You can read Part 1 – Why I Questioned – click here
and Part 2 – Safe Practices – click here
I want to make one thing clear: I am not against vaccinating your pets. I will be sharing our experiences, as well as information I have learned through research and from our own veterinarian. My intent is only to share information that might be important for pet families to know. You should always consult your own trusted vet when it comes to the care and safety of your own pets’ health.
Titers, also known as antibody blood tests, can be used as an alternative to repeat vaccinations. Core vaccines; distemper, parvovirus, hepatitis, and rabies, are now believed by researchers to last up to 5 years, perhaps even more. So even 3 year vaccines may be unnecessary for adult dogs who have had their puppy shots and first adult shots at one year old. Since rabies is required by most states at least every 3 years that may be a tough one to get around (though we did get around it for Cricket this year). I’ll try my best to explain how titers work, in layman’s terms.
When a pet receives a vaccine, it stimulates their immune system to create antibodies against that disease, as well as “memory cells”, which will reproduce rapidly and create more antibodies, if the pet is later exposed to that disease. When initial shots are given, they are often followed by booster shots to increase the chances that the body will produce sufficient antibodies and memory cells. These memory cells will last for many years, perhaps even a lifetime.
The titer test looks for and measures the antibodies. If sufficient antibodies are found, the pet is immune to that disease and additional vaccines would be unnecessary. Seems simple enough, right? Why wouldn’t every vet just administer this test before re-vaccinating? There are at least two reasons.
Cost and convenience: Titer tests are typically more expensive than vaccines, and some dogs may have issues with having their blood drawn. In addition, you might have to wait for test results, and then make a return visit to the vet if re-vaccination turns out to be warranted.
The accuracy of the results can be in question. If the result comes back positive, your pet is protected. That’s great, but if the results come back negative, your dog still might be protected. It’s believed that even if the antibody levels don’t show up, exposure to the disease would stimulate the memory cells. The antibody levels may have fallen low with no exposure to the disease, but the memory cells are still present and ready to do their job.
That was the discussion I had with our vet when Cricket was due for her rabies shot this year. He did not bring up the subject of titers, but I did, and he was more than willing to discuss it. I had already decided she wasn’t having that vaccine….I wasn’t taking the chance after her previous reactions, even though none were life threatening. Our vet encouraged me to do the titer test anyway, for peace of mind. But he also told me that if the results came back negative, that didn’t mean she wasn’t protected. He gave us a waiver for the rabies vaccine, and I wanted to discuss the blood test with my hubby before deciding for sure.
Ultimately we decided against it. If it came back positive, that peace of mind would be great. But if it came back negative, I would start to doubt our decision not to vaccinate her. I’ll discuss this more in my post about the rabies vaccine.
This decision in no way affects any future decisions of using titer tests for Luke, it is definitely something that will be considered in three years when he’s due for his next set of vaccines. I’m not sure yet about Sheba who is also due for rabies this year. I am wary of any vaccines for her because of her recent removal of a cancerous tumor, and the thought that her immune system needs to be ready to fight off any more cancer and not be distracted by anything else. Her age and history of repeated vaccines is a consideration as well.
It is worth noting that titer tests are accepted by many kennels, daycares, and training facilities, which is something I didn’t realize, so it is definitely worth asking.
I think that titer tests are a great tool, and I would feel safe in using them in lieu of vaccines for an adult pet who has had their puppy and one year booster vaccines. With my pets that have never had a reaction, I would feel more safe having them re-vaccinated if the titer test came back negative, but if it came back positive I would feel relieved in knowing the vaccine could be skipped and that they are protected from those diseases. The other thing I read is that if an initial titer test shows sufficient antibodies, then subsequent tests may not even be needed (keep in mind that later tests may be more likely to come back negative if it has been years since the last vaccine). That is of course a decision between you and your vet.
Much of my research came from this article in the Whole Dog Journal, and the previously mentioned book Vaccines Explained.
Today we are joining the Thursday Barks & Bytes blog hop. Thank you to our hosts 2 Brown Dawgs blog, and Heart Like a Dog. Please visit other blogs through the links below!
Jennifer Velde says
I see your using a picutre of me! What a trip! Thanks for educating others 🙂
Excellent information, well presented, thank you! You cleared up questions that I’ve had over the years.
Sand Spring Chesapeakes says
You explained everything great! Most clients don’t do titers unless their dog has a auto immune problem where a vaccine could stimulate it and set it off so then they do titers. Other clients just do the vaccines and go by what our vet recommends which is the dhpp every three years if had the proper puppy vaccinations. Lepto is still only a annual vaccine as it looses immunity after a year as well as bordetella, lyme and the other non core vaccines. The price of a dhpp titer at our clinic is around $175. I will have to ask our vet the liability to them if they wave the rabies vaccination and then the dog bites someone. I believe the dog then needs to be quarantined at a specialized place like vet clinic, humane society ect instead of just quarantine at home if current on the vaccination. Rabies is nothing to mess around with I personally would have the doctor give a antihistimine shot before hand to hopefully prevent any reaction and then vaccinate. We do have a couple of dogs that we don’t vaccinate against rabies and they get a waiver so they can show it to the boarding kennel and other places that require it. This has been such a great series, thank you!
I know what you’re saying about rabies. I did discuss with my vet what would happen if Cricket bit someone, or if she was attacked by a known rabid animal. I’ll get into all of that in my post on rabies. It was also significant to me that my vet said he has only seen two cases of rabies in all his years of practice – one with a cow, and one with a cat. And those were both animals that had NEVER been vaccinated. It’s a lot to consider anyway, and not always an easy decision! I’m just happy the other dogs have never had reactions so it’s not as much of a worry with them.
