Has your dog been vaccinated lately? Oops! Vaccination is the only way to protect your dog against certain viral diseases that are highly contagious and can even be fatal. Because viruses cause them, there is no cure and treatment can be expensive, distressing for both you and your dog, and not always successful.

The major viral diseases in Australia that affect dogs are Canine Parvovirus, Canine Distemper and Canine Hepatitis. Canine Cough (Kennel Cough) is another disease that has a viral component. The good news is that there are vaccines available that make immunisation more effective for your dog and easier for you.

Canine Distemper

Canine Distemper is a highly contagious and fatal virus that can affect any dog of any age but puppies are most at risk. The virus is transmitted in discharge from the nose and eyes. Early symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, discharge from the eyes, vomiting, diarrhoea and respiratory problems (such as coughing and a runny nose). Later on, the dog may show convulsions and other nervous system disorders. If the dog does survive there may be permanent brain damage.

Canine Hepatitis

Canine Hepatitis is another highly infectious virus that damages the liver, like viral hepatitis in humans. Puppies are most at risk and symptoms vary from lethargy and appetite loss to depression, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and even death. The virus is passed on to other dogs from the urine of infected dogs, which can continue for up to 6 months after recovery. Long-term kidney and liver problems can occur.

Canine Parvovirus

Unfortunately, Canine Parvovirus still appears all too often. It is a very hardy virus that can survive in the environment for 12 months or more. It is also easily transmitted, so strict hygiene and special disinfectants are required. Parvovirus causes severe gastroenteritis that affects dogs and puppies of all ages, but is most severe in puppies under 6 months. Death can occur within 24 hours. Symptoms include bloody diarrhoea, vomiting, severe abdominal pain, depression and, in some cases, heart failure.

Canine Cough

Canine (Kennel) Cough is a disease complex caused by a mixture of viruses and bacteria, the 2 main components being the Canine Parainfluenza virus and a bacterium Bordatella bronchiseptica. Though it is called 'kennel' cough, dogs can become infected in any place where dogs mix, including shows, parks, grooming parlours and training classes. The symptoms aren't fatal but, like the human 'flu', they can persist for weeks and cause a harsh, dry cough. In some cases the infection spreads from the upper respiratory tract to the lungs, causing the more serious diseases of pneumonia or bronchitis.

Canine Leptospirosis

Canine Leptospirosis is not a common disease in Australia but can be a problem where there are large wild rat numbers and dogs consume food or water contaminated with rat urine. This is mostly a problem around rubbish tips, crop harvests or times of rat plagues. Your vet will advise you if this extra vaccination is required for your dog.

Canine Coronavirus

Canine Coronavirus is closely related to Canine Parvovirus and causes gastrointestinal disturbances. In severe cases similar symptoms may be seen, including a sudden onset of profuse bloody, watery diarrhoea, abdominal pain, vomiting, depression, anorexia and dehydration. Although the mortality rate is not as high as with Parvovirus, severely affected animals require hospitalisation and intensive treatment. A  vaccine is available to aid in protection against disease caused by Canine Coronavirus. This is a combined vaccine with Canine Leptospirosis.

A full vaccination against Canine Hepatitis, Canine Distemper and Canine Parvovirus (C3), Canine Parainfluenza Virus (C4), Bordatella bronchiseptica (C5), plus Leptospirosis and Canine Coronavirus is known as a C7. Ask your vet for their recommendations.

When should my dog be vaccinated?

Vaccination to prevent these diseases is crucial to your dog's health. Vaccination programs start at 6 to 8 weeks of age, and boosters are given at approximately 4- to 6-week intervals until the puppy is 18 to 20 weeks of age. The reason for these boosters is that the antibodies the puppy got from his mother actually interfere with the vaccine’s effectiveness. Since these maternal antibodies are lost at different ages in different puppies, we need to give boosters to ensure we have protective levels of antibodies in all puppies.

Annual vaccination is recommended to keep antibody levels high throughout life. Vaccination programs will vary with age of first vaccination and the type of vaccine used. There is now a vaccine available to protect puppies from 10 weeks of age against canine parvovirus, distemper and hepatitis with a single dose (or at 6 weeks and again at 10 weeks if earlier protection is needed). 3-yearly booster vaccinations are also now available but do not include Canine Cough, which is still recommended annually. Your vet will advise you of their recommended vaccination programs and the most suitable one for your dog.

Will my dog have a reaction?

Reactions to vaccinations are rare. Your dog may seem a little 'off colour' for a day or two after vaccination. Sometimes there may be a little swelling or tenderness at the injection site. These are not causes for alarm, but if you are concerned about your dog or if there are more serious symptoms, then it is advisable to contact your veterinarian immediately.