Summer Killer Alert: Blue-Green Algae

By Dr. Karen Becker

There’s a warm weather menace lurking in the environment many dog parents have never even heard of, and while I hate to throw a monkey wrench into anyone’s summertime fun, I feel it’s my duty to raise awareness about the dangers of blue-green algae.

Every summer there are reports of pet deaths after exposure to these toxic algae. Between 2007 and 2011, 13 states (Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia, Wisconsin, California, Kansas, Montana and Texas) reported 67 suspected or confirmed cases of dogs being poisoned through exposure to harmful algae blooms.1 The dogs came in contact with the algae in a variety of ways:

  • 58 were in fresh water, one was in marine water and nine exposure sources were unknown
  • Nine dogs were made sick by inhaling the blooms, six ingested the blooms, 36 were exposed through the skin with accompanying ingestion and 16 had unknown contact
  • 29 dogs had gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting and diarrhea)
  • Other symptoms included lethargy (12 cases) and neurologic signs, including stumbling or change in behavior (six cases)

While the most common victims of blue-green algae are dogs, other animals are also at risk, including cats, birds, horses, livestock and wildlife that drink from contaminated bodies of water, or groom themselves after a swim. In humans, exposure to harmful algae can cause a skin rash, hives, runny nose, irritated eyes and throat irritation. If water containing the toxic blooms is swallowed it can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, throat irritation and muscle pain.

Blue-Green Algae Contain Deadly Bacteria

Blue-green algae contain deadly microorganisms called cyanobacteria, which are microscopic organisms found in freshwater lakes, streams, ponds (including backyard ponds) and brackish (salty) water ecosystems.

The algae give the water a blue-green or “pea soup” appearance. It looks almost as if someone spilled blue or green paint on the surface of the water. These floating blooms can form thick, dense mats that collect near the shore, which is where animals and people come in contact with them.

Blue-green algae are prevalent in the mid-to-late summer months and are most often found in nutrient-rich water. The algae tends to bloom in locations where there is heat and low water flow combined with high levels of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. This type of blue-green algae is different from the species that is considered a superfood. It can be very confusing to pet parents to hear about toxic algae blooms because many feed medicinal algae to their pets as a whole food supplement.

The algae grown in controlled environments for the nutraceutical, supplement and food industries are entirely different than the algae that naturally bloom in lakes and ponds. Spirulina and other types of health-giving algae are popular supplements and have been proven to be safe and very beneficial.

Blue-Green Algae Toxicity in Animals

Not all blue-green algae are toxic, but there’s no way to know whether a plant is poisonous without testing. According to the Food Poisoning Bulletin:

“There is no way to tell if a blue-green algal bloom is toxic by looking at it. The harmful blooms look like pea soup, green paint, or floating mats of scum. They sometimes have a bad smell. But these blooms aren’t always large and dense and can be present in a lake with little visible algae.

Before you, your children, or your pets go into the water, look at the lake closely to see if there is algae on the water or on the shore.”2

Experts advise that all blooms floating on natural bodies of water should be considered potentially toxic. Even minor exposure, such as a dog drinking a few mouthfuls of contaminated water, can be lethal. Symptoms of blue-green algae toxicity include:

Vomiting Coma
Diarrhea Shock
Blood in the stool or black tarry stool Excessive drooling or tearing
Pale mucous membranes Muscle tremors
Jaundice Muscle rigidity
Seizures Bluish discoloration of skin and mucous membranes
Disorientation Difficulty breathing

Symptoms depend on the toxin involved. Toxins that attack the liver cause elevated liver enzymes, low blood sugar, low protein and occasionally, abnormal clotting activity. These toxins can result in liver damage or failure and immediate aggressive treatment is necessary to save the animal.

Exposure to another type of toxin found in blue-green algae, anatoxins, results in nervous system symptoms and can bring death in minutes to hours due to respiratory paralysis.

Exposure to Blue-Green Algae Is a Medical Emergency

It’s important to understand that no antidote currently exists for the toxins produced by blue-green algae. If you suspect your pet has been exposed, rinse him with fresh water, administer high-potency homeopathic Nux Vomica if possible and seek immediate emergency veterinary care.

