Using titer testing is a valuable investment for shelters to quickly identify, and manage the spread of infectious disease such as Parvovirus, Distemper and Panleukopenia. Prompt identification of these diseases simply helps save resources, time, and most importantly our pets lives. It is as simple as this.
How can VacciCheck help?
Titer testing is often underutilized in the field of shelter medicine due to cost. VacciCheck though, is an in-shelter titer test, that makes titer testing and disease surveillance easier, faster and more affordable, when compared to other alternatives. The Maddies Fund discusses in depth the use of titer testing in general, and VacciCheck in particular.
What do the vaccination guidelines recommend?
The latest WSAVA Vaccination Guidelines recommends titer testing, such as VacciCheck, for the following 2 reasons:
- If there is a disease outbreak within a shelter: all animals within the shelter should be titer tested for Distemper and Parvovirus (dogs/puppies) or Panleukopenia (cats/kittens). If protected, our pets should not become infected or possibly die. Simple and clear thinking. Protected pets can then be separated from non- or low-responding animals.
If our pets test negative, it indicates that these animals are susceptible to the disease and should not be taken out of the shelter until after the incubation period for the infection. These animals should be vaccinated and then retested to confirm that they test positive after the incubation period mentioned above.
- For animals outside of a shelter needing to be admitted in the face of a disease outbreak in the shelter, if the pets test positive with VacciCheck, they may safely enter the shelter as they are protected from disease.
If the pets test negative, these animals should be vaccinated and sent to foster homes until after they have developed protection for these diseases. They should not be allowed to enter any shelter until they are testing positive.
The new AAHA Vaccination Guidelines describe how to use titer testing via their flow chart.
As important as it is for us to care for our own pets, it is just as important to protect all animals in all shelters.
Most puppies are vaccinated several times at 6, 9 and 12 weeks, as it is known that maternally derived antibodies can cause a vaccination to fail. However, is that sufficient? How do you know whether your dog is protected?
Pups are given, right after birth, via the first mother's milk, (colostrum) antibodies, that will protect against infectious and fatal diseases. These so-called maternally derived antibodies are temporary and disappear gradually, but can be present in the blood of the pups for up to 20 weeks or longer. If, however, the mother dog has no, or too few antibodies, the pups will not get them through the colostrum and are unprotected! It is important to protect puppies at the right time by means of a vaccination that stimulates the body to produce antibodies. This ensures permanent immunity.
The goal of a vaccination is to make dogs immune to certain diseases. However, it is a misconception to think that all animals, that have been vaccinated, are actually protected. A vaccination does not automatically lead to protection in young animals, that are still protected by maternally derived antibodies. In the Netherlands and Belgium, pups are usually vaccinated at 6, 9 and 12 weeks. The last vaccine of the puppy vaccination schedule will be administered around the age of 1 year, and then every 3 years they are vaccinated against infectious hepatitis, parvo and distemper.
Most pups are vaccinated several times, because it is known that maternally derived antibodies can block a vaccination. By administering a vaccine regularly every 3 weeks, there is a chance that one will catch. The problem lies in the fact that most puppies get their last vaccination at 12 weeks. As maternal immunity can last up to 20 weeks, and sometimes even longer, there is a big chance that they will walk around unprotected for up to 1 year, the age at which they receive the last vaccination of the vaccination schedule. People mistakenly think that their dog is optimally protected by this vaccination, but there is still at risk of contracting and spreading diseases. The dogs will then go unprotected to dog schools, boarding kennels, shows, competitions, animal events, dog parks and so on.
Optimal vaccination schedules
It would be much better, and more responsible, to adjust the current vaccination schedule according to the vaccination guidelines of the WSAVA. The WSAVA is a scientific committee, which sets out guidelines worldwide regarding the vaccinations of dogs and cats. In these guidelines, it is stated, that among other things, it is not wise to administer the last vaccination before the age of 16 weeks. There are two possibilities:
- A titer determination at 20 weeks. If the result is positive, the dog does not need to receive extra vaccination and the animal can be tested again after a certain period, depending on the result.
