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Our guide to pet vaccinations

We all want our pets to live long, healthy lives. We want to know we’re doing the right thing for them, and making informed decisions.

We’ve put together a complete guide to vaccinations to help answer any questions you may have, including those about the risks vs benefit of any vaccine. To discuss your pet’s tailored vaccination program please book an appointment with one of our veterinary surgeons.

Evidence, Facts and Fictions

In the modern world we have access to an almost unlimited supply of information.

Social media can rapidly spread misinformation and people often quote “evidence” without understanding where it came from, or what it actually means. It is all too easy to read information and come to the wrong conclusions.

Not all “evidence” is equal. Before coming to a conclusion after looking at “evidence” you always need to consider the:

  • Type of evidence
  • Strength of evidence
  • Source of evidence
  • Potential conflicts of interest
  • Bias
  • Confounding factors
  • Correlation and association doesn’t mean causation

Why is the source of evidence important?

The source of the information is important to consider. Did you read / find it in a peer-reviewed scientific paper, where it can be critiqued by international specialists in their field? Or did you find it on social media?

What about conflicts of interest?

When looking at scientific papers, you need to see who funded or sponsored the study.

For example: imagine you were looking for evidence that a certain type of food was safe to give your pet. If all the studies were sponsored or paid for by the food company, there would clearly be a conflict of interest. The company is more likely to present the information in such a way to favour the outcome they wanted and they may downplay any negatives.

What is bias?

Bias is when a study has systematic errors which deviate the outcome. For example: imagine doing a study to find out the average height of a dog. If you only included Dachshunds your results would be severely biased!

Correlation doesn't mean causation!

When two factors always seem to be connected (correlated) it doesn’t mean one CAUSES the other.

For example: Imagine you did a study looking at how many dog leads you spot on a walk. For every dog lead, there is likely to be a dog attached or nearby! The dog lead isn’t the CAUSE of the dogs being taken on a walk, as it is their owner who has decided to take them out. However, the two will likely be present together when on a walk, and hence be CORRELATED or ASSOCIATED.

What are confounding factors?

Confounding factors have an influence of both variables of a study. For example: you collect information about a dog’s water consumption and panting. A confounding factor would be heat, as this will cause both more panting and more drinking.


An evidence pyramid visually represents the different types of evidence and their relative strength or weakness.

At the bottom of the pyramid we have opinions and anecdotes. Unfortunately, these are often the most plentiful but unreliable and weakest form of evidence. For example: your dog finds a piece of carrot and eats it. It would be unreliable to see this ONE dog each a carrot ONCE and then come to a conclusion that ALL dogs will ALWAYS eat carrots when offered! It is a small piece of evidence, but is weak by itself.

At the top of the pyramid we have systematic reviews and metanalysis. This type of evidence takes the most time and resources to study and collate. As a result they are fewer in number but strongest and most reliable. For example: a team of specialist dog feeders come together to find every study ever done on feeding carrots to dogs. They look at every study ever done, on every breed, at every age of their life and in every country. They then critically evaluate every study using strict criteria, such as bias and confounding factors. At the end of this they reach a strong and reliable (but not infallible) conclusion.


“Prevention is better than cure” is especially true when thinking about the life threatening diseases vaccinations prevent. Like any drug, there is always a small risk of side effects. Therefore, we always make sure the diseases we vaccinate against are more serious than the vaccine itself.

Some vaccines can cause a small swelling at the site of the injection which will self-resolve over a week or so. Most young animals will be slightly less energetic for 24hrs after a vaccine as their bodies start to produce an immune response which requires energy.

Less than 1 in 10,000 animals may have a more serious side effect of vaccination, such as an allergic (anaphylactic) reaction or may become unwell. You should contact your vet as soon as possible if you notice any side effects so that these can be reported. The Veterinary Medicines Directorate is a government agency who is responsible for investigating any potential side effects of medicines.

Some clinical signs after a vaccination are not due to the vaccine itself. Like humans, animals fight a lot of infections and diseases themselves without showing any signs. If they are vaccinated whilst fighting a hidden disease or infection, their immune system is put under additional pressure and so they can become unwell. It is not the vaccine itself making them unwell, but their immune system struggling to fight disease or an infection at the same time as developing immunity against the vaccine.


Titre testing is when an animal’s antibodies level, against a disease, are measured. Vaccination stimulates “B cells” in the body to develop antibodies against infectious disease. To perform a titre test, a small blood sample is taken and analysed at a laboratory. This can give some information about the protection that animal has against the disease but it has many limitations.

Circulating antibodies in the blood stream are only a small part of the immune system defense against disease. “Helper Cells” and “Cytotoxic T cells” are the most important defense against infectious disease. These cells are also stimulated by vaccines.

There are no blood tests to measure levels of helper cells or cytotoxic t cells.

Some countries require a Rabies titre test before the cat is allowed to travel. This provides some useful information but does not guarantee immunity.

Dog Vaccination

  • Canine Distemper virus infection can be fatal and if dogs survive they are usually left with permanent brain damage. It severely damages a dog’s nerve system and brain. Early symptoms in dogs can include discharge from their eyes and nose. Symptoms tend to accelerate quickly to spasms, seizures and death. It is spread through saliva, air droplets and urine.

