At Hillcrest Animal Hospital we insist on practicing the highest quality medicine available to the very best of our ability every single day and with every single one of our patients. This is why we will be changing the “routine” vaccination of our canine patients, and hopefully doing the same with our feline patients, before this year is out.
The change is the result of new technology that is just now coming to Canada, imported by a company called Aventix. This technology will give us the ability to check the response level of our canine patients to the “core” vaccines that we currently give our patients once every 3 years. The “core” vaccines are against a group of viral diseases that cause serious, and generally fatal infections in dogs. These are Canine Distemper Virus (CDV), Canine Parvovirus (CPV) and Canine Adenovirus (CAV).
It has been known for quite some time now that vaccination against these “core” diseases may protect dogs for years, and perhaps even a lifetime for some of them. As a result recommendations for using these vaccinations have changed from yearly, to giving them “no more often” than once every 3 years (WSAVA Guidelines and AAHA Guidelines).
Like every other progressive hospital we have been using this protocol at Hillcrest for a number of years now. Vaccinating once every three years for these diseases was the most certain way of being sure that we were fully protecting as many of our patients as possible. It is also important to note that certain breeds of dogs are known to respond very poorly to vaccination against these diseases (Rottweilers being the most famous of them). Some dogs of these breeds may actually need the “core” vaccines yearly!
The reason that the three year protocol has been adopted is because up until very recently (in this country and in the U.S.) there has been no cost-effective way to measure immunity in vaccinated dogs. The only available method was to send blood samples to an outside lab to have a “titre” measured for the antibodies concerned. This is very expensive, generally costing between $200 and $300. Because of the lack of a reasonably priced test, practitioners have erred on the side of caution and vaccinated once every three years to be sure that they were protecting their patients from exposure to these diseases. This has now changed with the introduction of in-clinic tests for measuring antibody titres against these diseases. We now have a cost-effective way to measure antibody levels present against these diseases in our canine patients!
Antibodies are small proteins manufactured by an animal’s immune system to provide protection against some types of viruses. When an animal is vaccinated against a disease it stimulates the immune system to create antibodies against that particular virus or bacteria. A “titre test” is a method of measuring the level of antibodies in an animal’s system against specific diseases. With some viruses this is a very effective way to measure the protection an animal has against that disease. With other viruses, like the rabies virus and the upper respiratory viruses in cats, titre levels are less reliable indicators of immunity. With these “core” viruses in dogs however high titre levels against CDV, CPV and CAV indicate that the patient is well-protected against disease.
Therefore at Hillcrest Animal Hospital we will now have titre-testing available for our canine patients, to assess their level of immunity before we give them their “core vaccinations”. This will allow us to eliminate the concern of “over-vaccination”and allow us to continue to provide the very best care we can to our patients. Using these tests properly will also allow us to determine if a puppy has responded well to their puppy vaccination series, and allow us to identify the dogs (like the Rotties) that require vaccination more frequently to be protected.
Sometime within the next year a similar test will be available for our cat patients for feline distemper (Panleukopenia). This test is currently undergoing testing by government agencies in both the U.S. And Canada. Regrettably because of the nature of the rabies virus and its ties to human health concerns the same sort of technology is not available for it and we will continue to vaccinate for it as we have in the past (once every three years in adult dogs and yearly in adult cats). On a yearly basis, at their annual health examination, our canine patients will continue to receive vaccinations against leptospirosis and kennel cough (Bordetella) as these are required once every 12 to 16 months to be effective.
Titre tests will not be performed on an annual basis. Rather they will be run at certain key times during our patients’ lives; at their neuter/spay surgery to check the response they had to their puppy vaccines, at their first annual examination at 16 months and then every 2 to 4 years after that depending on the results of the test at 16 months. For those clients who do not wish to incur the small added cost of these tests, we will continue to regularly vaccinate for the core diseases once every 3 years.
These tests are also extremely valuable to check whether a “stray” or adopted dog has previously had vaccinations and help us to determine whether we need to vaccinate them or not. They can also be extremely helpful when shelters and other facilities that house a lot of animals have an “outbreak” of these horrible diseases, allowing us to identify which animals are at risk and which are at lower risk. This saves lives.
Dr. Mike Steen
Hillcrest Animal Hospital