Titer Testing and Vaccination
Similar to the controversy over human vaccinations, there is ongoing disagreement about vaccinations for our pets. Most agree that vaccinations have real benefits and have saved millions of pet lives, but many experts also believe pets are over vaccinated.
Some vaccines may cause allergic reactions or side effects in healthy animals and those with a compromised immune systems. One type of cat vaccine has even been shown to cause cancer. But most boarding and day care facilities require vaccinations and rabies vaccinations are required by law in many states, including Washington State. So what are we to do? One way that owners are approaching the issue is by measuring actual immunity using a simple laboratory test, the titer test. This test is also known as serum vaccine antibody titering or serologic vaccine titering.
A titer test measures the level of specific antibodies in your dog’s blood stream—the biochemicals produced by their immune system in response to exposure to a virus, bacteria, or vaccine. So, for example, if your dog received a successful distemper vaccination as a puppy, his blood should contain a measurable, appropriately high concentration of antibodies that will protect him from distemper. Boosters are given later on a schedule to account for an assumed gradual drop in that antibody concentration. Titer testing can be used to measure whether the drop has actually occurred. If the antibodies are present, there is no need to re-vaccinate. Titer testing’s major benefit is that its an actual measure specific to your pet, rather than a generalized plan applied to all dogs.
It is especially useful when making a decision about vaccinating an animal with unknown vaccination history, or for determining if puppies have received immunity from vaccination. Titer testing might also be an excellent alternative for pets with compromised immune systems who cannot handle that challenge posed by a vaccine.
Run Those Dogs owner Jen Sewell learned first hand about titer testing with her dog, Lilo, who was diagnosed with a cluster seizure disorder. As Lilo’s condition progressed, she became too ill to be vaccinated. In her fragile state, vaccination might have killed her. Sometimes things that are meant to help a pet can actually worsen their condition. Sweet Lilo passed away in March 2016.
After looking into titer testing, Jen discovered that its not so straightforward.
While a vaccination that lasts for 1 to 7 years might cost $20 to $100, a titer test can cost from $70 to $200. Its not easy to compare prices either. While titer testing might need to be performed infrequently, some boarding facilities might only accept a titer tests performed within the past 3 to 6 months.
There are clear reasons why vaccinations and titer testing remain controversial. To make a plan that’s right for you and your pet, do your research, ask your veterinarian or natural pet care provider’s advice, and—like us humans—don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.