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Polling Place: Vaccinations for Boarding: Recommendations & Timing

Alice M. Wolf, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM & ABVP

Preventive Medicine

|December 2004

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You have asked...

What do you recommend for cats and dogs in terms of vaccination prior to boarding? If new vaccinations are required, how should they be timed in relation to the start of boarding?

Our readers say...

Appropriate to Age & Health
It is my general policy to suggest that an animal be current on vaccinations that are appropriate for age and health status. The only vaccination that is required is current rabies unless there is some abiding reason that the animal not have one, such as its being extremely young or infirm. If it is known in advance that an animal will be boarded, I recommend that needed vaccinations be given at least 1 to 2 weeks beforehand. Most of the boarding in my clinic is for current clients, and vaccination status is not commonly a significant issue.
Bill Utroska, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Canine/Feline)
Southaven, Mississippi

Protocols & Risks
At our clinic, dogs that enter for boarding are required to be vaccinated against canine distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, Bordetella, and rabies. Cats are required to have FVRCP and rabies vaccinations. The Bordetella vaccination must be administered within the previous 12-month period, although frequent boarders are encouraged to boost this vaccination every 6 months.

We prefer that pets be vaccinated at least two weeks prior to the first day of boarding; however, there are times when a pet must board without following this protocol. In these cases we notify the owners of the risks and we find the pets space outside the general boarding areas.
Travis Aycock, DVM
Stockbridge, Georgia

Medical or Legal Necessity?
Vaccine protocols are a controversial subject, with no absolutely correct answer. Rather, an individual protocol based on the pet's need (as established by discussing the pet/owner lifestyle, risk factors, previous vaccination history, and age of the pet) is warranted for each patient. The difficulty comes when discussing boarding because the individual pet's health is not the only factor to consider; one must also consider liability. In the majority of cases, adult dogs and cats that have received a series of puppy/kitten vaccines and have been boosted at around one year of age have an immunologic response for well over one year. Therefore, most adults do not need yearly boosters. Unfortunately, we often do not have enough time in our busy days to counsel every client who is dropping off a pet for boarding about the specific protocol for that individual pet, and liability considerations prompt us to vaccinate pets more frequently than necessary: If one dog comes down with a disease and any pet in the kennel is not "current" on vaccination against it as arbitrarily established years ago with yearly or biannual intervals, the kennel is liable. Therefore, although we have a boarding facility, I often recommend at-home pet sitters!
David M. Bahou, DVM
Lake Forest, California

The expert says . . .
Vaccinations for Boarding Animals

Before a discussion of vaccination programs is initiated, it is important to consider where the animal will be boarded. Obviously, you want the best care for your patients. What type of boarding facilities do you recommend for your clients' pets? Do you board animals in your hospital? If so, what precautions are taken to separate and isolate healthy boarding pets from potentially infectious animals? Is your kennel staff well trained in cleaning procedures and careful to avoid cross-contamination between animal holding areas? If you recommend outside boarding facilities, have you actually visited the premises to assess safety, cleanliness, and the level of care the animals will receive? Have you spoken to the owner of the boarding facility to determine whether they have specific requirements for vaccination of boarding pets and how they decided on these requirements? Does the boarding facility work with another veterinarian routinely, or if your patient is boarded can you make arrangements for transfer to your hospital if illness occurs during boarding? Finally, for the health and safety of boarding pets, a record of owner contact telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and signed permission for emergency medical care should be obtained from the owner before the animal is admitted for boarding.

Comfort Level
For the purposes of this discussion, we will assume that the pet will be boarded in a safe facility that offers good care and husbandry to apparently healthy animals. The next step is to determine what your own comfort level is with extended vaccination interval programs for all patients in your practice. Following a successful pediatric vaccination program, the duration of immunity against the major viral pathogens of dogs and cats (canine and feline parvovirus, canine distemper, canine adenovirus, canine parainfluenza, feline herpesvirus 1, calicivirus) has now been shown to be from 3 to 7 years. The American Association of Feline Practitioners, the American Animal Hospital Association, the infectious disease study group of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, and veterinary colleges all support the validity of long duration of immunity after vaccination. On the basis of this information, many veterinarians are choosing to revaccinate their patients against these diseases only every 3 years after a booster at 1 year of age. If you are continuing to revaccinate your patients against all diseases yearly, then your program will more than meet the vaccination requirements of boarding facilities.

A conflict may arise because some boarding facilities may not be aware of newer information about duration of immunity and the recommendations from professional organizations regarding increased vaccination intervals. Some facilities may still require yearly vaccination or may require different vaccines from those used at your hospital. The boarding facility may administer a vaccine or vaccines that you do not believe are necessary or in the patient's best interest. This is the primary reason for proactive communication between veterinarians and boarding facilities. You should speak to the owner or manager of the facility to determine what they require before admitting a patient for boarding. Meeting with the management of the boarding facility may allow you to present the evidence supporting the safety and efficacy of your vaccination program and prevent inadvertent administration of unnecessary and expensive vaccines to your patients.

Against what diseases should boarding animals be vaccinated? How often should the vaccine be given?

Canine and feline parvovirus, canine distemper, canine adenovirus, canine parainfluenza, feline herpesvirus 1, calicivirus. Ideally, kittens and puppies should not be boarded before completion of the pediatric vaccination series. Immunity against these viral diseases has been shown to last as long as 7 years following appropriate pediatric immunization. However, revaccination at 1 year of age is recommended to assure solid protective immunity in as many animals as possible. Subsequent booster vaccinations are given at 3-year intervals.

