Feline Panleukopenia (FPL) is a serious disease of cats that can be prevented by vaccination. Kittens are routinely vaccinated repeatedly during their first months of life. By this time maternally derived antibodies (MDA) can interfere with vaccination and inhibit the development of active immunity. The efficacy of primary vaccination under field conditions was questioned by frequent reports to the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut on outbreaks of FPL in vaccinated breeding catteries. We therefore initiated a field study to investigate the development of immunity in kittens during primary vaccination against FPL.
64 kittens from 16 litters were vaccinated against FPL at the age of 8, 12 and 16weeks using three commercial polyvalent vaccines. Blood samples were taken before each vaccination and at the age of 20weeks. Sera were tested for antibodies against Feline Panleukopenia Virus (FPV) by hemagglutination inhibition test and serum neutralisation assay in two independent diagnostic laboratories.
There was a good correlation between the results obtained in different laboratories and with different methods. Despite triple vaccination 36.7% of the kittens did not seroconvert. Even very low titres of MDA apparently inhibited the development of active immunity. The majority of kittens displayed significant titres of MDA at 8 and 12weeks of age; in some animals MDA were still detected at 20weeks of age. Interestingly, the vaccines tested differed significantly in their ability to overcome low levels of maternal immunity.
In the given situation it is recommended to quantify antibodies against FPV in the serum of the queen or kittens before primary vaccination of kittens. The beginning of primary vaccination should be delayed until MDA titres have declined. Unprotected kittens that have been identified serologically should be revaccinated.