected animal. The disease is frequently found in wild animals such as skunks, foxes, raccoons and bats.

Once infected, the disease is fatal. Prior to death, clinical signs may include a change in behaviour (e.g. increased aggressiveness or increased shyness), dilation of the pupils, excess salivation, snapping at the air, a shifting gait, and facial twitching.

As the virus can be transmitted to humans, no stray dog, cat or wild animal should ever be approached. Wild animals should never be kept as pets. Your pet should be kept on its own property or leashed when off its property. To help prevent raccoon rabies, it is recommended that you cap chimneys, close up any holes in attics or outbuildings, and make sure that stored garbage does not act as a food source.

Vaccination is important to safeguard your dog from rabies. Some veterinarians recommend vaccinating every year, while others recommend a three-year vaccine. Talk to your veterinarian about the degree of risk for Rabies in your area, and about which vaccine will provide your pet with the protection it requires.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is caused by a spirochete (Borrelia burgdorferi) and spread by ticks. It is a serious disease in people. Clinical signs in dogs, if they occur, are thought to include lameness, joint swelling, fever, loss of appetite and lethargy. The heart, brain and kidney may also be affected. Dogs do not generally show the classic red lesion that a human exhibits at the site of a tick bite.

The diagnosis of Lyme disease is not black and white. If the disease is suspected, your veterinarian may request a blood test to detect antibodies to Borrelia. If this test is positive and your dog has clinical signs suggestive of Lyme disease and a history of travel to a high risk area, antibiotics may be recommended.

Depending on your geographical location, your veterinarian may recommend vaccinating your dog against Lyme disease. To assist in the prevention of Lyme disease, use flea and tick sprays, and remove any ticks from the animal promptly, if found. The risk of tick exposure can be reduced by keeping your dog on a leash, on trails, and out of woodlands and fields. Brushing the pet's coat as soon as the walk is complete is important.