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Vaccinations for pets during coronavirus lockdown

golden retriever puppy getting vaccine dog-cat-serious

Puppy, kitten, and rabbit vaccinations are going ahead during the lockdown.

© Shutterstock

Primary vaccinations and first year boosters in cats and dogs could go ahead due to the increased risk of disease outbreak if the lockdown continues for an extended amount of time.

By Dr. Liz Barton MA, VetMB, MRCVS

Published on the 09/04/2020, 06:00, Updated on the 12/03/2021, 10:39

Are vets vaccinating pets during lockdown?

Since March 23rd, vets have been advised to stop all but essential appointments to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus. Vaccinations are considered to be non-essential as they do not compromise the daily health and welfare of an animal. The guidelines set by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association have stated that animals should be protected for at least 3 months after their booster vaccination is due. This is an average based on the data – some animals may be protected for even longer than this, some may not be protected for as long.

For young animals due to start their primary course of vaccines, delaying for a three-week lockdown period will mean they are advised not to go outside or meet with other animals for an additional three weeks. While that may be an inconvenience, it should not impact them greatly. If lockdown extends for longer than three weeks, this advice may change. If in doubt, call a vet to check.

Is my pet safe if it isn’t up to date with vaccination during the lockdown?

If your pet is up to date with vaccinations, then they will be protected. If they have had regular vaccinations but are due a booster, a small amount of delay is acceptable. If you have a new puppy or kitten, they are at risk until 2 weeks after their second of two vaccinations, so should avoid contact with other animals, and be restricted to the garden where possible. If your pet has not had vaccinations for an extended period, it is best to reduce contact with the environment and other animals until a vet can resume routine vaccinations.

Vaccinations reduce the risk of diseases being transmitted between animals, or in the case of leptospirosis, caught from the environment. When over 70% of a population is vaccinated, the risk of disease spreading in that population to cause an epidemic is reduced (that’s why the WHO want 70% of people immune to coronavirus). We used to be good at vaccinating the pet population in the UK, with only a few, isolated cases of nasty infections such as parvovirus and distemper being seen. However, recent years have seen a decline in vaccination rates (partly due to the anti-vaccination sentiment circulating in the human sphere). The 2019 PDSA paw report showed that 66% of dog, cat and rabbit owners said their pet had primary vaccination when young, down from 84% in 2016.

Flea and worm treatment for dogs and cats during lockdown

If a vet has recently seen your pet, they may consider your pet to be under their care and they can issue a prescription or post out flea and worm treatment. However, clients are also allowed to visit the vet to collect a parasite treatment, and some practices will even arrange a delivery. Prescription medications from vets tend to have a broader range of action and often a longer residual effect, so it is a good idea to phone and check with the vet if over-the-counter drugs give your pet sufficient protection.

Is my pet vulnerable to a flea or worm infestation during lockdown?

Many flea and worm products have a long residual action of up to 6 months. However, many only last a period of weeks, and repeated treatment every few months is to reduce the build up of parasites to harmful levels. How quickly parasites build up depends on many factors a vet will consider when determining if the risk of dispensing treatment is outweighed by the benefits.

For example, your pet may require these treatments more urgently if they are young or pregnant (and therefore at greater risk of parasite infections). Pets which have an allergic reaction to parasites, such as cats with flea allergic dermatitis, may need regular treatment as well to prevent a severe skin outbreak.

If you have a lot of animals in the household, or young children, treatment may be recommended. Some of the worms passed by dogs and cats can cause harmful diseases, especially in children. It’s more important than ever to ensure good hygiene around pets and people, with handwashing and safe disposal of animal waste. Likewise, pets living in places where the population of animals is high, such as shelters, are at greater risk of infections.

Geography may also play a role – for instance, a dog is more likely to catch lungworm in the South of the country than in the North. Different lifestyles affect the necessity for treatment too. Working dogs who spend their days in the field or in a farm are more likely to pick up ticks or fleas, and will need more protection than lap dogs, for instance. If you think your pet may be vulnerable to infections, contact a vet to discuss the continuation of treatment during the lockdown.