Here are two common questions about vaccinating at intake answered by ASPCA Shelter Medicine Services veterinarians.
Q: I work for a small, municipal shelter. We have a very limited budget and it falls to me to make the decisions that are in the best interest of our population.
I’ve always recommended we reserve vaccines for the animals that we know will make it into homes. Recently, I saw on ASPCApro.org that it is considered a standard of care to vaccinate every animal as they come into the building.
This would be very expensive for us. Beyond that, isn’t it wrong to vaccinate stray animals that are not yet legally in the shelter’s possession?
A: In general, vaccines cost around $5 to $10 per animal. In most shelters, this is less than the cost of one day of care for a healthy animal, and certainly less than care for seriously ill animals.
While at first blush it may seem like a shelter is saving money by waiting to vaccinate only adoptable animals, in reality this practice sets a program up for major outbreaks of disease. Outbreaks are typically far more costly in terms of lives lost, PR issues, and actual operating expense than vaccinating all animals on intake.
Beyond the financial consideration, it is considered a standard of care by veterinary experts to vaccinate all animals on intake with few exceptions. This practice is widely accepted and acknowledged as a viable means to provide lifesaving protection to animals entering shelters.
So rather than wait due to concern about ownership issues, it is likely much safer for the animals and the shelter’s reputation to provide vaccination in a good-faith effort of protecting the animals entering care. If there are additional concerns, it is always worth doublechecking with the state board and your organization’s legal counsel.
Q: One of our sales reps said they have some short-dated feline vaccines they’d like to donate to our shelter. He said they are same ones we normally use—the FVRCP for cats—but are the inactivated (killed) kind instead of the MLV ones.
We haven’t used this type of vaccine before, but they have enough for us to vaccinate all the cats who come to us for more than two months without going past the expiration date, so this would be a huge help for us. Since they’re basically the same vaccines does it matter that this is an inactivated version?
A: Administering core vaccinations to all animals at intake—as described by this shelter—is a critical practice in minimizing infectious disease and preventing widespread outbreaks. Vaccines are the best defense we have against some of the most serious, and sometimes deadly, contagious diseases that are of concern to animal shelters.
For cats, this means administration of the FVRCP vaccination, which provides protection against panleukopenia and the two upper respiratory viruses, herpes and calici, at the time of intake.
For dogs, this means giving both the DA2PP vaccination, which provides protection against distemper and parvo as well as adenovirus and parainfluenza, as well as an intranasal vaccination containing Bordetella and parainfluenza with or without adenovirus at intake.
The use of modified live rather than killed, or inactivated, products is strongly recommended in the shelter setting for a number of reasons. Probably the most critical reason has to do with timing. Most animals will respond to a single MLV vaccine very quickly: in as little as 24 hours for canine distemper virus or 72 hours for canine parvovirus or panleukopenia.
When killed products are used, there is a significant delay in the onset of protective immunity. Animals will need a minimum of two vaccines spaced two weeks apart to develop protective immunity, and we can’t reliably expect protection until about a week after the second vaccination, which means at least three weeks from the time of intake.
This extended delay is a serious drawback of these vaccinations because exposure can happen very early during the course of a shelter stay. When MLV vaccines are given at intake the rapid immune response can often win the “race” between immunity and disease exposure. But when killed products are used there is such a prolonged delay the race is usually over before it gets started.
In addition, MLV vaccines are better able to override maternal antibody interference in young puppies and kittens. This type of vaccination also provides a more complete form of immunity by stimulating the two arms of the immune system known as the cell-mediated and antibody portions.