Why did the veterinarian order the vaccination of the puppy with core vaccine component, 3 times at 3-week intervals?
For over a decade canine vaccine has been categorised into core, non-core and non-recommended groups, with canine distemper, parvovirus and adenovirus considered as the core vaccine components. These categories have been further developed and currently form the basis of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) Guidelines for the Vaccination of Dogs and Cats.
With regard to vaccinations of puppies, the WASVA guide lines recognizes that maternally derived antibody (MDA) significantly interferes with the efficiency of most current core vaccines administered to pups and kittens in early life. The vaccine consists of attenuated living virus and therefore the antibodies identify it and lead to its destruction. As the level of MDA varies significantly amongst litters, the guidelines recommend the administration of multiple core vaccine doses to pups and kittens, with the final dose of these being delivered at 16 weeks or older and then followed by a booster at 6- or 12-months of age.
Vaccination of neonates and infants is problematic with two main issues: the immature immune system of neonates and the presence of inhibitory maternal antibodies.
When a pup is born, its immune system is not fully developed making it susceptible to a variety of infectious agents. Fortunately, this is not the case for most of the neonatal, as they can receive passive protection from their mothers through maternal immunity.
Passive immunity occurs by the passage of antibodies to the fetus through the placenta (~3%), and more significantly, by the absorption of maternal antibodies of the new born through the colostrum (~97%). Defined as the first 12-24 hours of milk flow following birth, colostrum is a highly concentrated mixture of large protein antibody molecules, vitamins, electrolytes, and nutrients. The pup can absorb the colostral antibodies into its blood system through the intestine only for its first days of life; the amount of absorption depending on the strength of each individual pup.
Unfortunately, the maternal antibodies will break down through natural aging of up to approximately 8-20 weeks. At this point the MDA decaying (Blue line in the graph below) may not provide optimal protection and may even act as inhibitor to the effectiveness of the vaccine (In between the two interrupted lines ~8-16 weeks). This situation is highly risky for the exposed and unprotected puppy. To avoid this situation the core vaccines are being given at 3-4 point intervals, as shown in the graph below.
Initial Vaccination (Dogs 16 Weeks of Age)
- Beginning as early as 6 weeks of age, the puppy is administered with sequential doses of a combination vaccine at an interval of 2 to 4 weeks until at least 16 weeks of age.
- Dogs that are 16 weeks of age when presented for initial vaccination should receive a second dose 2 to 4 weeks later.
- NOTE: Dogs residing in a HIGH-RISK environment may benefit from receiving a final dose at 18 to 20 weeks of age. HIGH RISK is a subjective assessment applicable to dogs residing at locations in which the incidence of CDV and/ or CPV is considered to be high; it may also include puppies known to have significant exposure to other dogs or contaminated environments.
- A single dose of a combination vaccine is administered within 1 year following the last dose in the Initial Vaccination series. Subsequent boosters should be administered at intervals of 3 year or longer.
- Measuring antibody levels (quantitative or qualitative) provides a reasonable assessment of protective immunity against CDV, CPV, and CAV2.
In the previous Blog, we discussed the ongoing debate about raw versus cooked food diets for pets.
Here we are going to address some lingering questions.
Should it include raw meat or cooked meat?
Many of us in the veterinary community, including myself, have seen first-hand the health and vigor of dogs and cats fed raw diets. These animals just 'shine' in all respects; the experiential findings based on years of observations by dedicated holistic veterinarians and animal nutritionists support this conclusion. To criticize all raw diets on the basis that they are inherently harmful is misleading, and conveys an inflexible message.
In the USA, the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine controls the pet food industry, and this organization mandates a zero-tolerance policy of Salmonella for all pet foods, not just the ‘cooked’ products. Further, the top raw food manufacturers also test each batch of food before releasing it into the marketplace.
As anyone who follows pet food recalls knows, commercially produced kibbled products and treats are recalled on a regular basis due to contamination with Salmonella spp., E. coli and Campylobacter spp.
Should the meat be grass-fed rather than grain-fed?
Grass-fed meats are preferred over those meats derived from grain-fed animals, because grain residues reside in the flesh of the carcass. The most commonly fed grain is corn, which often is of genetically modified origin (GMO) and field grade. Rice, soy and sorghum are also commonly fed. Additionally, some pets are intolerant of these grains.
