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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

 

 

 

Celebrate National Holistic Pet Day

National Holistic Pet Day (August 30) comes once a year, but pet owners should take measures to prioritize the health of their pets from a holistic perspective on a year-round basis. Dr. Patrick Mahaney VMD, CVA, CVJ shares his perspective on some holistic ways to promote your pet’s best quality of life.

Prevent Obesity by Employing Caloric Restriction and Daily Exercise

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) reports that 98 million pets (54% of dogs and cats) living in the United States are overweight or obese. Obesity has a variety of potentially irreversible health consequences, but the condition is preventable with a holistic wellness strategy.

When pets maintain a healthy weight on a lifelong basis, health conditions such as arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic disorders can be avoided or minimized. Dogs consuming calorie-restricted diets have been proven to live two years longer than those lacking calorie restriction, and are less prone to developing conditions related to inflammation, like arthritis.

During a pet’s annual wellness exam, owners should become aware of their pet’s Body Condition Score and have their veterinarian determine an appropriate weight-loss or maintenance plan. Exercise burns calories, provides behavioral stimulation, and satisfies a pet’s need for interaction. As a result, weight loss or maintenance benefits both pets and people.

Feed Whole Foods Over Processed Pet Diets and Treats

Nature creates food for people and animals in a format that maintains the structural integrity of the nutrients. Humans process nature’s ingredients to create diets for dogs and cats that can be conveniently dispensed from a bag or can.

Most pet foods and treats are made with feed-grade ingredients that have been unfit for human consumption and are permitted to have a higher level of toxins, such as mold-produced mycotoxins. Only small amounts of mycotoxins need to be ingested to damage the gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, liver, and immune system, and are even cancer-causing.

A variety of chronic ailments correlate with the regular consumption of grain and protein ‘meals and by-products,’ artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, and other ingredients found in many commercially available pet foods and treats.

Human-grade, whole-food, commercially available or home-prepared diets having undergone minimal refinement should replace processed diets as often as possible. A quality diet is the best health insurance you can buy for your pet.

Reduce Your Pet’s Need to Consume Medications with Potentially Serious Side Effects

Many medications are prescribed to treat infection, reduce inflammation, minimize pain, and kill cancer cells. As we strive to cure, the potential exists for side effects to occur, so it’s crucial to reduce your pets’ reliance on prescription medications.

When a holistic approach to whole body health is taken, many ailments can improve or resolve. For example, pain from arthritis, trauma, surgery or cancer can be managed by taking a multimodal approach:

  • Environmental modification (making your home, yard, and car ‘pet-safe’)
  • Healthy weight management (dietary modification, exercise, calorie restriction)
  • Supplements such as omegas, joint support, antioxidants, and probiotics
  • Physical rehabilitation (massage, stretching, acupuncture, laser treatment)

When whole body health is maintained, medication requirements can be minimized regardless of a pet’s age or history of illness.

Vaccinate Judiciously and Pursue Antibody Titers

Health consequences can be associated with vaccine administration, and more so when a vaccine is administered unnecessarily. Even a single vaccination can cause a Vaccine-Associated Adverse Event (VAAE), including:

  • hypersensitivity (‘allergic’ reactions)
  • worsening of inflammatory conditions (skin, digestive tract, etc.)
  • emergence of immune system diseases (immune-mediated disease, cancer, etc.)
  • organ system failure
  • seizure activity
  • death

Dr. Mahaney recommends that owners take a judicious approach to the administration of canine and feline vaccination so our pets incur less risk for VAAEs, including:

  • Only vaccinate when an animal is healthy and exhibiting no detectable signs of illness on physical exam or diagnostic testing
  • Administer vaccines individually, in case of a VAAE
  • Perform blood tests called antibody titers to determine if a pet’s current level of immunity produced by previous vaccinations. When antibody levels are sufficient, your pet will likely be able to fend off future infections.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), “revaccination of patients with sufficient immunity does not necessarily add to their disease protection and may increase the potential risk of post-vaccination adverse events.” More resources on antibody titer testing can be found at Dr. Becker’s website and Protect The Pets.

Our animal companions’ health isn’t guaranteed for life. Therefore, owners should take a holistic approach from the beginning to promote longer, healthier lives.