Your veterinarian or emergency animal hospital staff may induce vomiting if your dog isn’t yet showing signs of poisoning. Symptomatic patients may need to be hospitalized to receive life-saving treatments such as intravenous (IV) fluids, medications to control seizures or vomiting, oxygen therapy and blood transfusions.

Unfortunately, death may occur within hours of exposure, even with aggressive treatment, which is why preventing exposure is so important. If you see a body of water that is a greenish color, play it safe and steer clear.

July Sale: Primal Pet Foods

Primal Pet Foods specializes in superior nutrition for your pet with a variety of raw and freeze dried recipes. Pets experience better digestion and absorb nutrients more easily when fed a diet baed on natural eating habits in the wild: muscle meat, meaty bones, organs, and raw fruits and vegetables.

Primal’s dog and cat recipes are responsibly sourced from sustainable ranchers in the US, New Zealand, Australia, and Europe, and free of antibiotics, steroids, preservatives and added hormones.

Nourish your pet with complete, balanced, biologically appropriate raw dog food, and save during July with these deals!

  • $3 off 3lb raw diets
  • $4 off 4lb raw diets
  • $5 off 6lb raw diets
  • $2 off 5.5oz freeze dried
  • $3 off 14oz freeze dried
  • Buy any 3 bags of Primal, get a FREE Bone Broth!

How to Safely Satisfy Your Cat’s Hunting Instincts

By Ann Brightman, Animal Wellness Magazine 

As carnivores and predators, cats are natural hunters. Unlike his wild counterparts, our kitty doesn’t need to kill other critters in order to survive, but that hunting instinct is still a strong part of his makeup. How do you satisfy that instinct without letting your cat go outside to kill wildlife? Luckily, there are lots of ways to cater to your kitty’s inner hunter without harming songbirds, butterflies and other wild species that are important to our eco-systems.

  1. If your cat doesn’t like staying indoors all the time, there are ways to get him outside while keeping local wildlife safe. An outdoor cat enclosure with a fine mesh covering will give him some fresh air and opportunities to watch birds and butterflies without catching and hurting them.
  2. Another alternative is to train him to a harness and leash (this is most successful with a kitten or young cat) and take him for “walks”. Be sure to supervise him at all times when he’s outdoors. Never tether a cat to a tree or post and leave him in the yard alone – he could hang himself from his leash, or be at the mercy of a neighborhood dog or other larger carnivore.
  3. Situate a bird feeder within easy viewing distance of one of your cat’s favorite windows. This will give him the chance to at least partly satisfy his desire to hunt by watching the birds from indoors (while making that signature “chattering” sound that cats make when they’re stalking!).Kitten Cat Jumping
  4. Some cats enjoy watching birds, fish, and other small animals on the TV or computer screen. You can get DVDs, or download apps for your tablet or other mobile deice, and let your cat stalk and “chase” the images.
  5. Interactive play that allows your cat to chase and catch toys is also important. They key word here is “interactive.” Cats like things that move and soon get bored with objects that just lie there. Feather toys are a particular favorite, as you can use them to mimic bird behavior. The traditional catnip mouse is another good standby – tie it to a string or ribbon and pull it around the house so your cat can chase it. Add challenge and variety to interactive play by going around corners and up and down stairs, or by having the toy “hide” in a box or under a chair. Be sure to let your cat actually catch the toy from time to time, to give him the satisfaction of a “kill.” Buy quality products, and keep in mind that soft toy surfaces give the cat a chance to sink his claws and teeth into his “prey.”
  6. When you can’t be around, leave out toys that will encourage self-play. A puzzle toy or interactive feeder with some healthy treats inside will prompt your cat to “hunt” for something to eat.
  7. Give your cat access to high places in the house (or his outdoor enclosure). Being up high not only gives him a sense of security, but also helps to satisfy his inner hunter by giving him a wide “birds-eye” view of his environment.
  8. Cats love knocking things off tables and shelves, not just because they’re trying to get your attention, but also because the objects move rapidly as they fall to the floor. If the object bounces or rolls after it hits the floor, that’s even better; you’ll notice that many cats will jump down after knocking something over to investigate its movement. Again, this activity goes some way to satisfying feline hunting instincts. Rather than discouraging this behavior, keep valuable or breakable items out of reach, and put some of his toys on a shelf or table, so that he can knock those down instead. 

