Vaccination matters

Vaccinations are the most effective measure against infectious disease

Vaccinations are a key part of a good preventive care program. They help reduce the risk of certain infectious diseases by introducing dead or inactive versions of viruses and/or bacteria to the immune system. The immune system then makes special cells and chemicals that are ready to quickly fight the 'real' infection if encountered.

Many different vaccines have been developed for cats and dogs (and rabbits). We can divide these into core vaccines and non-core vaccines. Core vaccines are recommended for every cat and dog and prevent severe, life threatening diseases. The non-core vaccines needed will depend on where you live, what diseases your pet could be exposed to and your pet's health status.

We use the vaccination recommendations and guidelines of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) and the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA). This means we aim to prevent disease as well as prevent over and inappropriate vaccination.

Vaccinating your dog

The core vaccines for dogs prevent:

  • canine distemper virus
  • canine adenovirus (also called hepatitis)
  • canine parvovirus (also called 'parvo')

There are many different non-core vaccines, and not all of these are necessary. For example, rabies vaccination is not needed in Australia (but might be if you're taking your dog overseas).

Because of it's prevalence, we do routinely vaccinate against canine cough (or 'kennel cough') in Melbourne. Now the term kennel cough refers to any contagious upper respiratory tract infection in dogs – it's like saying 'cold' or 'flu'. There are many germs that cause kennel cough symptoms and they often occur in combinations. We vaccinate against two causes:

  • parainfluenza virus
  • Bordetella bronchispetica bacteria

Although we can't protect against all the causes, reducing the infection caused by these two can potentially reduce the severity of any kennel cough your dog is exposed to.

The core vaccines are known as a C3 (canine + 3 components). When we add kennel cough to the vaccination, it becomes a C5.

It is widely accepted that core vaccines only need to be repeated every 3 years in adult dogs. Yearly kennel cough boosters are generally recommended.

Vaccinating your cat

The core vaccines for cats prevent:

  • feline parvovirus (also called panleukopaenia virus and infectious enteritis)
  • feline calicivirus (also called cat flu)
  • feline herpesvirus (also called cat flu)

While you're probably familiar with cat flu, you might not have heard about feline parvo. It causes a severe and often fatal bloody vomiting and diarrhoea. The virus can live in the environment for a long time and outbreaks do occur in Melbourne. Fortunately, vaccination is highly effective.

Calicivirus and herpesvirus are the main causes of upper respiratory tract infections in cats (cat flu). Cats infected with herpesvirus will usually remain infected for life and often develop recurrent symptoms (eg watery eyes and sneezing). 

Non-core vaccinations used in Australia include:

  • Chlamydophilia felis bacteria
  • feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)

Chlamydophilia causes conjunctivitis and is mainly used in multicat (eg breeding) households. FIV is generally only recommended for outdoor cats as the main method of spread is cat bites.

International Cat Care is an excellent resource for all things cat related and has a good section on vaccinations.

Vaccinating your rabbit

Australian pet rabbits can be vaccinated against rabbit calicivirus (also called rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus) but not against myxomatosis.

Both of these diseases are used to control wild rabbit populations. A number of strains of calicivirus have been released (last one in March 2017) and the vaccination available in Australia (Cylap RCD) is not fully effective against all of them.

The Australian Veterinary Association recommends 6 monthly boosters to help protect against the newer strains.