The days of the yearly "booster shot" are long behind us. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), and most veterinary colleges agree that after an initial puppy series, most vaccines do not need to be given any more frequently than every three years. Some studies have suggested that immunity from commonly used vaccinations lasts seven years or moreThere is no benefit to giving an additional vaccination to the dog that already has sufficient immunity. Even more importantly, repeated vaccination has been associated by some authorities with autoimmune diseases, including immediate reactions, destruction of red blood cells or platelets, and hypothyroidism. All of these problems can have a serious or even life-threatening effect on our dog's lives.

   Given that both of the largest veterinary associations, veterinary colleges, and even vaccine manufacturers are recommending extended vaccination protocols, it is bewildering and a bit dismaying to hear of animals receiving vaccines each year. Hopefully this will change as information becomes even more widely more available on the risks inherent in inappropriate vaccination. While some veterinarians are extremely progressive and incorporated extended vaccination protocols years ago, others still recommend yearly vaccinations or non-recommended vaccines.  Whatever the veterinarian's reasons for doing so, keep in mind that as your dog's owner, you can either accept or decline any recommendation. It is your right and responsibility to decide what is in your dog's best interest. The only vaccination you are obligated to keep current is rabies. Each state has their own laws pertaining to rabies vaccination of animals, so be sure to check your state's requirements.

   So how will you decide which vaccinations your dog will receive, and when should they be given? I start with a basic vaccination schedule (which follows), and modify it on a case-by-case basis for each animal. Changes may be made in our plans as circumstances change, including vaccine reactions such as Rocky experienced. Dogs with vaccine reactions generally never receive vaccination for that disease again, and are carefully monitored with any other vaccines. Depending on the case, blood testing may be used to measure the level of antibodies against disease. While these titer tests are not a perfect measure of immunity, in many cases they show significant antibody levels, many years after vaccination.  I feel it is wiser to run a titer test prior to vaccinating an adult dog that had been previously vaccinated.

   The field of veterinary immunology and vaccination has changed greatly in the relatively short time I have been in practice. Early in my veterinary career, I was often confronted with multiple cases of parvovirus in a single day. Sadly, many of these did not survive. In the past year, I a total saw two cases. I believe the reason for this is the effectiveness of our parvovirus vaccines. Conversely, when I began practicing, it was common procedure to give multiple vaccinations at one time, or to vaccinate twice yearly in show and competition dogs. Vaccine reactions were extremely rare. Last year I saw a four-month-old puppy experience a fatal reaction to a distemper combo vaccine, going from tail wagging to death in two hours. It was the second vaccine the puppy had ever received. Non-fatal reactions seem to be more and more common. I believe the explanation for these events is the high potency of our vaccines, coupled with what we now know to be too frequent administration of these products. 

   The days of a simple, harmless, "shot" are long gone. We need to view vaccines as powerful chemical and biological agents capable of stimulating the immune system, the body's protector against disease. Used inappropriately, vaccines can trigger excess or misdirected immune system responses, often with serious or fatal results.

Laurie S. Coger, DVM, CVCP

Views: 91


Vaccine Titer Testing for Your Pet

In recent years, there has been an ongoing debate on whether or not yearly vaccination is necessary in all dogs and cats. Many studies on this subject have shown that some vaccines such as the Canine (DHPP) and Feline Distemper Vaccine (FVRCP) are good for at least 3-5 years after the initial puppy or kitten series and one-year booster have been administered. Another option that is available if you feel uncertain about giving regular vaccines is vaccine titer testing. This alternative to yearly vaccination has been controversial amongst veterinarians but is gaining popularity in veterinary medicine. Here are some of the facts regarding vaccine titers.

What is titer testing?
Titer testing is a blood testthat measures the level of antibodies in your pet's blood. Antibodies are produced when a foreign substance such as viruses or bacteria initiates an immune response. Antibodies can be produced from natural exposure or from vaccinations. Titer testing requires a blood sample that is analyzed by your veterinarian or an outside laboratory.

What viruses/bacteria can be tested for?
The most common viruses that are tested for are the Canine Distemper /Parvo Virus and Feline Calici/Rhinotracheitis Virus. These are the most commonly used virus vaccinations. There is also a titer test available for the Rabies virus. This test is often required for international travel.

What does it mean if my pet's titer is adequate?
If the antibody level comes back adequate, many veterinarians will count this in lieu of routine vaccination.
Does my pet need a booster if the vaccine titer is weak?
This is a matter of opinion. However, most veterinarians will vaccinate if the titer is weak.

How often does vaccine titering need to be performed?
There is no uniform answer to this question. Many veterinarians believe titer testing can be performed every 3-5 years while others feel it should be repeated every year. You should speak with your veterinarian regarding his/her opinion on the frequency of titer testing.

Is titer testing 100% accurate?
No. Neither is a vaccination though.
Will everyone accept vaccine titers in lieu of vaccination?
No. Some groomers and kennels do not believe that titers are equivalent to regular vaccination and will require vaccination even if a titer test has come back adequate.

Rabies is a public health issue and is required by law. Animal control and most counties/cities/states will not accept a Rabies titer as proof of vaccination. Each county/city/state has their own policy on this subject so you should speak with your veterinarian or county animal control regarding the regulations for your specific municipality.

Are vaccine titers more expensive than vaccinating?
The individual blood test is typically more expensive than the vaccine itself. If the titer is adequate and your veterinarian agrees, vaccines may need to be given much less frequently in the long-term which can save money over your dog or cat's lifetime.

Immunity is a complicated subject and veterinarians continue to struggle with the idea of whether vaccine titers are a good alternative to more frequent vaccination. Extensive research has been done to prove that over-vaccination can cause a weakened immune system as well as an increased risk of allergic reactions and side effects. Some pets that have had a severe reaction from vaccination in the past may be spared unnecessary vaccinations because of vaccine titer testing. The decision to titer instead of vaccinating is a personal decision that should be made between pet owner and veterinarian but is an option to consider when deciding what is best for your pet's preventative health.

Dr. Wendy Zimmerman, DVM, CVA

Has anyone had titers done? how much do they cost?

My doodle is due for shots soon and I don't want to be a bad doodle dad but i don't want to over vaccinate either.

Bill, I have titerd very year for the past three years and now that I have a basline and know that my dogs are still vaccinated (at high levels), I am now on a every three year loop. Titering is a bit more expensive than the shots themselves but will be cheaper in the long run in regards to over vaccinating. Plus, the more we have it done and the more we prove the vaccs are lasting much longer than vets are telling us, if not for a lifetime of a dog, the costs will come down and it will become more acceptable. Especially older dogs who have had so many shots already, they should be stopped, and that dog should be titered. Many vets are still bucking this and that's why we need to advocate for our pets who can't speak for themselves.

I totally agree! If we don't speak for those who cannot....

Can you give me an approximate cost of the titers? I need to budget $$.

Thank you.

It probably depends on where you are. My vet charged my $75 but once you have your baseline, you can skip to every three years. Ask your vet what he/she charges and compare that to annual vaccs.


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