What are core vaccines and why are they important for pets?
I’m asked a lot about vaccinations for our domestic animals and why they are important, so here’s a little rundown to help to explain them.
Core vaccines are defined as those that protect animals from severe life-threatening diseases caused by viruses that have a global distribution.
For dogs In Bermuda, these are canine distemper virus, canine parvovirus, canine adenovirus and canine leptospira. I have recently heard questions about whether vaccination against leptospirosis is a core vaccine in Bermuda and let me assure you it is. You only have to look at the number of rats on the island to understand the need for protection against this nasty disease spread in the urine of rats.
So, what is the difference between core and noncore vaccines?
Core vaccines are those that are recommended for all pets, whereas noncore vaccines are recommended by veterinarians based on a pet’s unique medical history and lifestyle. Vets will assess the need for noncore vaccines at your annual wellness checkup.
In dogs, the noncore vaccines include the kennel cough vaccine and rabies vaccine. Since Bermuda is classed as a rabies-free country, we will only vaccinate for rabies if the owner intends to take their pet overseas. Similarly, if a dog goes to a lot of social events such as daycare, group dog walking or boarding facilities it would be advisable to give them a kennel cough vaccine to reduce their risk of disease. These are lifestyle choices rather than core requirements.
Vaccines don’t only work to protect the individual animal, but also have a group effect. The higher the percentage of vaccinated pets, the lower the overall risk of disease in the community. This protects the very young, very old, or chronically-ill animals who may not be able to be vaccinated themselves. This is known as herd immunity.
Many of you will remember the recent outbreak of parvovirus on the island which caused the death and severe illness of many of our unvaccinated dog population. It was truly heartbreaking to see so many young animals needlessly die owing to a lack of vaccination. The silver lining, however, is that many of our unvaccinated dogs got vaccinated during that outbreak, so now our herd immunity against this disease is high again.
Vets take a lot of time researching changes in vaccination science, it’s an ongoing study. We follow guidelines from the British and US veterinary governing bodies to make sure we are not over- or under-vaccinating our patients. Vets also offer titre testing so you can know your animal’s antibody status prior to vaccination.
So, when you get that reminder e-mail saying it’s time for a wellness checkup and discussion about your pet’s vaccinations, get an appointment set up. You are not only protecting your own pet, but also other vulnerable animals in our beautiful island community. I have seen the effects of all of these horrible diseases in my 20 years of being a vet and trust me when I say prevention is far better than cure.
• Lucy Richardson graduated from Edinburgh University in 2005. She started CedarTree Vets in August 2012 with her husband, Mark. They live at the practice with their two children, Ray and Stella, and their dog, two cats and two guinea pigs. Dr Lucy is also the FEI national head veterinarian for Bermuda