Over 50 years ago now, my friend and colleague, Prof. Ron Schultz, and I were the only two people saying we were over-vaccinating pets. I was called irresponsible in public at a large veterinary conference because others were unwilling to consider the idea that vaccines might not always be needed or safe. Since then, people aren’t shooting arrows at us now because our backs are full of them! Joking aside, despite the criticism, we were and remain determined to continue to educate about this topic.
Even today, estimates are that only about 40% of veterinarians are following the current WSAVA, AVMA, AAHA and BVA vaccine policy guidelines. * There is no such thing as an ‘up to date’ or ‘due’ vaccination. Enlightened veterinarians now can offer a package of separated vaccine components, when available, rather than give them all together, since the published data show more adverse reactions when multiple vaccines are administered at the same time.
Summary on Vaccine Policy
AAHA 2003 – Current knowledge supports the statement that
- No vaccine is always safe, no vaccine is always protective and no vaccine is always indicated
- Misunderstanding, misinformation and the conservative nature of our profession have largely slowed adoption of protocols advocating decreased frequency of vaccination
From Prof. Michael J. Day
- Vaccination should be just one part of a holistic preventive healthcare program for pets that is most simply delivered within the framework of an annual health check consultation
- Vaccination is an act of veterinary science that should be considered as individualized medicine, tailored for the needs of the individual pet, and delivered as one part of a preventive medicine program in an annual health check visit
Importantly, pet caregivers should understand that the act of giving a vaccine may not equate to immunization of that animal. Vaccines may not always produce the needed or desired immune protective response, not only if the vaccine itself was inadequately prepared (very rare) but also if the pet is a genetic low or non-responder to that vaccine (quite common in certain breeds of dogs and their families). In the latter case, that pet will be susceptible lifelong to the disease of concern and revaccination will not help and could even be harmful.
In response to issues raised above, vaccine experts recently have recommended new protocols for dogs and cats. These include: 1) giving the puppy or kitten vaccine series later (starting not before 8 weeks of age, except in the cases of outbreaks of virulent viral disease or in orphans or those that never received colostrum from their dams) followed by a booster at one year of age; 2) administering further boosters in a combination vaccine every three years or as split components alternating every other year until; 3) the pet reaches geriatric age, at which time booster vaccination is likely to be unnecessary and can be unsafe for those with aging-related or immunologic disorders.
In the intervening years between booster vaccinations, and in the case of geriatric pets, circulating humoral immunity can be evaluated by measuring serum vaccine antibody titers as an indication of the presence of immune memory (e.g. VacciCheck). Titers do not distinguish between immunity generated by vaccination and/or exposure to the disease, although the magnitude of immunity produced just by vaccination is usually lower.
When to Vaccinate Puppies & Kittens? Which Vaccines are Needed? What About Socialization?
- Should receive MLV or recombinant “Core” vaccines (canine distemper, parvovirus and hepatitis/adenovirus) preferably either at 9-10 and 14-16 weeks of age (minimum protocol), or, at 9, 12 and 16-18 weeks of age
- Rabies vaccines are all adjuvanted killed products and are given as required by law, preferably always given separately from other vaccines, and as late as legally allowed – e.g. 20-24 weeks of age. Thimerosal (mercury) - free rabies vaccines are preferred and safer
- Other vaccines are optional, and depend upon circumstances and disease risk in the area
- For the optional Bordetella or kennel cough vaccines, the oral version is preferred over the intranasal although both offer better protection than the injectable version
- Leptospirosis vaccines protect against only 4 serovars of the organism and are second to rabies vaccines in risk of hypersensitivity and other adverse effects. Use if endemic in the area of concern
- While canine influenza viruses (2 strains; H3N2 and H3N8) are highly contagious, most infected dogs have mild to no clinical issues, unless they develop a high fever and are at risk for secondary pneumonia. Vaccination, while being widely promoted, is still optional
- Three or more days after the last round of puppy vaccines, they can be out and about to be socialized. In the interim period, between 10-14 weeks of age, socialization can take place in the back yard or at puppy training classes with known friends and healthy dogs