- To advance the vaccination normally given at 1 year, to 26 weeks. This is to prevent the animal from walking around unprotected until the age of 1 year.
Most puppy buyers receive a puppy that has been vaccinated once in the litter. Such a puppy can be tested 3 weeks after the vaccination. At that moment, it is not always clear whether the antibodies, that are being measured, come from the mother or from the vaccine. Therefore, a few weeks later, a new titer test is required. If the titers have dropped, then it is certain that these are maternally derived antibodies. Depending on the level of the antibodies (antibody titers) at that time, the pup can then be vaccinated or be retested at intervals of a few weeks, when they are sufficiently low to vaccinate successfully. If the titers remained the same, then this is a sign that the vaccination has been successful. Unfortunately, most puppies in the Netherlands and Belgium are usually only vaccinated against distemper and parvo, so they still have to be vaccinated with a cocktail that also contains infectious hepatitis.
The best and most effective method is to titer test a pup, who has not yet been vaccinated, just before it leaves the litter. If the test shows that sufficient maternally derived antibodies are still present, vaccination is pointless, as the antibodies will neutralize the vaccine. You would then retest the pup, who is probably already with the new owner, after about 3 weeks. If the level of antibodies has declined below the protective level and the level at which a vaccination can immunize, a cocktail containing modified live viruses of infectious hepatitis, parvo and distemper has to be administered.
Subsequently, a titer test is performed about 3 to 4 weeks after this vaccination, to see if the puppy actually has enough antibodies in the blood, and is protected against the diseases mentioned. If this is the case, it means that the dog is immunized and fully protected against the mentioned diseases, by just one vaccination. As the animal is still very young and the immune system has not yet fully developed, a year later it makes sense to test it again to see if the protection is still good. If this is the case, titer testing can be performed triennially, according to the WSAVA guidelines.
The most commonly used titer test is VacciCheck. This is a reliable in-house test which can be performed by the veterinarian himself. Only a very small drop of blood is needed and the result is known within half an hour. The veterinarian must indicate in the vaccination pet passport how long the dog will be protected and thus, a validity period is linked to the declaration, according to Dibevo, KNMvD, NVWA and KMSH.
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.
At the start of my work as a vet, the owner of an elderly female dog, Ginger, with a chronic renal disease, brought her in to receive the annual vaccination [core diseases vaccines, Canine Parvo virus (CPV), Canine distemper virus (CDV) and Canine adeno virus (CAV)].
The first question was “is it really necessary to automatically revaccinate every year for core vaccines, especially in an elderly dog with chronic health problems?”.
Intrigued by the question, I looked for answers.
I have come across a number of studies showing proof that core diseases vaccines may last for several years. The high prevalence of adequate antibody levels in a large population implies that annual revaccinations against CPV, CDV and CAV aren’t necessarily needed.
The scientific arguments in favour of less frequent revaccinations are traditionally based on antibody titers. Protection against most viral diseases is indeed antibody-mediated, and antibodies are easily measured.
Due to these findings the WSAVA (World Small Animal Vaccination Association) Vaccination Guidelines states “The presence of antibody (no matter what the titre) indicates protective immunity and immunological memory is present in that animal. Giving more frequent vaccines to animals in an attempt to increase antibody titre is a pointless exercise. It is impossible to create ‘greater immunity’ by attempting to increase an antibody titre.”
Ensuring Ginger was immunized, I took a blood sample and ran the VacciCheck antibody test for the presence of antibodies against core disease. Results were conclusive - Ginger was immunized with regard to all the three core diseases, and so no need for further vaccination.
*Ginger's titer test results by VacciCheck
Needless to say, Ginger's owner was delighted. I imagine that Ginger was delighted as well…