Callie, Shadow, and Ducky's Mom says
Thank you for this series, Jan!! It has been most informative — and you’ve done a great job of explaining it all!! Since Callie & Shadow will be 14 and 13-1/2 when their next Rabies vaccine is due, I may just waive it. And, depending on what the vet says, I might just do the titer test(s) for their other vaccines. Ducky is much younger than her sisters, so I don’t know yet. It will all depend on her overall health.
You’re welcome! I’m glad to share what I’ve been learning. We’ll take things as they come with Luke too, I think I would even consider switching off….titer one time, and vaccinate the next (for the younger dogs). That would at least split up the vaccines more and avoid over-vaccination.
Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady says
Wow, some serious stuff to think about – thanks for this!
ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
Earl Lover says
Intersting post guys!
I’ve done some initial casting around in my country and apparently only one vet offers titer test and it was only against rabies if I’m not wrong. We are just not there yet. Haha!
That’s interesting to know….I am curious where other countries stand on these issues, but just don’t have time to research all of that! 🙂
M. K. Clinton says
The vet that we used for years always vaccinated every year. After learning about AAHA during the BlogPaws conference last year, I searched for a new accredited vet. They don’t vaccinate each year and I am very glad. It is a law that we get a rabies shot each year.
I’m glad you found a new vet that seems more up to date on the protocols. There are very few states, I believe, that require annual rabies vaccines, that really seems like overkill to me. I’ll be writing more on rabies anyway too.
Thanks for the info – I’ve bookmarked to keep it as reference. Love the new site by the way.
I felt a little wasteful titering Leo before his first rabies booster, since his levels wound out being inadequate so we gave him the shot anyway. Then again, it is nice to know that 1-year-old dogs do need another shot. He didn’t need a booster at age 4.
That is actually good to know, and I don’t think I’d ever feel bad about erring on the side of caution.
2 Brown Dawgs says
It is my understanding that titers cannot always say for sure the level of protection for every infectious disease. Here is something to think on. I know of a puppy (under a year) who was vaccinated for parvo. Had a titer test which showed the presence of antibodies and yet still came down with parvo. That is not the only time I have heard of this, but it probably the most recent I heard about. I am not against using titers, but it is not always as clear cut as its proponents claim.
I found this article interesting. http://skeptvet.com/Blog/2014/12/antibody-titer-testing-as-a-guide-for-vaccination-in-dogs-and-cats/
Thanks so much for sharing this info on the hop. It has been an interesting series.
I understand what you’re saying. But Luke also came down with Bordetella after being vaccinated for it, so maybe there aren’t 100% guarantees either way? I also read that if you vaccinate too young, that it might not take, though I would have thought in that case the titer would show that it didn’t work. I plan to write more about it, but certain diseases like bordetella and leptospirosis have different strains. Anyway, I am sure that is not the case for parvo, and I don’t believe there are titers for anything other than the core vaccines anyway.
Thank you for sharing that article….there’s a lot of great information in there and it will be another good source for me.
Alix Mitchell says
Fabulous article! You did a great job of explaining titers. I choose to titer my dogs, and luckily they’ve all bee adequate so I haven’t needed to think about any subsequent vaccines. In my experience, most conventional vets don’t even mention it unless the owner brings it up or the pet is considered “ancient” like a 22 year old indoor cat. I agree with Ann that it probably isn’t affordable to most owners, but I at least wish it was discussed as an option more often than it seems to be.
I wish it was discussed more too. Before Cricket’s reaction, I had no clue, and actually never looked into it until her last reaction two years ago. I was really surprised at what I found, because I just thought yearly vaccines were the standard and that was it. I honestly wish I hadn’t been getting those yearly ones for the dogs because I worry about the health implications for them, especially Sheba now. Though I do have to say our beagle Kobi had them yearly, never had an issue, and lived to be 13 which I think is pretty good.
Ann Staub says
You explain this wonderfully Janet! Titers are great, but you’re right… the problem is cost and convenience. For exceptional pet parents, it’s no big deal. But I think much of the pet-owning population might not want to go through all of it. And some may not even be able to afford it. Heck, some people don’t even vaccinate at all. (Not because they are educated on the subject and choose not to, but because they don’t receive regular vet care for their pets.)
Thank you for joining the blog hop. When the dogs went to daycare I used the titer to measure their immunity. Now since they aren’t going to daycare, we have stopped all but the rabies and Leptos. My vet doesn’t feel they need to be boostered on any of the others.
I’m also pretty sure they both had their last rabies shots last year. They will next be due in 2017, at which point Sampson will be 13 and Delilah will be 11. Of course I’ll discuss it with my vet before we make that determination.
If the cost of the titer isn’t that much more than the vaccination, I think it definitely would be worth it, especially if your dog has had a reaction in the past (like Cricket and Haley). I also like the fact that most daycare, training facilities, etc. will accept it. Thanks for the research and info on this.
I will have to ask my own vet about the cost, because some things I read indicated that the cost could be quite a bit more than the vaccination. But it never hurts to ask, and then make the decision.
Mom has been contemplating it for Katie next time she is up for rabies, but we also have to have the vaccine for our dog licenses, so not sure we could skip it.
This is something I’m not familiar with at all – so thank you for all this great information and research. Next time we’re at the vet I think I’ll ask some more questions about it.
Groovy Goldendoodles says
I have no idea if the boys decamp accepts titers, but thanks to your post today, I will certainly ask! Vaccinations is such a personal decision, but it is so wonderful to be armed with information from both sides. Thanks for this series. You’re doing a lot of research and disseminating it to us – I for one am grateful. Take care!
You’re so welcome! I’m glad to be able to share what I’ve learned in the hope that people can at least be armed with information when making these decisions for their pets.