Puppy vaccinations are thought to be a must, but what is the real danger of not vaccinating? With many parents choosing not to vaccinate their children recently and the recent outbreaks of measles, what are the real risks involved in not vaccinating puppies?
Most vets advise that you vaccinate puppies at the ages of 6, 12, and 16 weeks old. The common core vaccinations are to prevent distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvo, and parainfluenza. But why do we vaccinate for these diseases and what symptoms do they cause?
1: Distemper affects several organs and body systems, including the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts, and the spinal cord and brain. Common symptoms include high fever, eye inflammation and eye/nose discharge, labored breathing and coughing, vomiting and diarrhea, loss of appetite and lethargy, and hardening of nose and foot pads. Canine distemper is a viral infection and can be accompanied by secondary bacterial infections and can present serious neurological symptoms.
Seizures, involuntary jaw and muscle movements are common, as is drooling. During the latter phases of the disease, grand mal seizures and death can occur. The mortality rate before vaccines for canine distemper were high, and those numbers are what you could expect in an unvaccinated dog.
2: Canine hepatitis symptoms include fever, depression, loss of appetite, coughing, and a tender abdomen. Corneal edema and signs of liver disease, such as jaundice (yellowing of the eyes, skin and gums), vomiting, and hepatic encephalopathy, may also occur. Severe cases will develop bleeding disorders, which can cause hematomas to form in the mouth. Fortunately, canine hepatitis isn't as deadly as distemper and symptoms usually subside spontaneously on their own, but death can occur in the form of liver failure and/or bleeding. Eye and kidney issues can be permanent in dogs who recover, and dogs who recover shed the virus for months thereafter.
3: Leptospirosis is a virus that bores through the skin and spreads throughout the entire body, reproducing in the liver, kidneys, central nervous system, eyes, and reproductive system. Soon after initial infection, fever and bacterial infection of the blood develop, but these symptoms soon resolve with the reactive increase of antibodies, which clear the bacteria from most of the system. The extent to which this bacteria affects the organs will depend on your dog’s immune system and its ability to eradicate the infection fully. Leptospira spirochetes can remain in the kidneys, reproducing there and infecting the urine. Infection of the liver or kidneys can be fatal for animals if the infection progresses, causing severe damage to these organs. Younger animals with less developed immune systems are at the highest risk of death.
The Leptospira spirochete bacteria is zoonotic, meaning that it can be transmitted to humans and other animals. Children are most at risk of acquiring the bacteria from an infected pet. That's right, not vaccinating can put you and your children at risk.
Symptoms include fever, sore muscles, reluctance to move, stiffness in the muscles and legs, stiff gait, shivering, weakness, depression, lack of appetite, increased thirst and urination which may be indicative of chronic renal failure, progressing to inability to urinate, rapid dehydration, vomiting, possibly with blood, diarrhea - with or without blood in the stool, bloody vaginal discharge, dark red speckled gums (petechiae), jaundice, symptoms of anemia, cough, difficulty breathing, fast breathing, irregular pulse, runny nose, swelling of the mucous membranes, and mild swelling of the lymph nodes.
4: Parvovirus is one we've likely all heard of. Symptoms include lethargy, vomiting, fever, and diarrhea (usually bloody). Because the normal intestinal lining is also compromised, blood and protein leak into the intestines leading to anemia and loss of protein, and endotoxins escape into the bloodstream, causing endotoxemia. Dogs have a distinctive odor in the later stages of infection. Treatment is supportive, including giving fluids and antibiotics. Mortality is as high 91% without treatment.
5: Canine parainfluenza virus is a highly contagious respiratory virus and is one of the most common pathogens of infectious tracheobronchitis, also known as canine cough. Although the respiratory signs may resemble those of canine influenza, they are unrelated viruses and require different vaccines for protection. Symptoms include cough, nasal discharge, lack of energy, loss of appetite and low-grade fever.
This virus is less likely to cause serious harm to unvaccinated dogs, but it's so common and so easily spread that it's wise to vaccinate.
In conclusion, what are the risks associated with not vaccinating? Anything from an unhappy dog with a cough at best, and a 91% chance of mortality at the worst. Scientists and veterinarians have spent years in school, and even more years trying to keep people's pets healthy and happy. They want the best for your dog, and one of the best things you can do for your dog is to vaccinate him or her.