More Veterinarians Are Focusing Less on Vaccines

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Published: August 31, 2015

Many veterinarians are starting to deemphasize vaccination and focus more on what’s really important: assuring that their patients are protected against vaccine-preventable diseases.

Confused as to the difference? It’s quite simple. Once dogs or cats have been vaccinated and received some boosters (the exact number depends on when the vaccines are given), they often don’t need more boosters in the future. Instead, a veterinarian can check their vaccine titers (a simple blood test) and only revaccinated when the pet’s immunity wanes.

Kansas State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (KSVDL) has just made this process very simple for veterinarians and owners. In a recent press release they announced that scientists at the KSVDL “have modified a test that measures an animal's immune response to the rabies virus….”

The scientists say testing an animal for titers, or antibodies capable of neutralizing rabies, is a valid indication of the animal's resistance to the rabies virus. When the titer test measures 0.5 international units per milliliter or higher, the pet would be considered protected and may only need a booster if bitten or otherwise exposed to the rabies virus, depending on local rabies regulations.

With the addition of this new, modified test, the KSVDL now offers vaccine testing for all the core canine and feline vaccines. Core vaccines are those that virtually every pet should receive. For dogs, the core vaccines are rabies, adenovirus, distemper, and parvovirus, and for cats they are rabies, panleukopenia, herpes virus, and calicivirus.

Don’t get me wrong. Dogs and cats still MUST receive their core vaccines. Puppies and kittens should receive a series of vaccinations (usually given every 3-4 weeks) starting when they are around 8 weeks of age and ending when they are between 16 and 20 weeks of age. The final set of boosters need to be given approximately one year after the last puppy/kitten visit. An unvaccinated adult dog will need two sets of vaccines approximately 3-4 weeks apart. It is only after these initial vaccines are given that vaccine titers become an appropriate option.

If you want your dog or cat’s core vaccine titers checked, your veterinarian will need to draw two, 1 ml samples of blood and send them off to the KSDVL. All of the results are typically available in about a week. The KSDVL will charge your veterinarian $50. I expect that most veterinarians will charge owners in the neighborhood of $100 to cover their own expenses (supplies, shipping, time, etc.) as well as a small margin for profit.

The expense associated with vaccine titers is more or less in line with what booster vaccines might cost. The only difference is that titers will need to be run every year after an initial three year hiatus following the pet’s last booster vaccines. If the titer to one or more of the core vaccines comes back low, a booster will also need to be given and paid for. Therefore, the overall cost of checking titers will be higher than routinely boosting core vaccines every three years, as most veterinarian’s currently recommend.

One final potential hiccup that I hope will soon be remedied: if your dog or cat bites someone, a current protective rabies vaccine titer may not hold as much sway with public health officials as would a current rabies vaccine. Talk to your local veterinarian to determine whether vaccine titers are appropriate for your pet.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Bruce Weber / Shutterstock