A happy cat is one who has the scope to satisfy some of his natural instincts, and hunting is one of the big ones. Taking steps to appease your kitty’s inner hunter, without harming local wildlife, is easier than you think!

 

White fluffy poodle dog heatstroke

Can Dogs Get Heat Stroke?

You’d better believe it! Heatstroke in dogs is far too common in the summer months, and it’s our job as pet parents to be fully attentive to our furry friends’ physical limits.

According to Dogs Naturally, your dog’s normal temperature is between 100 degrees and 103 degrees F. A dog will start to experience heat stroke at 105 degrees F. Any higher and organ damage is at risk.

These are common signs of heat stroke:

  • Panting heavily
  • Dry or bright red gums
  • Thicker drool than normal
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of balance
  • Collapse

If you notice these symptoms…

  1. Move your dog to a cool place.
  2. Wipe her down with a damp rag or drape a cool, damp towel over her body.
  3. Pay attention to her inner thighs and stomach where there are more large blood vessels, and on the pads of her feet.
  4. Try to get her to drink some cool (not cold) water, but slowly. If she gulps down too much too fast, she may vomit, which won’t help the situation.
  5. Once she’s cool, take her to see your veterinarian for an exam to ensure that there’s no internal damage.

It’s easy to assume that just because you’re comfortable, your dog is too. Most of our dogs can’t handle the heat as well as humans, so just keep an eye out during extreme weather to ensure your dog isn’t overdoing it.

Some dogs are at higher risk than others.

If your dog is older, overweight, short nosed, thick-coated, low-energy, out of shape, doesn’t drink enough water, and/or has underlying diseases, he or she is at a higher risk for heatstroke. In addition, the following breeds tend to be at greater risk:

  1. English Bulldog
  2. Pug 
  3. French Bulldog
  4. Boston Terrier 
  5. Shih Tzu
  6. Pekingese
  7. Boxer
  8. Chow Chow
  9. Overweight Golden Retrievers
  10. Overweight Labrador Retrievers 

Tips to keep your dog cool

  • Keep your animal indoors if possible.
  • Your pet should never be left in your car for any length of time.
  • Walk early in the morning or later in the day when it’s cooler.
  • Make sure there’s a shady area if she’s outside playing in the yard.
  • Remember that her paws aren’t protected from the hot asphalt, so choose grassy surfaces if you can. If the pavement is too hot for your hand, it’s definitely too hot for your dog’s paws.
  • Keep your house cool. Leave windows open, ceiling fans going or the A/C on.
  • Walk with water and let your dog drink as you go. Let her take frequent breaks to cool down, and make sure she has access to cool water when she’s in the yard.
  • Provide your dogs with access to water at all times.

 

 

 

Is Sunscreen Safe to Use On Pets?

The fun-in-the-sun months have officially arrived, which means it’s time to start thinking about sun protection. For those that spend time outside, sunscreen is usually a priority. But did you know that our furry family members can also suffer from damaging effects from the sun?

Hairless dogs or dogs that are light colored, or have short fur or have white or pink skin are susceptible to sunburn. In addition, some breeds have a higher propensity to skin tumors, such as boxers, Weimaraners and Dobermans.

Before you lather or spray your dog or cat down with sunscreen, you must check the ingredients!

Can I use human sunscreen on my pet?

The answer is no. Not all products are OK to use on a pet. Most sunscreens contain zinc oxide, an ingredient that’s effective for humans, but it’s toxic for dogs and cats. If ingested, it can damage your pet’s red blood cells and cause them to explode. The resulting anemia can be severe and require a blood transfusion.

For cats, you’ll need to avoid Octisalate and acetylsalicylic acid, which are salicylates that are frequent in sunscreens. Even a slight dose of salicylate can land your feline in the kitty ICU.