- Until fully vaccinated, puppies should not walk on unfamiliar or public grounds; they can be carried about, when needed to travel
- If Titer testing is desired, instead of giving another vaccine after 12 weeks of age, wait until at least 16 weeks of age to avoid measuring residual maternal immunity
- Core vaccines (feline panleukopenia, feline calicivirus, feline rhinotracheitis/herpes) given as MLV or killed, inactivated or intranasal products are started in a 2 or three-dose series beginning for example at 7-9 weeks of age and 12-16 weeks, or at 7, 11 and 16 weeks
- Rabies vaccines if legally required are recommended as for puppies, although cats can receive a recombinant non-adjuvanted rabies vaccine which is preferred over the adjuvanted killed rabies vaccines given to dogs. This non-adjuvanted rabies vaccine is not yet available for dogs
- Some people consider feline leukemia virus (FeLV) vaccine as important for cats, especially those that live outdoors or are indoor/outdoor. Options are a recombinant non-adjuvanted or a killed adjuvanted vaccine
- Feline immune deficiency virus (FIV) vaccine is available in an adjuvanted killed virus vaccine for those cats at similar exposure risk to FeLV.
- Other vaccines (Chlamydia, FIP) are generally not recommended or are optional, and depend upon circumstances and disease risk in the area
- Socialization and Vaccine Titer testing options are as for puppies
*WSAVA-World Small Animal Veterinary Association; AVM A- American Veterinary Medical Association; AAHA-, American Animal Hospital Association; BVA- British Veterinary Association
Dogs and cats, like humans, are susceptible to certain diseases transmitted by viruses and bacteria. To protect against these invaders, the body has a number of defense mechanisms. The first barriers are the skin and mucous membranes that are found in the airways and intestines. Saliva and stomach acids also ensure that certain pathogens are cleaned up. In addition, there are the white blood cells that move through the body and attack intruders that have penetrated the first barriers.
Finally, the body has an immune system that focuses on specific pathogens. The parvovirus is an example of this. The body’s immune system is subdivided into cellular and humoral defenses. In the case of cellular defenses, viruses and certain bacteria that have already penetrated into the dog's cells are rendered harmless. The humoral defense takes place in the blood and body fluids. An important part of titer testing is the presence of different types of antibodies. The most important for titer determination being the IgG antibodies.
In dogs, we can measure these IgG antibodies in the blood for the following diseases: Infectious Canine Hepatitis, Parvo and Distemper. For cats, we measure antibodies for Feline Panleukopenia, Herpes and Calici.
What does such titer determination exactly mean?
The titer of antibodies in blood is the dilution of the blood, whereby these antibodies are still detectable. The blood is diluted and if antibodies are still detected at the highest dilution, this is a high titer. If antibodies are detected at low dilution, this is a low titer.
What is important to know is that the height of the titers is not important, but only the presence of the antibodies. There is no point in vaccinating a dog that still has antibodies that have developed after a previous vaccination. The titers will not be increased. In such a case, we are talking about unnecessary and / or superfluous vaccination.
There are a number of options for determining titers. This can be done in a laboratory by using virus neutralization or a hemagglutination inhibition test. Also available is test that vets can perform themselves. This is VacciCheck and is accepted by WSAVA as reliable, with a good predictive value.
VacciCheck is an in-clinic ELISA-titer test that measures the antibodies in the above-mentioned diseases.
ELISA is the abbreviation for Enzyme-linked ImmunoSorbent Assay. It is a test (assay) in which an antibody reacts (immuno) to an antigen (for example parvovirus) that is bound to a plastic surface (sorbent). To make this reaction measurable, an enzyme (enzyme-linked) is used to generate a color reaction.
The great advantage of this test is that only one drop of blood is needed, and that the result is known after 23 minutes. It is not harmful to the animal and less painful than a vaccination. The result is shown on a white plastic strip with a maximum of 4 gray dots, the upper of which is the positive reference dot. It always gives the same value regardless of the color (3). Then follow the dots for the diseases on which are tested. If the dots are the same color or darker than this reference dot, this means that the titers are positive. A shade lighter than the reference dot is weak positive, the rest is negative. The values range from 0 to 6. Zero and one is negative, two is weak positive, three and four is positive, five and six is high positive.
