Pet vaccinations are essential for the health of your animal and may be needed if you don't want to invalidate your pet insurance cover.
One of the best ways to keep your pet safe is to get him or her vaccinated against a range of common illnesses.
When you buy a new animal such as a dog, cat or rabbit, there's a lot to think about as you settle them into their new home, and adding vaccinations to the list might be the last thing you feel like doing.
But not vaccinating them against some of the most common diseases could leave them at risk of becoming very poorly and could even prove fatal.
Don't forget that, in addition to inoculating your pet, you should also consider pet insurance in case things do go wrong and you're faced with a costly vet bill.
Vaccinations and procedures such as spaying and neutering are not usually covered by pet policies.
But bear in mind that keeping your pet's vaccinations up to date might make you eligible for cheaper premiums, as some insurers take this into consideration.
Also, animals which aren't vaccinated might not be covered by some insurance policies for illnesses which are preventable by vaccination.
New-born animals are usually protected from diseases by their mother's milk, but this only lasts for a few weeks.
Puppies and kittens are usually inoculated in the first two or three months of their life and should also be given regular boosters to make sure that the protection continues.
A vaccine contains a very small dose of the disease it protects against.
This allows your pet's immune system to make antibodies, which will protect them if they're exposed to the illness at a later stage.
Sometimes there can be a slight reaction after a vaccination. If your furry friend is slightly under the weather or unusually quiet just before the vaccination is due, have a chat to your vet as it might be best to postpone things for a week or two.
Vaccinations are not 100% effective and some pets still pick up illnesses even after immunisation. But vaccinations greatly reduce the risk of this happening.
Puppies have two initial inoculations, at about eight and 12 weeks. Most illnesses are vaccinated against with an injection in the scruff of the neck, although the kennel cough vaccination comes in the form of nasal drops.
Some of the most common illnesses in dogs are:
This is an infection of the cells of the intestine and is highly contagious. Puppies between six and 20 weeks are especially susceptible, and symptoms include sickness, diarrhoea and dehydration. Parvovirus can be fatal, particularly in very young puppies.
This is a bacterial infection which can be passed on in infected urine and contaminated water. Leptospirosis can cause lethargy and sickness and can lead to infections of vital organs such as the kidneys, potentially causing permanent damage or death.
This is a highly infectious viral disease affecting dogs of all ages. Symptoms include fever, coughing and a discharge from the eyes and mouth. Distemper can be fatal, and even animals that recover can suffer from neurological problems later on.
Kennel cough is rarely fatal but nevertheless can be extremely unpleasant for your dog. A vaccination against it will usually be required before your dog can stay in a kennel.
Vaccinations usually take full effect a week or two after the second inoculation, but your vet will be able to advise you on this. Your puppy will then be able to come safely into contact with other dogs - but don't forget to find out about spaying or neutering as well.
Kitten vaccinations also take place in two stages, usually at nine and 12 weeks.
A booster will also be required when your cat is about a year old, and regularly after that. Some common illnesses affecting cats include:
Also known as cat distemper, this highly infectious illness can be passed from a pregnant cat to her kittens in the womb, putting them at risk of being born blind and with tremors and poor co-ordination.
This can lead to conditions including gingivitis, diarrhoea and jaundice, as well as cancer such as leukaemia and lymphoma. 'At risk' cats, such as those in multi-cat households, should be immunised against FeLV.
This has the same symptoms as human flu and, although not usually serious for healthy adult cats, can be fatal for kittens or older cats with existing health conditions. There are different strains of cat flu and the vaccine is not effective against all of them.
Rabbits are also at risk from common illnesses and, whether kept for breeding or as pets (indoors or outside), they should be vaccinated.
This is caused by fleas and mosquitoes and can lead to facial swellings which can cause blindness. There is no specific treatment and myxomatosis is fatal in most cases.
This illness is also usually fatal and causes fever, internal bleeding and liver disease. As with myxomatosis, no treatment is available so vaccination is the best way to protect your bunny.
There is now a combined vaccination against myxomatosis and RHD, which can be given to rabbits when they are five weeks old.
Booster injections are just as important as the initial vaccination
Single vaccinations are also available but a gap of two weeks is needed between the two, leaving them exposed to illness for longer.
Booster injections are just as important as the initial vaccination to ensure your animal remains protected.
Some boosters are needed annually, so ask your vet for more information. You may also want to take a look at our article on insuring an older pet.