What about fish?
Both white-colored fish and salmon and their oils are common ingredients in pet foods and provide an important source of the omega-3 fatty acids needed to sustain the skin and coat, brain and other body metabolic functions. The fish should be farm raised or at least be assured to be free of mercury.
What about the need for some vegetables and fruit in a complete diet?
Unlike cats that remain primarily as obligate carnivores and need some meat, dogs have evolved from their ancestral wolves to be obligate omnivores. They have adapted to domestication by developing three additional genes that allow them to digest and assimilate starch. Regardless, an all-meat diet is not balanced for long term use, especially in dogs, and so some vegetables and fruit (making up 30-70% of the total diet) should be included for roughage, fiber and pro-biotics. Some also add organic tripe.
Dogs (and even cats) can be healthy when maintained on strictly vegetarian diets, although these diets must be nutritionally complete and balanced. Pet caregivers should regularly monitor urinary acidity and should add products such as cranberry extracts, if urine becomes too alkaline (i.e. pH > 7.0).
Suggested vegetables and fruits include: Carrots and green beans, as functional carbohydrates, are a source of soluble fiber, and have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Simply chop them up into small raw pieces, or lightly steam them as this helps with digestibility. We also like spinach or kale, and zucchini.
Apples, pears and bananas protect the heart and help control diarrhea. Apples also improve brain health, lung capacity and cushion joints; whereas bananas help strengthen bones and control blood pressure. Pears provide a rich source of fiber. Also use fresh or frozen blueberries and cranberries, plus watermelon.
What about taurine levels in certain types of dog foods and the possible connection between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), which is also known as canine heart disease (CHD).
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement on July 12, 2018 that it is investigating a possible connection between grain-free diets and DCM, which is also known as CHD.
But, many factors need to be considered in addressing this situation:
- Genetic predisposition
- Scientific research thus far
- Taurine requirements for dogs
- Interaction between foods when passing through the body
- Interaction between foods and the body itself
What we do know:
- Taurine is an amino acid. Amino acids are found in animal-based protein sources and plant sources like soy at varying amounts, depending on the type of meat or plant.
- Taurine deficiency can lead to CHD in humans, cats and dogs.
- All breeds and sizes of dogs can develop CHD. However, CHD is more common in larger and giant breeds such as Great Danes, Boxers, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Saint Bernards and Doberman Pinschers. American and English Cocker Spaniels also have a higher incidence.
- At this time, taurine is notconsidered an essential, food-sourced amino acid for dogs. It is synthesized in the liver from the amino acids cysteine and methionine.
- Although taurine is present in today’s dog food, the label does not need to reflect its presence or meet any minimum requirement.
- Cats, however, dohave a need for food-sourced taurine to prevent CHD; and there is a minimum required amount for cat food.
- Cooking temperature is stated to adversely affect or significantly degrade amino acid levels in foods.
- A published study found, “The amount of taurine that remained in a feed ingredient after cooking depended upon the method of food preparation. When an ingredient was constantly surrounded by water during the cooking process, such as in boiling or basting, more taurine was lost. Food preparation methods that minimized water loss, such as baking or frying, had higher rates of taurine retention.”
- Cysteine is one the essential amino acids that dogs need to form taurine. Another published study by Weiss et al concluded, “Eight (including cysteine) of the 20 standard amino acids decompose at well-defined, characteristic temperatures, in contrast to commonly accepted knowledge. Products of decomposition are simple. The novel quantitative results emphasize the impact of water and cyclic condensates with peptide bonds and put constraints on hypotheses of the origin, state and stability of amino acids in the range between 200 °C and 300 °C.” Put simply, high temperatures do cause the breakdown or change these amino acids, including cysteine.
- High levels of legumes or potatoes appear to be more common in diets labeled as “grain-free,” but it is not yet known how or if these ingredients are linked to cases of DCM.
- The FDA is simply stating a trend, which no doubt will lead to much needed research.
- The FDA is notdismissing the prior research as invalid. As the FDA puts it, “The underlying cause of DCM is not truly known, but is thought to have a genetic component.”
- The FDA is also notsaying that pet caregivers should stop feeding grain-free foods.
Axelsson, E, Ratnakumar, A, Arendt, MJ, et al. The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to a starch-rich diet. Nature 2013; 495: 360–364.
