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: