The BSAVA strongly supports the use of vaccination in the control of infectious disease in companion animals. It recognises that adverse reactions, including lack of efficacy may occasionally occur, but that the overall benefit/risk analysis strongly supports the continued use of vaccination to control major infectious diseases. The BSAVA strongly recommends that all animals should receive the benefit of solid protective immunity from life-threatening infectious diseases that is conferred by vaccination using licensed veterinary products.
The BSAVA strongly supports the concept that a thorough benefit/risk assessment on an individual case basis should be discussed with clients when deciding on timing of vaccination and use of particular vaccines for particular animals. The BSAVA strongly supports the concept that tailored vaccine programmes should be applied to as many animals as possible within a population to maintain the level of protective immunity within that population.
The BSAVA strongly supports further scientific research into the epidemiology, control and prevention of infectious diseases of companion animals and the publication of such research, so as to provide veterinary surgeons with appropriate information on which to base decisions. The BSAVA strongly supports further research into improving efficacy and safety of vaccines.
The BSAVA strongly supports the importance of pharmacovigilance and the VMD Suspected Adverse Reactions Reporting Scheme.
The BSAVA strongly recommends against the use of nosode vaccines for companion animals and believes that there is no evidence base to support their efficacy.
The 2015 WSAVA Vaccination Guidelines define core vaccines as those which protect animals from severe, life-threatening diseases that have global distribution and which ALL dogs and cats, regardless of circumstances or geographical location, should receive.
Non-core vaccinations are those used to protect from disease where the animal’s geographical location, lifestyle or environment puts them at risk, e.g. rabies vaccination before overseas travel.
WSAVA stress that that their guidelines “do NOT serve as a set of globally-applicable rules”, but are intended to be used by national associations and individual veterinary practices to develop vaccination schedules relevant to the local situation.
BSAVA recommends that, in the UK, consideration be given to vaccinating companion animals against the following diseases depending on their individual circumstances and specific risk assessment. Core vaccines should be considered for all animals, non-core vaccines will need to be considered in specific circumstances.
Core vaccines in the UK
The BSAVA gives the following recommendations for vaccines in dogs in the UK (the letters indicate the abbreviations often used in vaccination records):
- Canine Distemper Virus (D)
- Canine Adenovirus/Infectious Canine Hepatitis (H)
- Canine Parvovirus (P)
- Leptospirosis (L). Please be advised that vaccines are multivalent; preparations are available containing different Leptospira strains.
Non-core vaccines in the UK
- Bordetella bronchiseptica +/- Canine parainfluenza virus (“Kennel Cough” vaccine): vaccination should be considered for dogs before kennelling or other situations in which they mix with other dogs (e.g. dog shows, training classes)
- Rabies: legal requirement for dogs travelling abroad / returning to the UK
- Canine Herpes Virus: for breeding bitches
- Leishmaniasis: before travelling to endemic areas
- Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease): for dogs at high risk of exposure
Core vaccines in the UK
- Feline enteritis (feline parvovirus) (P)
- Cat flu (feline calicivirus (C) and herpes virus (H)
Non–core vaccines in the UK
- Feline leukaemia vaccine (FeLV) (this may be considered a core vaccine for all cats that go outdoors or are in contact with cats which go outdoors).
- Chlamydophila felis (Chlamydia)
- Rabies: legal requirement for cats travelling abroad / returning to the UK
- Bordetella bronchiseptica
The WSAVA guidelines also refer to high- and low-risk cats and advise that booster intervals for certain vaccinations may need to be considered on the basis of risk of exposure to diseases such as feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus-1.
- High-risk cats: cats which spend any time outdoors or live with cats which go outside, and/or go to a cattery.
- Low-risk cats – cats living in a household where no cats ever go outside, and never go to a cattery.
Primary vaccination and boosters
The majority of vaccinations require a primary course to ‘prime’ the immune response followed by periodic booster vaccines to maintain immunity. In most cases the primary course consists of at least 2 doses of vaccine given 2-5 weeks apart, followed by a booster a year later. The frequency of booster vaccinations after the first year will depend on the vaccine and the risk of exposure to disease.
Frequency of booster vaccinations
In the past, it was normal for all vaccines to be boosted every year; however, more recent evidence has shown that the duration of immunity following vaccination for some diseases is significantly longer than this, and the data sheets for many vaccines have now been amended to take account of this.
For the majority of UK authorised dog vaccines, the re-vaccination interval for the core vaccines (canine distemper, canine parvovirus and canine hepatitis) is at least every 3 years. These authorised re-vaccination schedules are in accordance with the WSAVA Guidelines which state ‘not more often than every 3 years’. However, vaccinations against leptospirosis and kennel cough require annual boosters.
The situation in cats is slightly more complicated because, although there is evidence of 3-year duration of immunity for feline enteritis and cat flu, the data sheet recommendations vary significantly between different vaccines.
The specific requirements for each product can be found in the Summary of Product Characteristics available from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) and NOAH websites.
Serological testing of rabies antibody levels is an accepted part of travel requirements for many countries. In a similar manner, it is possible to test levels of the antibodies of several pathogens included in vaccination protocols. Such ‘pre-booster titre tests’ may be suggested as an alternative to booster vaccination. However, recommendations based on the test results are not always straightforward. Also, antibody tests are not possible as alternatives for all of the core vaccinations, most importantly Leptospira.
Vaccination guidance for boarding establishments and Local Authorities
For more information regarding the legislative requirements for boarding establishments and Local Authorities, please refer to The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018.
The BSAVA recommends that consideration is given to annual vaccination of domestic rabbits against Myxomatosis and the two forms of Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) caused by RHDV-1 and RHDV-2 strains where local risks and individual veterinary advice indicate the need.
BSAVA recognises that the potential risk from any disease can be dependent on circumstances relevant to the pet. As part of a pet’s routine annual health check and preventative health care programme, BSAVA advises that owners should always work in partnership with their veterinary surgeon when discussing individual risk factors for their rabbit which may influence the type and frequency of vaccination recommended. These factors could include geographical location and local risk, indoor or outdoor housing regime and contact with other rabbits whether at shows, when boarding or by other means. Vets can help pet owners not only to decide on the most suitable vaccination protocol in individual cases, but where necessary they can also contact the vaccine manufacturer directly for further information.
- Rabies: legal requirement for ferrets travelling abroad / returning to the UK
- Distemper: Although there is no vaccine currently licensed for use in ferrets in the UK, consideration should be given to vaccination of ferrets with canine distemper vaccines after full discussion of the benefits and risks with the owner.
Owners are advised to discuss the vaccinations appropriate for their animal with their veterinary surgeon.
- VMD website
- VMD position paper on authorised vaccination schedules for dogs
- NOAH website
- NOAH statement on canine vaccination
- AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines
- AAFP Feline Vaccination Advisory Panel Report
- Matrix Vaccination Guidelines: ABCD recommendations for indoor/outdoor cats, rescue shelter cats and breeding catteries
- WSAVA Guidelines for the Vaccination of Dogs and Cats
Gaskell RM, Gettinby G, Graham SJ and Skilton D (2002) Veterinary Products Committee Working Group Report on Feline and Canine Vaccination. Veterinary Record 150 (5), 126-134.
Reviewed by members of BSAVA Scientific Committee (Sarah Caddy, Alexander German, Jeremy Kirk, Caroline Kisielewicz, Lisa Morrow, Ian Self, Melissa Upjohn, James Warland) 2021