Pet-Specific Products

There’s only one FDA Compliant and safe pet sunscreen available on the market, and that is Epi-Pet Sun Protector Spray. This SPF 30 sunscreen is veterinarian-developed, provides broad spectrum protection, and its valve spray is easy to apply to even the wiggliest of dogs.

Epi Pet Sunscreen Charlie the Dachshund

Charlie the Dachshund with Epi Pet Sunscreen

This sunscreen is not formulated for cats, but it’s great for dogs for more reasons than one:

  • Prevents sunburns and reducing exposure to damaging UVA and UVB rays
  • It is the only pet sunscreen tha tmeets the FDA guidelines for ingredient stability
  • Waterproof
  • Quick dry formulation
  • Non-greasy, and doesn’t leave an oily film like human sunscreens
  • Includes sunscreen ingredients that rate equivalent to 30-40 SPF in human sunscreens
  • Valve spray can is environmentally friendly and provides constant spray from all angles
  • Contains vitamin E and other ingredients that act as antioxidants and skin enrichers
  • It offers a pleasant vanilla fragrance after application

If your dog is a boater or a beach bum, you should definitely give this sunscreen a try. If you’d like to learn more about Epi-Pet sunscreen, click here.

 

 

Your Dog Has Cancer! But What About You?

By Dr Edward Bassingthwaighte

It was a terrible, terrible shock.

You noticed something not quite right with your dog – maybe she was off color, or perhaps a bump or lump suddenly appeared and was growing. You took her off to your vet. You were worried sick about what it could be.

The vet examined your dog, talked to you about the awful possibilities and suggested diagnostics – perhaps a fine needle biopsy, some imaging with ultrasound or x-rays, bloods and lab work, or maybe even a larger biopsy under a general anesthetic. 

You waited for the results; anxious, on edge, emotional, stressed. Then came the call from your vet: “I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, but your dog has cancer.

Then your vet’s telling you that you need to come in so that they can explain the options, and you can hear them, but you’re in shock, going through the motions by rote. You book an appointment and then collapse into a flood of tears. 

You decide that you have to be strong for your dog, that you can’t feel this awful pain and shock, that you have to do everything you possibly can to help your dog.

You go to the vet with a brave face, and then the vet floods you with information – the type of cancer, grading, histology – and then there are so many options: surgery, differing chemotherapy schedules, palliative medicines; or, if you go to a more holistic vet maybe a focus more on diet, herbs, cannabis extracts and so on. 

You’re confused – should you do as the regular vet says and get the surgery or use the chemo drugs? Or should you go down a more natural route?

You love your dog so, so much and you’ll do anything for her, but there are so many options and you’re running on fumes, trying not to fall in a heap, suppressing how you’re feeling, wondering how you’ll possibly afford it all…

This is an all too familiar situation that I see when I have clients with a dog diagnosed with cancer come to me for a consult (usually because they don’t want to inflict the regular veterinary assault of surgery and toxic chemotherapy drugs on their dog, or because they want to integrate alternative treatments into a regular veterinary approach).

Overwhelmed

These clients are stressed and often overwhelmed by all the information and advice from their regular vet. Sometimes they have had significant pressure from their regular vet to do what the vet thinks is best. They’re an emotional mess.

They often feel guilty that it must have been something they did, or didn’t do, in caring for their dog.

Here’s the thing: caring for yourself is the most important thing you can do to support your dog through cancer.

It is an awful shock to have a dog diagnosed with cancer. You need to be aware of that. This diagnosis will bring up grief.

There’s no way around grief. Oh yes, you can try to stuff it down and suppress it, but that only means that it’ll get stronger until it bursts through.

Please, allow yourself to connect with how you’re feeling – this is the most important thing you can do for your dog. Your dog won’t mind if you’re crying, she will simply love you.

Grief Stations

Be aware of the stages of grieving…

There are five stages. This is a framework and it’s not necessarily a linear process. Some people may experience these feelings or stages in a different order, and some people may not experience some of the stages at all.

I think of them more as grief stations – so it’s like you’re on the grief train and it stops at these different places where you experience specific feelings for a time. You can’t get off the train, and you’re not in charge of where it stops, or for how long, either.

The grief stations are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

You may also have additional stations with other very strong feelings. Everyone is unique, and every situation is different. Hopefully this framework will be a useful tool in helping you to navigate your grief.