A different titer can therefore be measured for each disease and, depending on the titer height it would be necessary or not, to vaccinate.
As we obviously want to ensure that our animals do not get sick and can not infect other animals, we will vaccinate at a score of 0 and 1.
If the titers for Hepatitis are negative, then we have no choice other than giving the dog the complete cocktail (DHP). The vaccine against hepatitis is not available separately.
If the titers for Parvo are too low, then we vaccinate the dog with a separate Parvo (P) vaccine.
If the titers for Distemper are too low, then we vaccinate the dog with a cocktail of Distemper and Parvo (DP). In some countries, the Distemper vaccine is not available separately (e.g. Belgium and The Netherlands).
If the titers for Panleukopenia are negative, our only choice is to give the cat the full cocktail (Panleukopenia, Calici and Herpes). The vaccine against Panleukopenia is not separately available.
If the titers for Calici and Herpes are too low, then we vaccinate the cat with a cocktail of Calici and Herpes.
It would be wonderful if the vaccine producers were to market individual vaccines. The demand for Testing antibiody titers (or titer determinations) is increasing at an amazing rate. The vaccine producers could respond perfectly to this, ensuring that dogs and cats are not superfluously vaccinated.
Titer determination makes sense in many aspects, the most important of all, listed below.
When breeding dogs and cats, it would be wise to have titer determination well before the pregnancy to see if the bitch or female cat has antibodies. If positive, then chances are that the pups and kittens will receive these antibodies via the colostrum and are maternally protected. If the bitch or cat has no antibodies, she can still be vaccinated before the pregnancy
- Titer determination is highly recommended for pups and kittens, so determining the right time for effective vaccination.
- Already vaccinated dogs and cats can also benefit. From 3 to 4 weeks after each vaccination, a titer determination can be made to see if the vaccination has actually been effective. Even if the package leaflet of a vaccine indicates that it has been registered for 3 years, one still does not know, without titer determination, if the vaccination has ensured that your dog or cat is protected. In addition, there are also animals who do not respond to a vaccination in any case. This is known as “non-responders”.
- In the vaccination schedule for all dogs and cats to see if a (re) vaccination is needed.
- Dogs and cats with an unknown vaccination status such as animals from abroad, animals that are found, and go to a shelter etc., would certainly benefit from VacciCheck testing. Titer testing of pups and kittens would be good for the general pet population. For example, For example, there are often doubts if puppies and kittens coming from Eastern European puppy or kitten farms have been correctly vaccinated. In this case titer testing gives us a clear answer. It is the same case with pups and kittens with false vaccine labels which are brought into Belgium and the Netherlands. Distemper and Parvo are prevalent in Eastern Europe and pose a serious threat to our pet population.
- VacciCheck, as a titer test, will determine whether dogs and cats have been in contact with a particular disease and have perhaps contracted it.
- For dogs and cats who have had adverse effects at a previous vaccination, for example, an allergic reaction.
- Sick animals, and / or animals on medication, that suppresses the immune system, would do well with titer testing. Most medication package leaflets suggest that sick animals may not be vaccinated.
- Titer testing on older pets is valuable.
It is important that the veterinarian officially states the titration in the European passport of the dog or cat. The values per disease must be stated, as well as the date of titering and the date when a titer determination must be made again. In many cases, the strip is stuck in the passport as proof.
In short, the titer determination is the ultimate means of testing as to whether your pet is protected against infectious and fatal diseases, determining the right time for vaccinating and / or avoiding unnecessary vaccinations.
There are numerous occasions where our pet animals come together - at shows, competitions, animal events, dog schools or dog parks, and we would not want our pet to develop any illness, so unnecessary, so easy to prevent.
The vaccine label in a cat and dog passport, says nothing about the degree of protection.