Dodds, WJ, Laverdure, DR. Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health. 2015. DogWise Publishing, Wenatchee, WA, .323 pages.
Ko, KS, Fascetti, A. Dietary beet pulp decreases taurine status in dogs fed low protein diet. J An Sci Technol 2016: 58: August. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4971673/.
Weiss, I, Muth, C, Drumm, R, Kirchner, HOK. Thermal decomposition of the amino acids glycine, cysteine, aspartic acid, asparagine, glutamic acid, glutamine, arginine and histidine. BMC Biophysics, 2018;11(2).
The debate over which type of diet is best for dogs and other pets to live healthy lives and thrive is unlikely to be resolved in the near future. Should it include raw meat or cooked meat? Should the meat be grass-fed rather than grain-fed? What about fish? What about the need for some vegetables and fruit in a complete diet? And finally, the latest pet food scare around the world – what about taurine levels in certain types of dog foods and the possible connection between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), which is also known as canine heart disease (CHD).
If you’ve stopped feeding grains to your companion dog because of this recent issue, please think back to the many reasons why you stopped. It could be to prevent the “leaky gut” syndrome, to help curb food sensitivities or intolerances to a particular grain, to maintain optimal weight, etc.
Proponents of raw food diets cite numerous benefits, including:
- Closely mirrors the evolutionary diet of wolves and wild
- Dogs are carnivores (actually, cats are truly carnivores and dogs have evolved to become obligate omnivores) -- designed to consume raw meat, bones and
- Dog caregiver controls ingredient selection and
- Higher in enzymes, vitamins and minerals than cooked
- Greater nutrient availability than cooked
- Improved skin and coat.
- Reduced or eliminated ear infections.
- Fewer, less bulky, less foul-smelling stoo
- Increased energy
- Reduced incidences of chronic
- Enhanced immune function and overall optimum
Opponents of raw food diets cite negatives, including:
- May expose humans to higher bacterial
- Lack of documentation that raw-fed dogs live healthier, longer
- Exposes vulnerable dogs to dangerous
- Home-prepared raw meat-based diets are often unbalanced, with deficiencies and/or excesses of certain nutrients.
- Unbalanced raw diets are of particular concern with regard to growing
- Bones, even raw, pose risk of obstruction and
Proponents of fresh, home-cooked diets cite numerous benefits, including:
- Dog caregiver controls the ingredient selection and
- Fresh, whole foods provide higher levels of nutrients than processed commercial
- Nutrients contained in fresh foods are more bioavailable than those contained in processed commercial foods.
- Fresh meat, fruits and vegetables are more species-appropriate than commercial food.
- The next items are those listed above as the last 7 for raw diets.
Opponents of fresh, home-cooked diets cite numerous negatives, including:
- Are nutritionally unbalanced and can contribute to long-term vitamin/mineral
- Are often those invested in the mass-market commercial pet food industry.
- Many mainstream veterinarians are also opposed to home-prepared
- We believe the vast majority mean well and base their beliefs on information provided by the commercial pet food industry.
The main objection veterinarians typically raise regarding raw meat-based diets has more to do with human food safety issues than the validity of the diet for the animal. It goes without saying that proper food handling and safety techniques should be used when feeding a raw meat-based diet, just as they should when handling raw meat prior to cooking. In addition, vulnerable individuals, such as young children, the elderly, sick or immune-impaired people, young puppies or ill dogs should not be exposed to raw meat due to potential health risks. Common-sense precautions can greatly minimize the potential of bacterial contamination from raw food.
In our view, neither a raw nor cooked diet is inherently “better” than the other. We work with many dogs that thrive on raw food diets, and others that do not do well on raw foods but thrive on freshly prepared cooked foods. As we keep coming back to, every dog is an individual, and we believe that individual needs should outweigh a devotion to any one way of feeding. od diet is far superior to the highly processed, species-inappropriate
What About Food Recalls
Many of us prefer to believe that the foods we and our pets eat are healthy and safe, even if we and they overeat fatty foods or those with a high glycemic index (high sugars and starches). However, both the human and pet food industries have more recently been inundated with food recalls for contamination with microbes including bacteria, viruses and parasites. Every food type has been implicated, even candies.
