Titer Testing: How to know if your dog really needs vaccines

Just like with children, it is important to ensure that your dog is up to date on his vaccinations. Diseases like parvovirus, distemper, and adenovirus can be devastating to the health of your pet, and it's important to help prevent the onset of these illnesses. However, repetitive vaccines for the same illnesses can also impact your dog's health, especially if the previous vaccine is still in your dog's system. Titer testing provides an alternative means of keeping up on your dog's health and well-being without overloading him on vaccines that are still working hard inside his body.

How Many Vaccines Does My Dog Need?

The specific inoculation schedule for dogs varies according to each individual vaccine but after puppyhood, most doses are updated yearly or every three years. All dogs should be up to date on distemper, parvovirus, rabies, and adenovirus. Depending on their environments, some dogs may also require vaccinations against leptospirosis, canine flu, kennel cough, or Lyme disease. 

What is Titer Testing?

Titer testing allows you to determine the dosage of prior vaccinations that are still working hard to protect your dog's body. After taking a blood sample, the antibodies in the blood are measured for the different canine diseases. If your dog's blood sample shows a high titer ratio, then there are still enough antibodies present in the body to fight off the different infections and diseases. A low titer ratio in the blood shows that there may not be enough antibodies left in the blood to continue to protect the immune system and prevent illness.

Why Is Titer Testing Useful?

While the benefit of the vaccine nearly always outweighs the risks, this is not always true for canines. The administration of vaccines in dogs can lead to adverse effects in some cases. Fevers, soreness at the injection site, and loss of appetite are common side effects, while some rare but serious effects include allergic reactions, tumors, and autoimmune issues. Although many of the shots continue to be given every few years, your dog may not always need a booster shot on this prescribed schedule. Titer testing can help to ensure that you are not unnecessarily inoculating your dog and putting him at risk. If a titer test shows a high antibody ratio for a specific disease, paperwork certifying the results can be used in place of required vaccine documentation.

Can I Use Titer Testing For All Vaccines?

Titer testing is not appropriate for all vaccines. Any inoculations that are given annually, such as those for kennel cough or Lyme disease, do not provide enough of a boost to the system to last beyond a year. Therefore, a titer test is not necessary because the vaccine needs to be given again anyway. Titer testing is also not appropriate for the rabies vaccine, as this inoculation is required to be administered every 3 years by law in the contiguous United States, regardless of the antibody levels in a dog's system.

How Else Can Titer Testing Be Helpful?

There are several other ways that titer testing is used beyond avoiding unnecessary vaccines. When moving your dog to a country that is free of rabies, a titer test showing the rabies vaccine in your dog's system can reduce the amount of time spent in quarantine. Additionally, titer testing can be used on dogs that have been abandoned or for whom a health history is not known. The titer ratio can indicate the antibodies currently in the dog's body in order to give the shelter or new owner an indication of what vaccines might be necessary. Along the same lines, a titer test can help to demonstrate whether or not vaccinations were effective when adminstered to puppies. If a puppy has not responded to the vaccines given or does not demonstrate appropriate immunity, other steps may need to be taken to protect the animal.

How Much Does Titer Testing Cost?

The cost of titer testing varies for each veterinary practice but is typically between 45 and 80 dollars. While this sounds expensive, and may be as much as a single vaccination, it is a small price to pay to ensure your dog's immunity against several diseases and to prevent unnecessary side effects from additional vaccinations.

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