Measuring is knowing! We do want to know that our pets are protected.
Over the years, Professor Ronald Schultz has been a pioneer in creating vaccination guidelines for our pets.
So when Professor Schultz comes up with the statement “Be Wise and Immunize, But Immunize Wisely”, what is the take home message?
A Concept Change for Pet Vaccination
The routine administration of vaccines in dogs and cats has been one of the most significant factors in the consistent reduction of serious dog and cat infectious diseases.
Although all veterinarians agree vaccines are necessary, the frequency in which some of them are given, is now debated.
It is known that dogs and cats, after vaccination, often maintain protective antibody to what is called the “core diseases” - Canine Hepatitis, Parvovirus and Distemper and Feline Panleukopenia, Herpes and Calici Virus for three or more years. So, our dilemma is knowing that we may not need to revaccinate our pets for core vaccines, how can we know that the antibody levels of our pets through vaccination are indeed adequate?
Titer Testing to Determine Protection for Our Pets
Antibody or titer testing can be used to show levels of protection after vaccinating our pets with core vaccines.
Therefore, when an antibody is present, there should be no need to revaccinate.
How Often to Titer Test?
Professor Schultz has offered the following advice:
“Neither a titer nor annual vaccination is necessary every year because of the core vaccines’ duration of immunity. However, a blood sample taken yearly from an animal for a titer check is preferential to an unnecessary vaccination as a vaccine may cause harm.”
The Canine and Feline VacciCheck are Core Vaccine Tests
One of the titer tests available and, easily performed by vets, in their clinics, is VacciCheck.
VacciCheck tests for your pet’s antibodies and can determine if a dog or cat needs an additional core vaccine vaccination. This may save the dog or cat unnecessary vaccinations.
VacciCheck also confirms if puppies or kittens have received immunity from vaccination.
Also unique about VacciCheck, results can be received on the same day.
So vets now have a quick and simple test that can be performed in their clinic, at a reasonable cost to the pet owner.
It is no wonder that The World Small Animal Veterinary Association recommends in clinic titer testing, such as VacciCheck.
My journey to the alternative healthcare model, interestingly began with my late Miniature Bull Terrier, Molly’s Titre Test in 2008.
Back then, before in-house Titre Tests like VacciCheck were available, a Titre Test was not only expensive, but treated with suspicion and scepticism by Vets.
The option for Titre was only presented to Molly as I was anxious about giving her a booster. I’d read many articles in the consumer dog press that highlighted how some dogs become ill after a booster jab.
As I had constantly ignored the reminder letters to booster, our then conventional vet practice phoned me. The vets were highly concerned that Molly had not been boostered since her puppy shots.
She was aged six in 2008 and they were correct in that she had never had a booster. Listening to my concerns, our vet reluctantly suggested a Titre Test.
I was advised it would cost £380.00 and that I would most likely have to pay for a booster jab as well, as Molly was sure to need one.
Our vet was convinced that Molly’s serological results to the core diseases for dogs, Canine Distemper virus (CDV); infectious hepatitis (ICH) and canine parvovirus (CPV), would be low and she would need a booster.
Imagine the Vet’s surprise when Molly’s Titre Test results showed results of her serological immunity scored as high, for all three diseases.
Molly proved that six years on from her first puppy shots, given at eight and twelve weeks, that her immunity was still high. She did not need a booster!
This questioned the school of thought that vaccines’ DOI (Duration of Immunity) was less than three years. Indeed back in 2008 the view was that boosters ought to be administered annually!
The landmark moment came when in 2013 the WSAVA (World Small Animal Veterinary Association) revised its original vaccination guidelines (published in 2007) to include the use of Titre Testing in lieu of annual boosters.
In its latest edition (2017), the WSAVA in fact stresses the value of, and recommends Titre Testing.
Just as Molly’s Titre testing proved, the topical issue of Duration of Immunity (DOI) has been shown to last from initial puppy shots, often for a lifetime.
Offering Titre Tests, vets can reach out to owners like myself who do not believe in doing something (ie giving a booster jab) when it’s unnecessary.