Unfortunately, in spite of appropriate immunization against feline upper respiratory viruses (herpesvirus 1 and calicivirus), prevention of occasional outbreaks of upper respiratory disease in group-housed cats by vaccination alone is impossible. The upper respiratory vaccines for cats do not produce sterilizing immunity, so viruses can still invade and replicate inside the host. The best we can hope to achieve with vaccination is a reduction in the severity of clinical signs if a cat becomes infected with either virus. Some cats are chronic carriers of one or both of these viruses, and clinical signs may reactivate from the stress of boarding and/or shed infectious virus to other cats. Finally, there are over 40 strains of feline calicivirus and currently available feline vaccines do not cross-protect against all of them. Sporadic outbreaks of upper respiratory disease among boarded cats are inevitable. This is not because the vaccines are failing to do their job but because, as good as they are, they simply cannot prevent all signs of disease in all animals.

Bordetella bronchiseptica is a rare cause of upper respiratory illness in cats, and routine vaccination for boarding cats is not recommended. For dogs, contagious canine respiratory disease complex (CCRD) or kennel cough is a significant issue. Because the canine B. bronchiseptica vaccine is a bacterin that does not produce durable immunity, yearly vaccination is recommended for animals that are boarded. Several recent experimental studies have variously recommended intranasal, subcutaneous, or a combination vaccination program to provide optimal immunity against CCRD. The bottom line is that, similar to feline upper respiratory disease, several infectious agents are involved in this complex, and vaccination does not and cannot completely protect all dogs from clinical signs of tracheobronchitis. In addition, the disease-producing field strains of B. bronchiseptica have drifted antigenically away from the vaccine strain. This has resulted in apparent "vaccine failures" because of inability to cross-protect against all strains of the bacterium. Regardless of which Bordetella vaccine is used, it should be administered at least 7 to 10 days before boarding to provide the maximum protective benefit from an initial or anamnestic immune response. We and our clients are kidding ourselves if we believe that the common practice of vaccinating boarding pets "as they come in the door" is effective in preventing disease.

Rabies. After pediatric vaccination, both dogs and cats must be revaccinated at 1 year of age regardless of the licensed duration of immunity of the initial vaccine used. Revaccination thereafter is given in accordance with local or state law and according to the product license.

Vaccination against the following diseases either is not recommended or is of questionable value:
Feline leukemia virus. Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is most commonly spread vertically from a queen to her kittens in utero and via nursing. Saliva is the most important source of infectious virus for cats after weaning. Horizontal transmission occurs by intimate contact and mutual grooming between cats. Contrary to popular advertising myth, cats cannot contract FeLV by sneezing or spitting through a window screen or cage door. The virus is labile and survives only seconds outside of the host. Young kittens are the age group most susceptible to FeLV infection. Adult cats develop significant natural immunity against FeLV by the time they are 1 year of age and become naturally resistant to infection. Because prolonged direct contact between cats is required to transmit the virus and because this should not occur in a boarding facility, there is no rationale for requiring FeLV vaccination of cats for boarding purposes only.

Feline immunodeficiency virus. Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is transmitted primarily by bites from infected cats or in rare occasions may occur through prolonged intimate contact with infected cats. Again, because cats in boarding facilities should not be permitted to commingle, there is no rationale for requiring FIV vaccination for boarding cats.

Feline infectious peritonitis. It is now well established that the clinical disease we call feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) develops because of mutation of a coronavirus the cat is already carrying. The "FIP vaccine" does not prevent intestinal coronavirus colonization or replication. There is no rationale for requiring FIP vaccination for boarding cats.

Giardia. Giardiasis is a problem for dogs or cats in some parts of the country. Group-housed animals in kennels and catteries are more frequently affected. Giardia vaccine may reduce the shedding of infectious Giardia cysts but has not been shown to prevent infection or clinical signs of disease following infection completely. Ideally, a facility that boards healthy pets should not have a problem with giardiasis and should have excellent husbandry and sanitation. Therefore, the value of vaccination against Giardia is highly questionable.


Suggested Reading
2000 report of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and Academy of Feline Medicine Advisory Panel on Feline Vaccines. Richards J, Rodan I, Elston T, et al. J Feline Med Surg 3:45-72, 2001.
A placebo-controlled trial of two intranasal vaccines to prevent tracheobronchitis (kennel cough) in dogs entering a humane shelter. Edinboro CH, Ward MP, Glickman LT. Prev Vet Med 62:89-99, 2004.
Bordetella infections in dogs and cats: Prevention and treatment. Datz C. Compend Contin Educ Pract Vet 25:902-914, 2003.
Considerations in designing effective and safe vaccination programs for dogs. Schultz RD. In Carmichael LE (ed): Recent Advances in Canine Infectious Diseases-Ithaca, NY: International Veterinary Information Service, 2000, pp 1-13.
Duration of immunity in cats vaccinated with an inactivated feline panleukopenia, herpesvirus, and calicivirus vaccine. Scott FW, Geissinger C. Feline Pract 25:12-19, 1997.
Report of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Canine Vaccine Task Force: Executive summary and 2003 canine vaccine guidelines and recommendations. Paul MA, Appel M, Barrett R, et al. JAAHA 39: 119-131, 2003.
Use of serologic tests to predict resistance to feline herpesvirus 1, feline calicivirus, and feline parvovirus infection in cats. Lappin MR, Andrews J, Simpson D, et al. JAVMA 220: 38-42, 2002

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