January 19, 2016
Categories: Shelter Medicine

Few areas of veterinary medicine have seen greater change than research and recommendations around immunity to disease and vaccination. New guidelines from the Vaccination Guidelines Group (VGG) of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) provide important context and recommendations for both veterinarians and animal shelters in how to put that new understanding to work for animals.

Many pet owners have become wary of giving their pets unnecessary vaccinations at the same time shelter medicine researchers are demonstrating the value of vaccination on intake to prevent disease in pets entering animal shelters. Bridging the gap between these two sometimes contradictory viewpoints is the use of titer tests, blood tests that check for immunity to various diseases.

For pets in homes, the worry is over-vaccination. Why expose pets to the risks of a vaccine — however small those risks might be — if the pet is already immune to the diseases the vaccine is intended to prevent?

In animal shelters, of greatest concern is keeping pets from contracting diseases while in the shelter, or introducing them to the existing shelter population on intake, or bringing infectious disease out into the community. Because animals come into shelters from all kinds of backgrounds, and testing has determined a substantial number of dogs and cats are not immune to common viruses, the practice of vaccination on or before intake is invaluable in preventing disease outbreaks.

For shelters, the guidelines state:

The VGG has considered the use of vaccines in the shelter environment, again recognizing the particular circumstances of such establishments and the financial constraints under which they sometimes operate. The VGG minimum shelter guidelines are simple: that all dogs and cats entering such an establishment should be vaccinated before, or at the time of entry, with core vaccines. Where finances permit, repeated core vaccines should be administered as per the schedules defined in the guidelines and non-core vaccines against respiratory disease may be included.

In regards to titers, the new guidelines indicate:

  • Antibody titer tests can be used to determine how long immunity lasts to the core canine vaccines such as distemper (CDV), adenovirus (CAV-1 and CAV-2), and parvo (CPV).
  • Even though some dogs who test negative on a titer test are in fact still immune, a negative result would indicate re-vaccination is advisable unless there’s a medical reason not to vaccinate the dog.
  • There is one scientifically validated feline titer test, which has “an excellent correlation” between a positive result for feline panleukopenia virus (FPV)  and immunity to the disease; a negative result indicates re-vaccination is advised.
  • That correlation is “less robust” for feline calicivirus (FCV) and feline herpes virus 1 (FHV-1) than for FPV, and “a negative test result for FCV or FHV-1 antibody would not necessarily indicate lack of protection in a particular cat.”
  • Titer tests for the bacterial disease canine leptospirosis, the canine parainfluenza virus (CPIV), and the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) are of limited or no value.

For shelters, the following guidelines were suggested for antibody titer testing as a tool in disease outbreak management and prevention:


The guidelines conclude:

The VGG recognizes that at present such serological testing might be relatively expensive. However, the principles of ‘evidence based veterinary medicine’ suggest that testing for antibody status (for either puppies or adult dogs) should be better practice than simply administering a vaccine booster on the basis that this would be ‘safe and cost less’.

The complete guidelines are available at Guidelines for the Vaccination of Dogs and Cats Compiled by the Vaccination Guidelines Group of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA).

Also of interest:
Using antibody titer tests to fight disease outbreaks

Saving lives with antibody titer tests

Titer testing can protect shelter puppies from parvovirus

Titer tests save lives, but are they feasible in animal shelters?

Redefining ‘vaccination on intake’

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