When to deworm and vaccinate your pet

By Valdette Muller| May 8, 2014 | Blog

Siamese catCharles Dickens once said:  “What greater gift than the love of a cat”, and Roger A. Caras shared this statement, “Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the centre of their universe”. Dogs and cats make our lives whole. In fact, their unconditional love fulfils us. However, if Max is sick, our lives seem upside down as we try to figure out what the cause could be and what we can do to help alleviate their pain.

Some of the ailments that could affect your pet’s overall well being may be prevented by deworming and vaccination. We’ve spoken to Dr Liesel van der Merwe from Valley Farm Animal Hospital based in Faerie Glen, Pretoria, about the importance of deworming and vaccination.  Here’s what she had to say:

Is Deworming and Vaccination important?

Yes, it is vital.  These are both components of preventative medicine.  If you can prevent your pet from getting ill it is healthier for them and costs less for the owner. Some of the diseases we vaccinate have no medical cure – like distemper in dogs which affects the nervous system ultimately (very similar to polio in people). Parvo virus which causes a severe diarrhoea and vomiting, can be treated, but not successfully in all cases and at very great expense in the more severely affected patients. In young puppies, worms in the intestine can cause them to become very ill because they utilise the food eaten and suck blood causing the puppy to be pale, thin and weak.

At what age should the procedure be done?

Deworming can be done from 2 weeks of age – especially if the environment is likely to be contaminated with worm eggs such as often occurs in kennels and properties with large numbers of dogs and breeding bitches. Generally we deworm puppies from 6 weeks of age and repeat every month until they are just over 4 months old. Thereafter, you can deworm depending on the risk. If you are out and about a lot with your dog, deworming is required more frequently.

VaccinationVaccination is done at 6 weeks. It is generally not necessary to vaccinate earlier as the puppies do get some resistance from their mother via the milk. This resistance starts fading after 6 weeks – which is when the immunity from the vaccination needs to take over. One vaccination is not enough – it just primes the system. The second and third vaccinations of the puppy at 3-4 weeks apart, after the first vaccination, are essential to “set” the immune response into the animal’s immune system memory. The next booster vaccination must also be maximum 1 year later. Thereafter the core vaccinations need to be repeated every 3 years for maintenance of immunity. However, permits, etc. may still require more frequent boosters. Puppies need to be healthy when they are vaccinated. The vaccine cannot fix a sick puppy and a weak puppy will not respond nicely to the vaccine.

What is the difference between Parvo, Bordatella and Rabies vaccine?

DewormingA vaccine is a substance which induces immunity against a very specific bacteria or virus. These different vaccines can be combined and dogs get a 5-in-one and cats get a 3-in-one. The rabies vaccine is given separately as it is often specifically required for permits and transport across borders. Additionally, puppies cannot be vaccinated against rabies until they are about 3-4 months old as they have antibodies (maternal immunity) which they absorbed from their mothers colostrum milk (biesmelk) which will inactivate the vaccine. These are gone by 3 – 4 months. Early vaccination is fine if the mother wasn’t vaccinated against rabies. Rabies is a fatal infection which goes to the brain. Parvo virus causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea and bordatella is a bacteria which can cause pneumonia and bronchitis.

If my pets have never been dewormed or vaccinated and they look healthy, do I still need to get them dewormed and vaccinated?

Yes – especially for vaccination. Some diseases they can acquire immunity to by natural exposure – such as the diarrhoea, snuffles and coughing infections and become relatively immune. Sometimes they can become quite ill when infected and other times the infection is mild and symptoms are hardly noticed.  Rabies however is deadly to your pet and to humans so vaccination is essential. The less contact your pet has with other animals and areas where other animals frequent such as parks and dog training, the less frequent deworming needs to be.

What are some of the most common symptoms of Parvo Virus, Bordatella or Rabies?

Parvo virus – suddenly developing vomiting and diarrhoea, often very smelly and bloody and looking very thin and “tucked up”.

Bordatella, Adenovirus and Parainfluenza all cause kennel cough symptoms which starts with a harsh hacking cough and may develop into pneumonia in some animals.

Rabies will cause behaviour changes and the animal (dog or cat), and they will also show difficulty in swallowing water resulting in drooling. Aggression at other animals in dogs and cats previously quite calm is typical. Symptoms occur within days to weeks after an infected bite.

Canine distemper virus initially presents with diarrhoea and pneumonia, but ultimately affects the central nervous system.

Snuffles in cats is caused by a herpes virus, similar to that which also causes “cold sores” in people, calici virus and chlamydia infection. These viruses target the eyes, nose and respiratory system and cats develop runny noses and weeping eyes and may even lose their eyes due to severe corneal ulceration. Symptoms will always reappear when the animals are stressed.

Where can the procedures be done and is it safe?

Vaccinations are done at your vet or community clinic. Vaccinations must be stored properly and administered to healthy puppies to be effective. If improperly managed and not kept refrigerated they become inactive and useless.   The only legally accepted vaccinations are done by a veterinarian. Many breeders somehow obtain vaccines – but no veterinarian will sign a document (such as a movement permit for example) vouching for the vaccination due to quality issues.  Allergic vaccine reactions do occur – but are rare and generally happen very soon after the vaccination. Some small puppies are a bit sleepy for a day or two after the vaccination.

We all know the saying prevention is better than cure.  If your pet has not been dewormed or vaccinated yet, visit your local vet as soon as possible.

About Dr Liesel van der Merwe

Dr Liesel joined the Valley Farm Animal Hospital in October 2010. She qualified at Onderstepoort in 1992 and after 4 years doing general small animal work in Johannesburg and the UK she returned to Onderstepoort to pursue a specialty in small animal medicine and teach both undergraduate and post graduate students in the teaching hospital. She obtained her MMedVet specialist degree in small animal medicine in 2005. Dr Liesel is frequently asked to give lectures to veterinarians at congresses and CPD events and has also presented her research work overseas. She has a special interest in transfusion medicine and canine spirocercosis.

Images via Australindvet and Facebook


  • Abbas says:

    Hi Dr. van der Merwe.
    Is it enough to deworm the dog using a tablet instead of needle?

  • Justin Collier says:

    Hi Dr. van der Merwe.
    Is it possible to vaccinate your dog using a tablet instead of needle?
    Many thanks

  • vk.cross says:

    Thank you Dr Liesel van der Merwe!

    This is helpful.

    Now I understand why there are series of vaccination. No regrets in getting my puppy vaccinated and de-wormed regularly as prescribed by vet. Prevention is always better than cure.

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