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Kansas State University veterinarians offer advice on booster vaccinations for pets

Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019


Kansas State University veterinarians say a pet's health and lifestyle should be considered when it's time for booster vaccinations. But the veterinarians also say the rate of serious reactions to vaccines is low, and the risk of not having immunity to common infectious organisms far outweighs the risk of the pet developing serious illness as a result of vaccination.


MANHATTAN — When it comes to booster vaccinations for dogs and cats, Kansas State University veterinarians say most are safe and necessary for the majority of pets but that several factors, including the pet's health and lifestyle, should be considered.

"Vaccines were developed to help prevent infectious disease, and they do," said Susan Nelson, clinical professor at the university's Veterinary Health Center. "Some vaccines, known as core vaccines, are essential and every dog or cat should receive them because of widespread prevalence and severity of the diseases that they prevent."

Rabies is a core vaccine that is required for dogs and often cats in most states and/or municipalities as part of rabies control and prevention policies, Nelson said. The DA2P vaccine, which is for canine distemper, adenovirus and parvovirus, is also a core vaccine for dogs. For cats, the core vaccine is FVRCP, which is for feline rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia.

Along with these core vaccines, Nelson said veterinarians administer noncore vaccines, or lifestyle vaccines, based on risk determined by geographic location and activities. Common lifestyle vaccines for dogs include leptospirosis, Lyme, Bordetella, parainfluenza and canine influenza. FeLV, Chlamydophila — or Chlamydia — and Bordetella are often administered to cats that have a greater risk of exposure to the diseases.

Today's vaccines are much safer and effective for pets, Nelson said.

"Vaccine technology has advanced tremendously since the inception of vaccinology, and many vaccines are no longer made with ingredients such as aluminum, mercury, formaldehyde and foreign proteins that often have been the source of adverse vaccine reactions in some dogs and cats," Nelson said. "The rate of serious reactions to vaccines is low, and the risk of not having immunity to common infectious organisms far outweighs the risk of developing serious illness as a result of vaccination."

But Nelson said there are some disease conditions or situations where vaccines may not be in the best interest of a dog or cat.

"For example, owners of animals that have experienced severe, adverse reactions to vaccines, have impaired immunity, or are undergoing some cancer treatments should discuss vaccination with their veterinarian," she said.

In these cases, the veterinarian and pet owner should reassess the pet's lifestyle to determine essential vaccines. Options can include allowing longer intervals between core vaccine doses after completing an initial series and then a booster one year later; administering a different brand of vaccine for the next scheduled booster; not giving all the vaccines at the same visit; and the use of premedications before giving a vaccine for which the pet previously has had a bad reaction.

Another option can be checking the vaccine's titer for some diseases to see if a booster is necessary. A titer test measures the amount of the vaccine's antibodies in the pet's blood.

Vaccine titers have been gaining more acceptance over the past few years to reduce the frequency of vaccination, said Susan Moore, clinical assistant professor and director of the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory's Rabies Laboratory in the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Annual titer tests for the core vaccines are proving useful in determining the need for continued boosters, Moore said.

"Such testing shows that many cats and dogs have titers to these diseases lasting many years," Moore said. "In fact, several years ago the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association recommended increasing the vaccine interval for DA2P and FVRCP from one year to three years based on titer testing results."

Titer tests also can help detect if a booster is needed before the recommended time frame, which is usually every three years.

Titer testing for rabies, however, faces several challenges, Moore said.

"Currently, there is no agreed standard titer value that is considered protective," Moore said. "And while state and local laws require rabies vaccinations, they do not yet include the use of titers in place of vaccination."

Moore said that some states are starting to consider laws in support of the use of titers in those animals that have experienced severe adverse reactions to vaccines or have other health issues that would preclude vaccination. But these states still require the vaccine in normal circumstances, she said.

Nelson and Moore both recommend pet owners talk to their veterinarians about their vaccination concerns and if some lifestyle vaccinations are truly needed. While titer testing is not yet an option for the lifestyle vaccines, pet owners should check with their veterinarians about annual titer testing for DA2P and FVCRP.