What are titer tests? Are they appropriate for your pet? Vaccines, whether for people or our pets, have always been a hot-button issue. I have spent a fair amount of time researching to decide what vaccinations I feel are necessary for my two dogs. Of course no one wants their pet to contract potentially deadly diseases, especially if there is a way to protect against them! But vaccinations, unfortunately, do come with some risks too. I’ve always been on the side of appropriately, but not over, vaccinating my dogs for diseases that are potentially deadly and/or common due to where we live and our lifestyle.
It was common for many years for veterinarians to recommend vaccinating pets yearly. But studies are now starting to show that many common vaccinations actually provide pets with disease protection for much longer. This leaves many pet owners wondering if vaccinating so frequently is necessary. For pet owners who want to do what they can to ensure their pets are protected against disease, but who also don’t want to needlessly over-vaccinate, having your vet perform yearly titer tests is an alternate option.
To put it simply, a titer (pronounced tight-er) test is a blood test. Your pet’s veterinarian will draw blood from your pet to determine if your pet currently has antibodies against certain diseases. Vets commonly report results from titer tests in terms such as strong and weak. A strong titer result means that your pet has high numbers of antibodies against the disease in question. A weak titer result means that, while your pet does have antibodies present, they are not present in high numbers.
Your veterinarian should be able to explain your pet’s results and recommend a course of action. A weak titer result doesn’t necessarily mean that your pet needs to be re-vaccinated. However, if titer testing shows that your pet does not have antibodies present at all, depending on your situation it is probably a good idea to re-vaccinate your pet.
It’s important to note that, although you can run titer tests for rabies, US laws still require that your pet be vaccinated against rabies. Some vets, groomers, dog sitters, etc. will accept titer results in lieu of regular vaccinations, however not all do.
Veterinarians commonly run titers to check for immunity against the core diseases – parvo, adenovirus, and distemper. When non-core diseases come into question (ex. kennel cough, Lyme, Leptospirosis, etc.) it’s usually recommended that, rather than run titers, the dogs lifestyle, health, and vaccine tolerance be taken into account. This is because, for the core vaccinations, the titer numbers required to protect your pet from infection have been established. This means that your vet can tell, by looking at your pet’s titer results, whether or not he or she is still fully protected against these core diseases. This is not yet true for other vaccines.
AHAA stands for The American Animal Hospital Association. Vet clinics that are AHAA accredited will follow AHAA care standards. The current AHAA vaccination standards for dogs recommends boosters every 3 years for the core vaccines (distemper, adenovirus, distemper). Rabies vaccinations should be administered as required by law. In many states this is also once every 3 years after the initial puppy vaccine. That’s a big improvement over the days of old, when all vaccines were recommended to be given yearly.
AHAA recommends that titers be used for dogs who have a history of vaccine reactions, vaccine related immune issues, or whose owners are opposed to frequent revaccination. Many vaccine directions warn against vaccinating dogs who are ill. Your vet may consider running titer tests if your dog is sick or elderly.
Thankfully neither of my dogs have ever experienced vaccine reactions. I take Kit and Fen to an AHAA accredited vet and have been vaccinating them according to the current AHAA standards. However, my Kitsune will be turning 14 later this month and has been experiencing a couple of health issue (unrelated to vaccines) over the past couple of months. He’s due to receive his core vaccine booster this summer. At that time I’ll be discussing whether we should opt to run titers rather than vaccinating him with our veterinarian.
Vaccinations save lives, but I don’t like the idea of over vaccinating my pets. I appreciate that titer testing is available for owners who want to stay on top of their pets’ immunity status without having to blindly vaccine frequently. While the 3 year boosters for core vaccines are certainly an improvement over getting them done yearly, there seems to be building evidence that even once every 3 years is overkill when it comes to the core vaccines.
What do you think? Comment below! Have you ever had your veterinarian run a titer test on your dog? Would you consider it in the future?