I’ve experienced deep grief in my life and the only way through it is one step at a time, with a lot of tender self-care. It’s painful, hard, and though it may seem like there’s no end when you’re in the middle of it, you will come out the other side in time.

Self Care – What You Need to Do
  • Reach out to your support network – your friends and family. Ask them for help and support, then accept it with grace and kindness.
  • Eat well – healthy home cooked whole foods are best. Lots of fresh, preferably organic veggies. Don’t sink into the trap of eating rich, fatty, sweet, salty comfort foods that help you avoid feeling the uncomfortable feelings of grief, anger, sadness, fear and so on.
  • Exercise – this is so critical. You must maintain the things that support your wellbeing while you support your dog through cancer diagnosis and treatment. Yoga, tai chi, working out, and any aerobic exercise are all good. Do something every day.
  • If you’re confused about treatment options, seek a second and maybe even a third opinion from different vets. If you don’t have a holistic vet nearby, organize a phone or Skype consultation. They will help you understand all the options so you can then make an informed choice that you’re truly comfortable with.
  • If you need to, go to your doctor, and maybe have some therapy sessions with someone skilled who can help you make sense of and process how you’re feeling. Having relaxing massage or craniosacral sessions for yourself will help.
  • Make a structured time for relaxation for you and your family members, every day. This is very important! You’ll be in a fight or flight, stressed state and this is bad for your health. I recommend getting the whole family together just before the earliest bedtime. Put on some gentle, quiet, soothing music. Talk about how you feel, ask everyone to do the same and update everyone on what’s happening with your dog. Make it clear that everyone’s encouraged to express their feelings. Have a box of tissues handy. Be sure to have lots of gentle, loving touch shared between you all, hugs and cuddles with the humans and your dog (not forgetting the other pets in the family, who will also be picking up on your sadness). Then you all need to lie down on some mats or rugs, flat on your bags (with a billow if you need for comfort). Set a timer for at least 10 minutes up to 30 minutes (longer is better) and then lie flat and everyone simply breathes gently, relaxing tension out of their body with every out-breath.

If you care for you, you’ll be able to be so much more present for your dog. You’ll also be able to sleep better, be healthier, making you more able to think clearly and make the best decisions for your dog. It’s the most important thing you can do for your dog, truly.


Dr. Edward Bassingthwaighte is an author and veterinarian from Australia with a holistic/integrative medicine practice. To learn more, visit his website at www.thehealingvet.com.  

Transitioning Your Cat to Raw

Cats are obligate carnivores. This is a statement you may have heard once or twice at the Barkery. This means their diets should consist of almost entirely meat. In nature, cats don’t eat grains or carbs of any kind. Many grain-free foods are substituted with starches, which are just as bad but allow pet food companies to market as “grain-free.”

Our furry feline friends evolved from big desert cats which adjusted to staying hydrated from fresh meat of their prey rather than drinking water. Raw food is the best diet you can feed your cat, but many cat owners struggle to make the transition from dry food to raw.

Cats who have eaten nothing but dry foods are often a challenge to switch to fresh food. They are very opinionated and imprint on food at an early age. Cats who already eat other foods (real meat, fruits, vegetables, & cheese) will be much less of a project. It might take days, or even months, but it’s worth the effort! The most important thing to remember with cats is that you CANNOT use the tough love approach. Cats will starve themselves, and some severe conditions can occur if cats don’t eat for an extended period.

This article from Steve’s Real Food will explain best practices for transitioning your cat to raw.

The “Slow and Successful Method”

If you are feeding only dry kibble, introduce canned and reduce the dry. Have specific meal times rather than leaving the food out for them to eat whenever they want. If they are hungry, they are more willing to try something new.

