If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably just brought a brand new little puppy into the family! With all the socialisation, toilet training, exercise, diet and so on that you need to think about, learning to care for your puppy might be getting a bit overwhelming. This article is the first of two that are going to be discussing a very important aspect of puppy care – preventative healthcare – covering vaccination, parasite control, puppy checks, and healthcare that continues into adult life. Hopefully we will make this a little simpler to understand, so you can focus on how to stop your puppy jumping on the sofa and chewing the rug!

Vaccination

Vaccines are hugely important in preventing some of the nastiest diseases that puppies can catch, so we strongly advise all puppies start our vaccine courses as soon as they are old enough.

How do they work?

Vaccines work by injecting a small amount of dead or inactivated disease into an animal – the animal’s immune system will react to the disease as if it was alive or active, and create memory cells. These memory cells will allow the animal to quickly fight off the real disease if it is ever encountered in later life. This means the animal is mostly immune to the real disease.

How early can we vaccinate our puppy?

When a puppy is very young, it takes some immunity from the mother in her milk (provided she was also vaccinated), which lasts a few weeks after birth. Therefore, we tend not to vaccinate puppies until this maternal immunity has worn off, at around 8 weeks old. There are two core vaccines which should always be given, and a number of non-core vaccines which may be recommended, depending on your situation.

What vaccines should all dogs have?

Starting with the core vaccines: Leptospirosis is a disease caused by Leptospira bacteria – the L2 vaccine we offer protects from the two most common UK strains of the disease. Leptospirosis is spread by infectious urine from wildlife, so puppies that like to play outdoors, or swim in standing water, are at the greatest risk. Leptospirosis causes fever and organ infection, particularly kidney and liver damage. The most serious infections can be fatal. While L2 is not considered “core” in some countries, in the UK the bacteria are so common, we regard it as important for all dogs, whatever their lifestyle. The other core vaccine, DHP, protects against three viruses in one: distemper, infectious hepatitis, and parvovirus. These three diseases are highly infectious and cause a variety of signs, often leading to death. Due to the seriousness of these diseases, we always recommend these two vaccines, and all kennels will require these before your puppy can stay with them.

Are there any optional extras?

Non-core vaccines are optional, but our vets may recommend them in certain cases. The most well known is kennel cough (the one that goes up your puppy’s nose), which protects against specific upper respiratory tract infections. This is also mandatory for most kennels, and the infection is very common, so we really do recommend it for most puppies.

The rabies vaccine is relevant if your puppy will be travelling outside the UK. The UK is currently rabies free (and we would like to keep it this way!) but much of the rest of the world is not, so all dogs that enter the UK from countries where rabies is present (e.g. all of mainland Europe) must have had a full course of rabies vaccination first. The rules for this are quite specific (and may change post-Brexit) so please consult with one of the vets well in advance if you wish to leave and re-enter the UK with your puppy.

Other common non-core vaccines protect against Leishmaniasis and Lyme disease. Lyme disease is only prevalent in certain parts of the country, or particular environments; and Leishmania isn’t yet established in the UK. We therefore recommend that you come in and talk to your vet about your dog’s circumstances so the risks can be discussed.

When are vaccines given?

As mentioned above, most puppies will be given their first DHP and L2 vaccine at 8 weeks, and then a second 3-4 weeks later (non-core vaccine schedules vary). This should be enough to prime their immune system to create memory cells against these diseases. Unfortunately, vaccines and the immunity they create do not last forever; the memory cells will slowly die off if the immune system is not regularly ‘reminded’ of what it should be protecting against.

This means vaccines should be repeated regularly, every 1-3 years. L2 and kennel cough are given annually, and DHP and rabies every 3 years. Ensuring these are given on time will mean your puppy will be protected throughout their lifetime. Missing a booster can be the difference between protection and not, so we strongly recommend staying up to date!

What else?

Well, vaccinations are really important, of course. But so are flea and worm control, and puppy checks – and we’ll discuss those next time. Watch this space for more!