Avoid unnecessary vaccines with a dog titer test. If only someone had given me that advice with my first Cocker Spaniel, she might have avoided a cancerous tumor at the site of injection. I am not opposed to vaccines. I am entirely against over-vaccination in our pets.
There’s an easy way to protect your pet against life-threatening diseases without risking overvaccination–the dog titer test. Titer tests measure the level of antibodies, or immune system proteins, in your dog’s bloodstream.
Overvaccinating your dog can lead to adverse side effects, compromising your dog’s immune system, and even an adverse reaction at the site of injection. Some side effects are immediate; others manifest in slow-building, scary ways.
What’s a pet parent to do? Should you take your veterinarian’s strict guidance and advice and vaccine every time your pet is due? Should you perform a titer blood test?
Many veterinarians have begun to alter their vaccination habits in recent years, but others continue with annual shots whether your dog needs them or not. Here’s everything you need to know to keep your pooch safe and decide if the dog titer test is right for you.
What Is A Dog Titer Test?
Several veterinary healthcare organizations came together in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Feline Practitioners, and the American Animal Hospital Association shared guidelines about core vaccines in pets.
AAFP and AAHA recommended vaccinating your pet every three years. The concerns, in AVMA’s own words, were “the potential adverse effects of vaccines.”
Enter the dog titer test. One of the world’s leading experts in pet healthcare, Dr. Jean Dodds, describes a titer test as a “simple blood test that measure’s a dog’s or cat’s antibodies to vaccine viruses or other infections agents.”
For example, it’s time for your dog’s vaccines. Maybe you received a phone call, an email, or a card in the mail reminding you to make the appointment. You show up for the appointment, and instead of allowing the veterinarian to vaccinate your dog, you request a titer blood draw or titer test.
What Does A Canine Titer Test Show?
The blood draw is sent out, and serum antibody titers are measured instead of automatically giving your dog vaccines every year to three years. Basically, the test checks your dog’s level of protection in his bloodstream at that moment.
If the titers come back showing sufficient immune memory, your dog does not need the vaccines (i.e. distemper, parvovirus, and other core vaccines).
Dr. Dodds recommends skipping booster shots if your dog shows adequate immune memory in his titer test. She advises having your dog re-titered in another three years.
Through booster vaccines, Dodds is not alone in her steadfast usage of titer testing to avoid unnecessary antigens, adjuvants, and preservatives in your dog’s body.
“You should avoid vaccinating animals that are already protected, and titer testing can determine if adequate, effective immunity is present,” according to Ronald Schultz, DVM of the University of Wisconsin.” It is often said that the antibody level detected is ‘only a snapshot in time.’ That’s simply not true; it is more a ‘motion picture that plays for years.’”
What Do Holistic Veterinarians Say About Canine Titers?
Dog titers is a topic near and dear to my heart. When a tiny raised lump appeared on my Cocker Spaniel’s right shoulder blade about two weeks after getting her yearly vaccine, it turned out to be cancer. More about that shortly.
In addition to Dr. Jean Dodds, here’s what some of today’s best holistic veterinarians have to say about titers in dogs:
“Don’t over-vaccinate. Core vaccines (distemper, parvo, rabies) do NOT need to be given every year. These vaccines are recommended no more often than every three years by the AVMA and AAHA, two groups that are very traditional. If they can admit vaccines are not needed every year, it’s time for ALL veterinarians to follow the guidelines. Don’t be bullied into annual vaccines. Get titers (blood tests) to see if your pet even needs a vaccine once they have passed the 3-year mark since their last vaccine.”
Dr. Morgan also hosted a video presentation discussing titers and one woman’s challenges to keep her senior dog healthy without feeling pressure from traditional vets who wanted to vaccinate without titers.
“Many pet parents don’t realize that vaccinations don’t always result in immunization (protection) — titer tests determine if an animal is protected or not.
Quantitative titer tests are sent out to a laboratory, and results are returned in a few days. The results are reported as a titer, for example, 1:1600, but the number isn’t important as long as it’s positive. An animal is either immune or not.”
“Many veterinary laboratories offer titers. Costs vary greatly. My preference is a numerical value for the titer rather than a protected/not protected result. Kansas State Diagnostic Lab has joined forces with the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association to provide DAP and rabies titers at an affordable rate. I prefer this program over any other test.”
The overall consensus is decisions regarding vaccinating a dog should be made on a case-by-case basis. Each dog’s needs and environment are different. If your dog has a chronic medical condition or disease, you may be able to get a vaccination waiver, as I did.
Can I Have a Rabies Titer Test For Dogs?
In some cases, you may be able to obtain a written exemption waiver from your dog’s rabies booster. Dr. Jean Dodds indicates the letter should justify the medical reason for the exemption.
When my dog, Dexter, was affected by an immune system disorder that nearly took his life, his internal medicine veterinarian told us not to get any future vaccines, including rabies.
I discovered rabies vaccines are good for one year, not three. Each state is different, and you should know what your state’s requirements are. Here is a chart of rabies vaccination laws by state from Animal Law.
I live in Pennsylvania, and a rabies waiver is allowed by law with a veterinarian’s authorization. However, my dog’s vet suggested we run a rabies titer each year just to check his rabies protection. Amazingly, years and years after my dog had his last rabies shot, his rabies protection was more than sufficient.
My point? My dog would have been over-vaccinated. Rabies vaccines can and do cause harmful side effects. Fellow pet blogger Roxanne Hawn detailed her dog’s journey to a rabies booster shot. Sadly, Lilly died from the rabies vaccination after a 23-month fight to survive.
Rabies vaccines are most definitely needed. I support rabies vaccines. I do not support over-vaccination.
Dr. Dodds published a paper in the Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research regarding the duration of immunity after rabies vaccinations in dogs.