Take some raw food and mix in the regular canned food you know your cat will eat. Test it on your kitty and increase the canned food until they are willing to eat it. Every time you feed, do this, and you will find you can gradually add more raw – though it may take several months. In the meantime offer bits of other kinds of fresh foods they like to eat – bacon, goat milk, salmon, etc. This slow method has proven to be the most successful for cats. However, if you have a cat that needs a little more work, consider the following tricks (in no particular order):

  • Expect it to take awhile. Fully transitioning a cat can take anywhere from a week to a year.
  • Stop leaving the kibble out to eat whenever they want. Have mealtimes, so they can start getting hungry enough to be willing to branch out.
  • Leave raw (or canned as a transition step) out for them all the time to try, but only offer kibble during their specified meal times. If they want a snack, they have to try the raw or canned.
  • Don’t just take away their kibble and play hardball, thinking that once they get hungry enough they will eat. Cats can starve themselves or go into shock that can turn fatal before they dare try something new, so this is not a good idea.
  • Have one meal available as kibble and one as raw, to see if they will be hungry enough without it getting dangerous.
  • Try different proteins to see if they like chicken over beef, etc.
  • Take freeze-dried raw food and hide it around the house, or put it in places the cat is not usually allowed. Cats like to feel that they have pulled one over on you, and they like to hunt.
  • Place the food in their usual feeding spot, or some other place they consider safe or theirs, like their bed or by their cat toys.
  • Take a stopper and (kindly) force a bit of raw meat into their mouth. Sometimes cats will try it once you have jolted their taste buds.
  • Tie a freeze-dried nugget to a cat toy and make them play with it. That gets them to put their mouth to it.
  • Mix in a tiny crumbly bit of freeze-dried product in with their regular kibble – not enough that they’ll notice, but enough that they can’t work around it. Once they have started eating it as a nuisance, slowly increase and make sure they are still eating their food.
  • Warm the food in a container with warm water. Cats like food to be at a warmer temperature, and it releases the smell.
  • Use a flat food dish, or a bowl that takes the span of whiskers into account. Cats don’t like their whiskers touching the side of their bowl.
  • Mix in raw freeze-dried with some goat milk and wet food, as little as the cat needs to still be interested in eating. Slowly decrease the amount of wet food. Often you can have a larger percentage of raw or freeze-dried if you place a small spoonful of unmixed wet food on the edge of the food, the cat will eat what they like and then just keep going in to the mixed food.
  • Offer other types of fresh food and meats to help them recognize they don’t have to eat just kibble. Let them eat other foods off of your plate such as salmon, bacon, chicken, or creamy milk products – you could even try putting a nugget of raw on your plate to trick them into thinking they have pulled one over on you by stealing it.
  • Re-hydrate the freeze-dried with something tasty like tuna juice, or beef or chicken broth.
  • Put some raw food onto their paws. They hate having dirty paws, and will try to lick them clean, and you have successfully gotten them to taste a little and realize it’s yummy!

You will begin to see improvements right away as your cat begins to receive digestive enzymes and a species appropriate diet. Be patient, your efforts will pay off as you extend the life and vitality of your feline companions!

May Special – Zignature & Fussie Cat!

We’ve got something for everyone this month at the Barkery. Zignature’s grain and potato free recipes and Fussie Cat’s kibble & cans are each on special this month. You won’t want to miss these deals!

Zignature:

  • $2 off Small Bags
  • $4 off Medium Bags
  • Buy a large bag, get a small bag FREE
  • Cans: Buy 3 get 1 FREE

Fussie Cat:

  • Buy a small bag, get 2 FREE cans
  • Buy a medium bag, get 3 FREE cans
  • Buy a large bag, get 5 FREE cans
  • Cans: Buy 4 get 1 FREE

Dog & Cat Titer Testing FAQs

Answering your questions about titer testing, a safe alternative to annual vaccines.

Vaccinations can be both helpful and harmful. It all depends on how they’re used. In young dogs and cats, vaccines help establish immunity from infections disease. But repeated and unnecessary vaccines can be harmful to the immune system. Titer testing is a safe way to avoid over-vaccination while ensuring your companion remains protected from disease. This article from Animal Wellness Magazine will answer some common questions about vaccine titers.

What exactly are titer tests?

Vaccine titer tests are simple blood tests that measure your animal’s antibodies to certain diseases. In most practices, these diseases include distemper, parvo, and hepatitis virus for dogs, and rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia virus for cats.