Bacterial, Viral & Parasite Contamination
Food recalls in human and pet foods have primarily concerned contamination with Salmonella (many sources from animals, fish and plants), Listeria (mostly from bovine species), and Campylobacter bacteria, Hepatitis A virus in undercooked shellfish, and parasites like tapeworms.
The most recent pet food recall in the United states was for a cat food that was contaminated with both Salmonella and Listeria spp. and caused acute illness in 2 kittens and one died. It should be noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) quoted a study from 2004 and stated, “Although L. monocytogenes can infect many animal species, dogs and cats rarely get listeriosis and they usually don’t show signs of disease. One reference mentions only six reported cases in dogs from 1947 to 2000, and the dogs showed a wide range of signs.”
Campylobacter spp. are now considered to be major triggering agents of an acute immune-mediated peripheral nerve disorder in dogs that shares many similarities with Guillain-Barre syndrome in humans. However, there is little information about its relationship to Campylobacter spp. in dogs. Potential risk factors were investigated, particularly consumption of raw chicken in 27 client-owned dogs suspected of suﬀering from it and 47 healthy dogs, client- or staff member owned. Where fecal samples were collected within 7 days from onset of clinical signs, the clinical cases were 9.4 times more likely to be positive for Campylobacter spp. compared to control dogs. Further, a signiﬁcant association was detected between aﬀected dogs and the consumption of raw chicken (96% of cases; 26% of control dogs). Dr. Frieda Jorgensen, Public Health England, states 90% of Campylobacter cells are killed slowly by freezing, making it much less likely that the bacteria will be passed to humans. The temperature range for growth is 30- 45°C, with an optimum of 42°C. Survival at room temperature is poor, but Campylobacter can survive for a short time at refrigeration temperatures – up to 15 times longer at 2°C than at 20°C.
Escherichia coli is a common fecal contaminant that can be found in many consumed human and animal foods.
Dodds WJ, Diagnosis of canine food sensitivity and intolerance using saliva: report of outcomes. J Am Hol Vet Med Assoc 2017/2018; 49:32-43.
Dodds, WJ, Laverdure, DR. Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health. 2015. DogWise Publishing, Wenatchee, WA, .323 pages.
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
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.
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.
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.
Recently, a veterinarian from a large clinic contacted me as he suspected Parvo disease in "Tommy”, a five month old mixed breed dog.
Tommy was adopted a few months ago from a shelter and since then he has begun receiving all three-core vaccines - Canine Parvo Virus (CPV), Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) and Canine Adeno Virus (CAV), according to the recommended protocol (which is from the age of 8 weeks, at 3 week intervals).
About a week after receiving his last vaccine injection, Tommy began to show suspicious signs of Parvo - loss of appetite, lethargy and watery diarrhea. A blood count test showed no Parvo signs. Tommy was hospitalized because of his poor condition, and still the suspicion for Parvo.
We ran Tommy’s blood sample using VacciCheck in order to get the full picture of his immune status and response to the vaccines. We realized Tommy's immune system responded well to the distemper vaccine and to the Adenovirus vaccine components. However, and amazingly so, no response to the Parvo virus component was seen.
A possible reason for not responding to the vaccine, may be genetically based; Non-Responders who cannot respond specifically to one of the vaccine components (1: 1000 for Parvo, 1: 5000 for Distemper, and 1: 100,000 for Adenovirus). Potential additional reasons may be the presence of maternal antibodies that interfere with the vaccine (which is not common at the age of 5 months), or any other cause like improper vaccine manufacturing or storage which can lead to a non-response to the vaccine.
Two days after being hospitalized, Tommy’s blood count tests showed clear signs of Parvo (↓↓↓Whole Blood Count).
We are glad to note that Tommy recovered. Sufficient Parvo antibodies were found by using VacciCheck, showing the unlikelihood that Tommy is a genetic Non-Responder.
Parvo is a very contagious disease, with high morbidity and mortality rates. The disease breaks out very quickly by attacking dividing cells, such as the cells of the intestine, causing severe diarrhea and bone marrow cells, which aggravate the condition due to secondary infections.
Untreated dogs could die within 2 days after signs of illness appear. The survival percentage in treated dogs is 68% - 92%.
My take home message: in order to be sure that your beloved puppies are protected from this severe disease, it is possible to verify protection by a simple examination, and so avoiding unnecessary suffering and long and expensive hospitalization.
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.