How Long Is A Titer Test Good For?
This is another hot topic in veterinary medicine. Depending on who you talk to, veterinarians may recommend yearly titer testing, more infrequent testing, or one-time-only titer testing.
The response varies by the type of vet (holistic vs. traditional) and their personal experience, beliefs, and education on titers.
My dog’s veterinarian recommends yearly titers. Your veterinarian may even oppose titers. I would advise you to seek a second opinion or work with a veterinarian who is open to titers.
What About Puppy Vaccines and Titering?
Personally, I follow Dr. Dodds’ vaccination schedule. I am pro-vaccination. I am anti-over-vaccination. I want my puppies/dogs to have adequate protection against deadly diseases and viruses. I don’t want my dogs to become critically ill or die from over-vaccination.
Dr. Dodds suggests performing antibody titers for distemper and parvovirus every three years or more often if desired.
Vaccinate for rabies virus according to the law, except where circumstances indicate that a written waiver needs to be obtained from the primary care veterinarian. In that case, a rabies antibody titer can also be performed to accompany the waiver request.
Cocker Spaniel Immune System and Vaccines
When my Cocker Spaniel, Dexter, was diagnosed with IMT, he no longer received vaccinations, as per his Internal Medicine veterinarian, who saved his life. I did continue to run titers, and he always had ample protection.
The last thing I want to do is provoke an immune system with an onslaught of invaders that can send my Cocker Spaniel into a downward spiral.
My current Cocker Spaniel, Alvin, is from a breeder of merit. In the take-home folder, she indicates, “Following the Dr. Dodds protocol is mandatory. This means that after your puppy’s initial DHPP shots, the last and FINAL shot will be when the puppy turns a year old. That’s it.”
She indicates there is no need for additional shots. She also indicates not to get the vaccine for leptospirosis, as this has been found to adversely affect Cocker Spaniels in particular.
Of note: If you live in an area where a particular disease or virus is high, you should assess your dog’s risk v. the benefit of getting that specific vaccine. For example, if you live in an area with a high contingency of leptospirosis, discuss this with your veterinarian.
Of note, our breeder and many other experts advise never to give the rabies vaccination in conjunction with their DHPP shot(s) or any other medication. She allows the first rabies shot at seven months old.
What Do Titers Numbers Mean?
Titer testing measures the exposure to the agent in the dog’s body. So basically, if your dog tests positive on a titer for parvovirus, you don’t need to vaccinate with a booster. If the titer comes back 1:8 or 1:64, it doesn’t matter. As Dr. Dodds says, “you can’t be a little pregnant!”
Similarly, immunity is immunity, no matter what the ratio shows. Any ratio that shows immunity means the animal is protected.
According to Dr. Morgan, there is an explanation given at the bottom of the titer results. The level of immune system proteins in the blood is called antibodies.
Dr. Richard Ford, emeritus professor of internal medicine at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, encourages pet parents to use the acronym PIE to interpret your dog’s titer test.
PIE stands for protection, infection, and exposure. For example, if your dog has a positive titer test for leptospirosis, this means infection. But, if your dog has a positive titer result for ehrlichiosis, that implies exposure.
Vaccines for lepto, kennel cough (bordetella), or Lyme or short term, so titers are generally not performed for these diseases.
10 Facts About Canine Vaccines
Vaccines serve a very important function in preventing disease and virus spread. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. I am not anti-vaccine. I am anti-over-vaccine. Here are some facts about canine vaccines:
- Vaccines are not a one-size-fits-all for every dog.
- Vaccines have reduced the spread of canine distemper, hepatitis, and parvovirus but not in wildlife reservoirs.
- Many holistic veterinarians and other experts like Dr. Dodds believe titers produce memory cells that will deliver antibodies should your dog be exposed to a disease.
- Holistic veterinarian Dr. Laurie Coger updates her yearly vaccination protocol with recommendations and facts.
- The same dose of vaccination that is given to a giant breed is the same one given to a toy breed.
- According to Dr. Dodds, lighter-colored dogs are more prone to chemical reactions beyond vaccine side effects, including flea meds, sulfonamides, etc. Use caution if your dog is white and/or is lightly pigmented, as my dog is.
- A dog’s titer test can show that the dog is effectively protected against a disease, such as parvo, and perhaps the dog hasn’t had a parvo vaccine since puppyhood. The reason for this is that the dog has been exposed to parvo in the real world – and that exposure created a natural immunity. “It doesn’t matter how it got there, as long as it’s (the immunity) there,” Dr. Dodds shared.
- Monitor the site of vaccine injections closely for days/weeks afterward. My first Cocker Spaniel developed a cancerous tumor at the site of her then yearly injections.
- Bordatella is a noncore vaccine given to prevent kennel cough. They are not always effective, yet many kennels and groomers require them. My Cocker Spaniel, Dexter, developed kennel cough several times despite being vaccinated. Ask your kennel or groomer if they will accept titer results.
- The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) provides pet parents access to core and non-core vaccines.
FAQs About Titer Tests For Dogs
It varies by area, clinic, and whether it is performed in-house or sent to an outside lab for processing. I’ve paid $300 for titer testing and rabies; it can be slightly more.
Your veterinarian can perform a titer test on your dog with a simple blood draw in the office. However, it’s best if you send the titer out to the University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Veterinary Medicine for testing.
Rabies blood draw for titers should be sent to Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.
Depending on who processes the blood sample, it may take anywhere from two to four weeks. If performed in-house, it can take less time. I’ve always had my dog’s titer test sent out.
It depends. Some vets prefer to keep it in-house, and others send them to an outside lab. Every titer test my dogs have had were sent to an outside lab. It may be more expensive to send it to an outside lab, but it is worth it.