An important question for all pet owners is what do we do about vaccinating our pets during the coronavirus pandemic?
As vets, we are always stressing how important it is to keep your pet’s immunity topped up with an annual ‘booster’ and to combine this with a full health check and yet at the moment some vets are still not offering routine vaccinations.
Why are some vets not offering boosters?
The guidance from the veterinary professional bodies the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and the British Veterinary Association (BVA) that was issued during lockdown was clear. It stated that vets should do everything possible to avoid spreading the coronavirus and so protect their clients and their staff by only seeing emergency cases. So-called routine visits such as vaccinations were not classed as an emergency and so were delayed.
This guidance subsequently changed on 14 April 2020 to allow, where clinically appropriate, some vaccinations to go ahead.
Should I be worried?
The good news is that pretty much all the vaccines used in the UK do not suddenly stop working after 12 months. There is an extended period, typically three months after the booster was due, when your pet will still have protection and a single delayed vaccine will then booster the immunity up fully again. We would hope that most pets will therefore be fine for the next couple of months at least.
But what if my pet was already overdue his/her vaccines?
What if my young pet hasn’t completed their vaccine course yet?
What if my pet has never been vaccinated at all?
For all of these questions, we always suggest that first and foremost you have a conversation with your own vet.
Most vets are now able to offer advice and guidance over the phone or even on video calls and will be able to help you with specific advice for managing these situations.
The up-dated guidelines from the RCVS do allow for some vaccinations, particularly in young animals (puppies and kittens) and we’re pleased to see rabbits specifically mentioned and included.
There is also provision for adult dogs and cats, but they may be seen as less urgent at the current time and each veterinary surgery will have their own interpretations and protocols on this. Back in the early part of lockdown, most vet surgeries were working reduced hours with skeleton teams in very challenging conditions. With certain restrictions now having been lifted it’s wise to contact them directly to ask what they are offering by way of appointments/procedures.
Is there anything-else I can do to protect my pet?
Considering different pets, we would advise the following:
We typically protect our whiskered friends against two forms of cat ‘flu’ – feline enteritis and feline leukaemia virus.
Despite the mild names, all of these can cause severe and often life-threatening illness.
Cats will usually get infected when they are out-and-about, either directly from other cats or by sniffing around areas an infected cat has recently been. House cats will be at minimal risk, but any cat going out, even just in the garden, can potentially pick up the disease.
Cats being cats, short of keeping them indoors 24:7, there is not much you as owners can do to limit their exposure. Young cats seem particularly susceptible and we would always advise keeping an un-vaccinated kitten indoors until they have had their vaccines. This will also be important to help stop any unwanted teenage pregnancies!
The core vaccines for dogs in the UK protect against Distemper, Hepatitis and Parvovirus and also Leptospirosis.
Distemper, Hepatitis and Parvo can be picked up by being around infected dogs or, importantly, sniffing around an area an infected dog has recently been. Unfortunately, it’s possible for your dog to catch these without any direct contact with other dogs.
Leptospirosis is typically passed on by rats and is normally contracted by drinking from or even just splashing through slower flowing water like puddles, ponds and streams – basically anywhere rats might be.
As one of the few outdoor pleasures we are currently enjoying is the daily dog walk, as well as helping with our mental health, we certainly don’t recommend stopping these. Hopefully with the reduction in people travelling there is less risk of dog diseases spreading from place to place. However, if your dog is not fully vaccinated or significantly overdue their booster, it may be worthwhile trying to avoid water where possible.
Puppies are most susceptible, so consider keeping them away from common spaces until their full vaccination course is completed.
The other so-called ‘non-core’ vaccines for dogs are Kennel Cough and Rabies.
Again, these can safely be allowed to lapse at this time as kennel cough is very much a dog to dog transmission or shared air space such as a kennels and is rarely life threatening. Rabies vaccines are associated with travelling abroad which unfortunately isn’t happening for a while and can easily be re-started in time for any continental travel in the future.
Our lovely rabbits are often the forgotten pets when it comes to vaccinations and, frustratingly for us, perhaps the ones who may be at most risk should their vaccines lapse.
In the UK, we protect against ‘Myxomatosis’ and ‘Viral Haemorrhagic Disease’ (VHD) (forms 1 and 2) with yearly vaccines.
Most rabbits (although there’s one or two…!) don’t go out for walks, but can become infected in your own garden.
Myxomatosis is usually passed on by biting insects such as fleas and midges. VHD can be brought into your garden on the paws of wildlife such as foxes, squirrels and hedgehogs as well as domestic cats and dogs.
In simple terms, the more rural you are the higher the risk, but having said that, we have seen confirmed cases of both diseases in rabbits living in the middle of built-up towns.
If your rabbit’s vaccines are over-due and you are particularly worried, we’d suggest bringing your buns indoors for the time being.
It’s important to stress that most of our pets will be fine during this difficult period of Covid-19 and probably happier and fitter than normal due to the extra attention and exercise they’re receiving.
If their vaccines are a little overdue or due soon, don’t be too concerned. Check back with your vet regularly to see what their protocols for vaccines are and we’re sure they will be able to get your precious companion’s jabs back up-to-date fairly soon.
Best wishes and stay safe