Once a pup’s residual maternal immunity has waned, he can still maintain measurable levels of immunity, despite being unvaccinated. What are the possible explanations?
Some pet caregivers are reluctant to vaccinate their young puppies for even the more serious communicable infectious diseases, like canine distemper virus (CDV) and canine parvovirus (CPV). Once the residual maternal immunity from the dam has waned, typically at or after 14 weeks of age, families caring for these unvaccinated pups have reported that they remain healthy. In some cases, serum antibody titers have been measured at 12 to 24 weeks of age, and most have some measurable levels of CDV and CPV immunity.
This gives rise to the following question: how do these unvaccinated animals have measurable immunity to these two viruses? Presumably, they have been exposed to low levels of shed vaccine virus from other vaccinates they encountered, and/or experienced natural viral exposure from low amounts in the surrounding area.
To look as this question, a review of our serum antibody testing for CDV and CPV at Hemopet/Hemolife over the prior 18 months revealed the following:
This data shows that six of 62 pups tested for CDV and CPV serum antibodies at four months of age had measurable titers — but only one had very good antibody levels by that age. These results suggest there was some exposure to the natural CDV and CPV viruses, as residual maternal immunity should have been undetectable or low by that time, although this possibility could not be completely ruled out.
Of the 4,181 dogs of all ages that were serum antibody titer-tested, only 0.14% had received no vaccines. Five of the six four-month-old puppies that had not been vaccinated had only adequate serum titers, and so subsequently received one dose of a bi-valent distemper /parvovirus vaccine. All five had developed very good serum antibody titers to both viruses when rechecked a month later.
Further study of unvaccinated puppies is needed, however, because even with the informed consent of their guardians, the risks of viral exposure and illness in unvaccinated puppies creates an ethical dilemma for clinical researchers.
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