One of the challenges of being the doctor is deciding what protocols you are going to follow with your patients. You start with what you learned in veterinary school. In my case, vet school was over 15 years ago, and the 3-year protocol for distemper, parvovirus, and panleukopenia was not on the radar screen. As a new vet working in my first job, annual vaccination was still the norm, and as an employee, I was obligated to follow the protocols set by the clinic owners. The release of the American Animal Hospital Associations’s vaccine guidelines in 2003, the first time 3-year intervals were recommended, ruffled quite a few feathers in the veterinary community. Most vets were slow to adopt 3-year intervals due to concerns about 1) whether the vaccines in common use really protected pets that long, 2) whether there would be liability if vaccine labeled for annual use were given every three years instead, and 3) loss of income. In the past 10 years, ample scientific evidence has accumulated showing protection for dogs and cats for at least 5 years for canine distemper, parvovirus, adenovirus, and feline panleukopenia. As far as using a vaccine every 3-years when the label indicates annual administration: the label is considered to be the minimum duration of immunity. Current vaccination guidelines are based on additional scientific knowledge gained and analysis performed after the studies completed by the vaccine manufacturers. If anything is true about science and medicine, it is constantly changing as our understanding grows. Finally, the issue of lost income has continued to be something certain vets cling to, although they may not want to admit that is why they are still giving core vaccines every year. This is a shame, and I am disappointed in my colleagues if this is the reason they continue with this practice.
The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) has also published vaccination guidelines, which are very similar to those put forth by AAHA and AAFP. The WSAVA includes a statement in their document, which I have adopted as my mantra for vaccination:
We should aim to vaccinate every animal with core vaccines, and to vaccinate each individual less frequently by only giving non-core vaccines that are necessary for that animal.
Without further ado, here are my recommendations. They are based on both the guidelines I have blogged about, and also on protocols certain vets (such as Dr. Karen Becker and Dr. Ronald Shultz, check out their 4-part interview here).
- Puppies: give first distemper/adeno-/parvovirus vaccine at 6-8 weeks, repeat in 4 weeks. Give a final DAP vaccine at 14-16 weeks. Repeat DAP booster at one year of age. Run titer test at 4 years of age and every 3 years thereafter.
- Adult dogs: most will have a titer to DAP, either because they were vaccinated as puppies or exposed to the viruses naturally. If you are adopting an adult dog, most rescues or SPCA units will automatically give a DAP booster. After this booster, you can opt to run a titer test in 3 years rather than giving another DAP vaccine.
- Kittens: give first panleukopenia/herpes-/calicivirus vaccine at 8 weeks, repeat in 4 weeks. Give a booster at one year of age. Run a titer test for panleukopenia at 4 years of age and every 3 years thereafter.
- Adult cats: again, most will have a titer to the core viruses due to prior vaccination or exposure. Rescues and SPCA organizations will automatically booster. After this booster, you can opt to run a titer test in 3 years rather than re-vaccinating. If you find an adult cat and rescue him or her, you can choose to either run a titer or give the core vaccine.
- Rabies: both puppies and kittens are required by law to receive their first rabies vaccine between 12 and 16 weeks of age, followed by a booster within 13 months, and every 3 years thereafter. Hopefully, the Rabies Challenge Fund will give us data to allow revision of rabies laws for longer duration of immunity.
- Non-core vaccines: I don’t recommend any of them, unless your pet has specific risk factors. Examples are: hunting or hiking dogs (consider Lyme vaccine); cats that spend some or all of their time outside (FeLV vaccine); dogs that stay in a kennel (kennel cough vaccine, but mainly because the kennel will likely not allow you to board your dog without it).
I think these recommendations make good sense, do you? The tough part about adopting this strategy for your pet is that you, as the pet owner, will need to discuss your position and desires with your vet. My greatest hope is that your vet will be open to this discussion and be willing to work with you to the advantage of your dog or cat. If your efforts fall on deaf ears, it may be time to seek out a veterinarian who is willing to listen.
Congratulations, you did it! You stuck with me through a history lesson and scientific mumbo-jumbo, and the vaccine topics are on the books. During the rest of February, I’ll be writing about issues facing senior pets and strategies for helping your older friend to be comfortable and happy. I hope you will join me!