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Care for Creation: Preventing infections in dogs and cats

Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels

Dr Asia O’Neill

Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission – to be of service to them whenever they require it. — St Francis of Assisi

We have been made aware of the vaccination protocol to follow from juvenile stages up into adult years, but are we familiar with what these vaccines entail and how they work?

The canine vaccine is formulated to give protection to Canine Parvovirus, Canine Distemper virus, Canine Infectious Hepatitis, and Leptospirosis. The feline vaccine provides protection against Panleukopenia, Feline Herpesvirus, Calicivirus and Feline Chlamydophila Disease. Their formulae contain a mixture of different materials, which provides vital information for the body’s immune response. These can range from derived genetic material, weakened/killed viruses or even just a small piece of the disease agent’s structure. Any of these will represent to the body an infectious threat and initiate the body’s defence mechanisms, triggering antibody production. Antibodies are integral in fighting to neutralise the foreign agent before it has time to cause disease. Up-to-date vaccination is crucial in preventing the contraction of these diseases.

Canine Diseases

Canine Parvovirus

Parvovirus is a life-threatening disease, that leads to severe gastrointestinal disease. It is shed in faeces, saliva and vomitus. It can be spread directly and indirectly, by any item that may have come into contact with the contaminated bodily secretions. This is why isolation and thorough sanitation is necessary to contain environmental sources. Signs associated with infection included inappetence, fever, lethargy, vomiting and severe diarrhoea which may become bloody. Through the onset of these signs, the infection can lead to severe dehydration, shock and death.

Canine Distemper

This is a highly contagious virus, transmitted by aerosol droplet secretion, eg, during barking or sneezing. The virus attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems, leading to signs of fever, coughing, nasal discharge, vomiting, diarrhoea and seizures. Susceptible dogs include puppies that do not have developed immune systems and older dogs that have inadequate immunity, due to lack of regular immunisation or immunosuppression.

Infectious Canine Hepatitis (Adenovirus-2)

Infection with this virus occurs through contact with the urine, faeces or saliva of an infected host. The virus targets blood vessels and spreads to the renal, hepatic, splenic and lung tissues. Signs may include fever, apathy, thirst, conjunctivitis, enlarged tonsils, swelling of the head or neck, abdominal pain and vomiting, nasal/ocular discharge. Corneal cloudiness, “blue eye”, may be seen due formation of immune complexes that deposit in the eye. A recovered dog can shed the virus in urine up to 6 months post-recovery.


Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection, that can lead to severe disease and can also infect humans. The vaccine provides protection against four serovars, Leptospira Canicola, L. Leptospira, L. Icterohaemorrhagiae and L. Pomona. Infection can occur by direct contact or indirectly through contaminated environments. It is shed in the urine of an infected host and thus any area contaminated by urine can become a source of infection. Clinical signs seen may include, fever, anorexia, lethargy, weight loss, acute renal failure, jaundice, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal discomfort. Unlike viral diseases, where supportive care is the main treatment regime, an appropriate antibiotic can be used in treating leptospirosis.

There are some preparations that may include coronavirus. This is a completely different strain from the known Covid- 19. The canine strain does not infect humans nor can puppies/dogs contract the Cocvid-19 from humans. The strain that infects canines leads to gastrointestinal disease, much like Parvovirus. Neither will this vaccine give any form of protection to the Covid- 19 strain.

Feline diseases


Feline panleukopenia is caused by a strain of parvovirus, which infects cats. It is highly contagious and leads to severe disease of the gastrointestinal, immune and nervous systems. It causes the destruction of the white blood cells. It can be spread directly through saliva and indirectly through items contaminated by infected saliva, ie sharing food/water bowls, grooming and hands/clothing. The disease can lead to diarrhoea, vomiting, inappetence, lethargy, seizures and low white blood cell counts. The virus can remain persistent in the environment for up to a year.

Feline Viral Upper Respiratory Tract Disease

This is a disease complex, caused by a combination of Feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus. These two diseases lead to signs of the upper airways. Signs seen can include, fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, ocular ulceration, ocular discharge, conjunctivitis, hypersalivation, oral ulceration, sneezing, nasal discharge and pharyngitis. The virus is shed through oral and nasal secretions and can persist in the environment. Infected cats may become carriers that shed intermittently during times of stress or immunosuppression.

Feline Chlamydophila Disease

This is a bacterial infection caused by the organism Chlamydophila felis. Transmission occurs by direct contact with infected cats. Kittens can also become infected by their mothers when passing through the birth canal. Signs shown include conjunctivitis, ocular discharge, nasal discharge, sneezing, lethargy and fever may also be present. Signs are more likely seen in cats less than 1-year-old and cats 2-6 months old are at greatest risk of infection.

It is evident that the process of vaccination, from the early stages of your pet’s life and throughout their adult years, prevents the rampant spread of these diseases, thus creating a safe place for our companions to live.

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