The titer is a number derived from testing your animal’s blood for antibodies against these diseases. A positive titer means your dog or cat has antibodies against a specific disease (the titer usually results from prior vaccination to the disease, or exposure to the disease). It indicates he is protected from the illness caused by that particular virus. For example, a positive titer to distemper virus indicates your dog is protected from distemper.

When should titer testing be done?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. Most holistic veterinarians do limited vaccinations for their puppy and kitten patients, using a series of immunizations to ensure adequate protective immunity without “overdoing it” like traditional doctors do. A limited booster series may be done one year following the final puppy or kitten vaccine visit, when the animals are approximately 18 months of age. Titer testing is then done the following year and continues annually for the life of the animal. Vaccines are given only when titer testing shows a need for them based on the dog or cat’s immunity.

Titer testing can also be done for stray or rescue/adopted animals with an unknown vaccination history. These animals can be immunized if needed, based upon their titer testing results.

Is it expensive?

It depends. Some veterinarians, especially those who don’t routinely do titer testing, charge a lot for it. Many vets will charge $200 to $400 just for distemper and parvo titer testing. But if you visit a veterinarian who routinely does titer testing, it’s very reasonably priced.

Dr. Dodson at Mariposa Veterinary Wellness Center does titer tests for the same price as vaccines (around $50). Plus – if your titer comes back negative, Mariposa deducts the cost of the titer from the charge of the revaccination, so you have literally nothing to lose by titer testing first!

Additionally, Kansas State Diagnostics Lab administers titer tests for core vaccines (parvo, distemper, adenovirus, and rabies) for less than $60. By taking this information to your vet, your vet can then send in the blood tests to the lab for results that won’t cost you between $200-400.

If my animal has a positive titer, will additional vaccines be harmful?

Giving additional vaccinations to a dog or cat that has a positive titer for a particular disease will not offer more protection, is a waste of health care dollars, and could be harmful if he reacts adversely to the vaccine. Risks of over-vaccination include tumors, thyroid disease, allergies, arthritis, seizures, and weakened immune system.

Positive titers indicate your animal is protected and vaccines can be skipped that year.

Why does my vet say titer tests are useless?

We’re not sure why some doctors say this unless they are ignorant of basic immunology. Titer testing is used every day in veterinary practice to diagnose diseases such as heartworm and feline leukemia infection. And veterinarians who have themselves been vaccinated against rabies routinely have their titers tested to determine if and when they might need to be revaccinated.

Can I take my animal to a boarding kennel or groomer if I choose titer testing in place of vaccines?

Since kennels, grooming facilities, and doggie daycare businesses require proof of immunization, either recent vaccines or titer tests showing that the animal is protected should be acceptable. Keep in mind that grooming and boarding facilities associated with conventional veterinary clinics will usually not accept titer results, whereas those not associated with a veterinary clinic will usually accept either titers or vaccines. Check with the facility to be sure. We proudly accept titer test results in substitution for vaccination records, and suggest you support other businesses that do the same!

If I need to vaccinate based on testing results, when should the next test be done?

It would be done the following year at your dog or cat’s annual visit. The titer test should be normal at that time, indicating protective immunity without the need for further immunization – but we don’t know this for sure, so the testing should be done annually following any booster immunization.

Is there any downside to titer testing?

No! However, no test is perfect. Titer testing tells us a lot about the state of your dog or cat’s immune system and its ability to prevent specific diseases. There’s no guarantee that a titer will protect him – but there is no guarantee that a vaccine will protect him either.

If your groomer or boarding facility does not accept titer results, we recommend finding another facility that is more open-minded and concerned with his health (a much better choice)!

If using another facility isn’t an option and you still need proof of immunity, you can request a Certificate of Immunity from your veterinarian with a positive titer. If your veterinarian disagrees, Dr. John Robb with Protect the Pets is happy to do it for only $20!

It’s our job to make decisions that are in the best interest of the animal’s health, including prevention of over-vaccination. We encourage you to educate yourself on the dangers of over-vaccination so that you’re aware when it comes to making decisions for your pet. Here are some articles to get you started:

Dr. Karen Becker

Dr. Karen Becker & Dr. John Robb

Dogs Naturally Magazine