  • Infection with Canine Herpes virus doesn’t typically cause symptoms in adult dogs. However, it is a leading cause of puppy stillbirths and neonatal deaths. Vaccination is only necessary in breeding animals. It is not transmissible to humans.

  • Canine Infectious Hepatitis is caused by infection of Adenovirus 1. It causes severe liver and kidney disease which is very painful and can be fatal. It can also cause bleeding disorders and permanent damage to the eyes. It can survive in the environment for many months and is usually transmitted through saliva, urine, faeces, blood and the nasal discharge of infected dogs.

  • Canine parvovirus is a highly infectious virus which used to cause a very high number of puppy deaths. Thanks to vaccinations it is becoming less common. It causes severe bloody vomiting and diarrhoea and even with the most specialist intensive treatment, it is usually fatal. It can affect a dog of any age and some breeds are particularly susceptible so many need more frequent vaccination. These higher risk breeds include black and tan coloured Dobermans, Rottweilers and Pinschers.

  • There are a number of different viruses and bacteria which cause a conditon called “kennel cough.” The kennel cough vaccine is for one of the most common bacterial strains (Bortedella Bronchiseptica.) These viruses and bacteria cause a harsh, retching coughing due to an infection in the dog’s upper airways.


    It is not usually serious, but it can be uncomfortable and usually lasts 4-6 weeks. Dogs with weak immune systems can occasionally develop pneumonia due to the infection travelling into their lungs. A lot of dogs suffer from a long term tickly cough after having a kennel cough infection. It is highly infectious and is spread through air droplets.

  • Leptospirosis is a bacteria which can cause serious disease in many different species, including humans, dogs, cows and rodents. In humans it is called “Weil’s Disease” and there is no vaccination available for humans. In dogs and humans it causes damage to multiple organs, especially their kidneys and liver. It can be treated with long courses of high dose antibiotics. If they survive, affected people and animals are usually left with long term health problems.


    There are 4 different serovars (versions) of Leptospirosis in the UK, all which pose a human and pet health threat. Older vaccinations only protect against 2 serovars (“Lepto 2”) and so we recommend a 4 serovar vaccine (Lepto 4.) They are made by the same company and are subject to all the same rigorous clinical trials and testing. Both vaccines are equally safe to give. 

  • Rabies is caused by a virus and causes disease in humans and many species, including dogs. Once symptoms appear in affected humans or dogs, it is nearly 100% fatal. The United Kingdom is classified as Rabies-Free so your dog only needs a rabies vaccine if they are travelling abroad.

  8 weeks old 10 weeks old 12 weeks old 1 year old Adults
Canine Distemper  ✓  ✓    ✓ Every 3 years
Canine Infectious Hepatitis    ✓    ✓ Every 3 years
Canine Parovirus   ✓   ✓    ✓ Every 3 years
Leptospirosis        ✓  ✓ Every year
Kennel Cough if required, based on risk management
Rabies if required for foreign travel
Canine Herpes if required for breeding animals

Cat Vaccination

  • Feline calicivirus is a highly contagious virus and is a major cause of cat flu. Cat flu can range from mild and short lived, to causing severe pneumonia in kittens. Calicivirus can also cause long term painful oral conditions and joint infections. The virus can survive in the environment for up to a month, and so can be spread through shared bedding and bowls. It is also spread in saliva and discharge from the eyes and nose.

  • Feline herpesvirus is highly contagious and once infected, cats usually remain infected for life. It causes a more severe flu than calicivirus and typical symptoms including lethargy, sneezing, inappetence, eye infections and coughing. It can also cause long term damage to the surface of their eyes (keratitis.)   The virus persists in nerve cells, so cats usually suffer from bouts of symptoms on and off the rest of their life.

  • There are four different substrains of feline leukaemia virus which results in a wide range of life threatening conditions once infected. In some cats it damages their bone marrow causing serious anaemia and immunosuppresion. It can cause cancers of the blood and immune system (leukaemia and lymphoma.) Some cats can recover from an infection without ever showing symptoms and so spread it to other cats. Thankfully, it does not survive long in the environment and so requires close contact between cats to be transmitted. It is transmitted between cats in saliva, urine, faeces and milk.

  • Feline panleukopenia virus is also called feline parvovirus. It causes very severe bloody vomiting and diarrhoea and damages the bone marrow so the animal cannot produce white blood cells to fight it.Kittens who are infected in the womb from their mother suffer brain damage. It is usually fatal in young kittens and life threatening in adults.


    The virus survives several years in the environment and is often resistant to strong disinfectants.

  • Rabies is caused by a virus and causes disease in humans and many species including cats. Once symptoms appear in affected species (including cats and humans) it is nearly 100% fatal. The United Kingdom is classified as Rabies-Free so your cat only needs a rabies vaccine if they are travelling abroad.

Rabbit Vaccination



Myxomatosis is caused by a virus which causes severe disease in rabbits and is usually fatal within 2weeks of infection. It is common in wild rabbits in the UK. Wild rabbits and insects can transmit the infection to pet rabbits. As it is such a deadly virus, vaccination does not guarantee protection against the virus but does make survival more likely.


Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV.)


There are two strains of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV.) Infection usually results in sudden death due to internal bleeding within 2 days. The virus can be transmitted directly between rabbits, or due to contact with infected urine or faeces from an infected rabbit. Vaccination is very effective and is available for both strains of the virus.

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