Vaccinations- FAQs

Why vaccinate?

Vaccination protects your pet from dangerous and potentially life threatening diseases and is a vital part of responsible pet care. By making sure your animal is vaccinated you are not only giving yourself peace of mind but also preventing the spread of dangerous diseases to other animals in the area.

What are vaccines?

When the body is exposed to a virus/ bacteria it will naturally produce a protective response specific to the disease.  When we give a vaccination we are artificially exposing the body to a harmless version of the virus/ bacteria. This allows the body to produce a protective response without ever having been in contact with the dangerous form of the disease. Once the animal has responded to the vaccine if it comes into contact with the virus/bacteria in later life it will have natural protection also known as immunity.

What do we vaccinate against?


  • Distemper virus– A severe normally fatal disease, thankfully now rare in the UK due to widespread vaccination but still seen in Europe.
  • Infectious hepatitis– Rare in the UK thanks to vaccination but often fatal.
  • Parvovirus- A particularly nasty virus which can survive long periods in the environment. Widespread in some areas of the UK. Usually fatal, especially in puppies.
  • Leptospirosis– Also known as Weil’s disease in humans. Spread though waterways normally in rat or dog urine. Widespread in the UK.
  • Rabies– Not found in the UK but required for pet passports.
  • Kennel Cough– Similar to the flu vaccine in humans. Doesn’t prevent infection but can lessen the severity of signs. Dry, wretching cough, very contagious in dogs. Normally self limiting but can be serious in young, elderly or immunocompromised animals.


  • ‘Cat flu’ ( Feline herpesvirus and Feline Calicivirus)– The main viral component of cat flu but much like human flu other microbes can contribute to disease. Still very common in the UK. Potentially fatal in kittens and elderly cats. Spread through direct contact and sneezing.
  • Infectious enteritis (Feline Panleucopenia Virus) – A nasty and often fatal disease. Thankfully far less common since widespread vaccination.
  • Feline Leukaemia Virus– Transmitted through saliva (fighting or grooming). Can take months to show any symptoms but when it does it suppresses the immune system and leaves cats open to secondary infections and cancer- can be fatal. Thankfully becoming less common due to vaccination.
  • Rabies– Not seen in the UK but required for pet passports.
  • Feline Chlamydia– Can cause conjunctivitis. Mainly seen in multi cat households.


  • Myxomatosis- A nasty virus, widespread in the wild rabbit population. Most often fatal.
  • Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease 1 (RHD-1)- Causes sudden death in the vast majority of cases. Widespread in the UK.
  • Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease 2 (RHD-2) – A variant of RHD-1 which has come over from continental Europe. Normally fatal. Cases have been identified in the area throughout 2016.

Why do puppies and kittens need more than one vaccination?

Puppies and kittens should receive their first vaccines at 8 weeks old with a booster vaccine at 12 weeks. At South Devon Veterinary Hospital we also offer the option of a third vaccine at 16 weeks old. The ‘immune system’ is the body’s natural defence mechanism. The immune system does not start functioning fully until 2-4 months of age. The age that the immune system is able to respond to the vaccine varies a greatly between individuals.

Imagine two puppies, Puppy A and Puppy B. Both puppies receive their first vaccine at 8 weeks old. Puppy A’s immune system has matured fast and is able to respond to the vaccine making him immune to the disease. Puppy B on the other hand is not able to respond and wont develop any protection from her first vaccine. Scientific studies suggest that by 12 weeks of age the majority of puppies/ kittens immune systems will be mature enough to respond to vaccination. Therefore when the puppies come back for their 12 week injection Puppy B should develop the same protection (immunity) as Puppy A.

Twelve weeks is also the recommended age for final vaccination as provided by the vaccine manufactures. However, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) have recently (Jan 2016) updated their global guidelines to recommend that puppies and kittens should have their final vaccine at 16 weeks (or older). This recommendation is based on the results of scientific studies which suggested that some animals are still not able to respond to vaccines at 12 weeks old. In line with this recommendation we are now offering a ‘Premium Puppy/ Kitten pack’ which gives owners the option of a third 16 week vaccine to ensure that your new arrival has every chance at being protected. Please speak to your vet if you have any further questions/ wish to discuss this further.

When is my puppy fully vaccinated?

Officially you can consider your puppy fully vaccinated against core diseases one week after their last 12 week vaccination (although this can be up to 3 weeks for leptospirosis). However the importance of early socialisation cannot be over emphasised. Vets here have to put to sleep more young dogs for aggression due to poor socialisation than die from the diseases we are vaccinating against.

We strongly recommend that you do everything possible to socialise your puppy while it is still highly impressionable (up until 16 weeks) even though they are not yet fully vaccinated. To do this we recommend carrying your puppy around with you, taking them in the car, playing with other puppies or vaccinated dogs, taking them to private gardens and walking them in private or rural areas where there have not been large numbers of dogs. We still recommend avoiding areas with a high traffic of dogs such as public parks and busy dog walking areas. This is taking a calculated risk but we feel that the lifetime benefits of a socialised puppy outweigh the possibility of disease.  Please talk to your vet if you wish to discuss this further.

Why to animals need booster vaccinations?

For every disease your animal is vaccinated against the body will create a specific form of protection called ‘antibodies’. For some diseases these antibodies will last for several years or longer, for example the rabies vaccination which lasts for three years. For other diseases (e.g. leptospirosis) the antibodies will only last a year or less. To make sure that your pet is always protected we need to ‘boost’ the vaccine. This ‘reminds’ the body how to fight the disease so it can produce the right antibodies. When immunity fades it leaves your pet at risk of getting the disease- annual booster appointments will allow the vet to give any vaccines required for that year as well as providing a health check.

Can I check to see if my dog actually needs a booster/ titre testing?

The duration of protection provided by vaccination varies between individuals. And some dogs may still have sufficient protection against one or more diseases at the time of their booster. Occasionally we are asked if we are able to measure this immunity using a blood test known as titre testing so that vaccination can be postponed/ avoided.  However, while we are happy to do the test, our recommendation would be that it is not worth doing. This is because:

  • You’ll need annual boosters anyway– Although we are able to measure antibody levels (degree of protection) for distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus there is no such test for leptospirosis (or kennel cough). Leptospirosis is wide spread and immunity only lasts for a year or less so booster vaccinations are vital.
  • Fading immunity– Research suggests that four years after the last booster vaccine at least a third of dogs will no longer have immunity to one of the core diseases (distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus). This vaccine is given every 3 years for this reason.
  • Tests are not 100% reliable– all tests have a number of ‘false negatives’ and ‘false positives’ meaning that even though the test suggests your dog has protection they may not.
  • Tests are difficult to interpret– A blood test is only a snap shot of what is happening to antibody levels. Therefore even if your dog appears to be protected now there is no guarantee they will be protected in the future. This would require further blood test and further expense.
  • It’s costly– Getting bloods taken and interpreted in far more expensive than the booster and you will need to have the leptospirosis vaccine boosted regardless of the result.

If you have any further questions or would like to book your animal in for a vaccination please contact the practice on 01626 367 972 or book online.