The key principle behind natural ‘holistic’ medicine is to adopt the ‘Precautionary Principle’ keeping the toxin load from environmental stressors – arguably vaccines, flea treatments, wormers, overuse of medications like antibiotics, steroids and pain killers - to a minimum.
This also means balancing and reducing the environmental stressors that are present in the foods we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink.
I named Molly’s successor Prudence - as it’s not only a ‘old’ English name, suited to her breed, but it is also to remind me - be prudent.
Aged 15 weeks, Prudence arrived into the UK under the PETS scheme. She had had her first puppy shots at eight weeks, then the Thimerosal free rabies shot at 15 weeks allowing her entry into the UK.
Prudence went for her vet check and a discussion about her vaccines, which involved Titre Testing her, using VacciCheck at 16 weeks.
Prudence had seroconverted! Her level for canine parvovirus (CPV) was high; for canine distemper virus (CDV), medium; and for infectious hepatitis (ICH), medium.
As she displayed adequate immunity, there was no need to give her any more shots. In line with my study, I wanted to keep environmental stressors to a minimum, especially at such a young age.
Thanks to the WSAVA VGG group, the on-going acceptance by Vets of Vaccicheck’s in house Titre testing, s arguably one of the biggest steps forward in modern Veterinary health care.
It allows owners to manage and take control of their pets’ immunity, and not unnecessarily over vaccinate.
Since the early 1990s, through my organisation, Canine Health Concern, and through articles, books, and lectures, I’ve been working to end the over-vaccination of our dogs. It has been a long, slow, process because, at first, neither dog owners nor the veterinary profession would accept the science. Back in the 1970s, Drs Ronald D Schultz and Tom R Philips published their research findings in Kirk’s Veterinary Therapies. These independent scientists had established that once a dog is immune to the core viral diseases of distemper, parvovirus and adenovirus (canine viral hepatitis), they are immune for years, and probably for life. In other words, we don’t need to vaccinate our dogs annually or, as another modern myth asserts, even three-yearly. This is because immunity, once established, can be lifelong.
Easily available tests to establish immunity are an important piece of the jigsaw in relation to canine health, because – as my extensive research over the years has highlighted, and as the WSAVA makes clear – vaccines are not without harm. A simple in-practice test, such as VacciCheck offers a positive way in which to avoid over-vaccination and build evidence to hopefully put an end to annual and three-yearly shots.
Titer testing is important because every vaccine has the potential to create a wide range of adverse effects. And, as stated in the WSAVA puppy guidelines (http://www.petwelfarealliance.org/uploads/3/0/3/6/3036695/new_puppy_owner_vaccination_guidelines_may_2013.pdf) every reaction to a vaccine that is not needed is unacceptable.
It’s also important to understand that vaccine damage is not the same as, for example, pricking your thumb with a needle and you bleed. Vaccines can disrupt any system within the body, and overt signs can appear within hours, or days, or weeks, or months, or even some years down the line. Contaminated distemper vaccines in the UK and Japan, for example, carry a feline retrovirus RD-114, which can theoretically produce cancer or leukaemia five years after a vaccine event. Other documented vaccine adverse events include allergies, a range of autoimmune diseases, and neurological effects. This makes it difficult sometimes to tie individual cases of vaccine damage in with a vaccine event – but we do have the science supporting all of these links. For those requiring supporting references, see http://www.petwelfarealliance.org/uploads/3/0/3/6/3036695/vaccine_science_research.pdf
Dog owners are becoming knowledgeable
There is something of a revolution in the dog world. Many dog owners are educating themselves on the vaccine issue and choosing to either have the puppy shots done, or to refrain from vaccinating at all. I appreciate that many will consider this to be an irresponsible choice – but since vaccines can be behind what I have called The REAL Epidemic, that is, allergies, autoimmunity, cancer and neurological problems - many consider the vaccine risk to be greater than the viral risk to our dogs. And this is where VacciCheck is proving to be an invaluable aid for responsible, caring, educated dog owners.