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Titer Testing

puppy-papEnlightened veterinarians and pet parents have become increasingly wary of the health risks, and lack of benefits, associated with repeatedly vaccinating dogs after their initial “puppy shots.” Is titer testing the solution to the over-vaccination problem? Here’s a crash course to help you muddle through the mire of misinformation surrounding this simple blood test, and to help you decide whether or not to test your dog’s antibody titers.

What is Titer Testing?

A titer test (pronounced TIGHT er) is a laboratory test measuring the existence and level of antibodies to disease in blood. Antibodies are produced when an antigen (like a virus or bacteria) provokes a response from the immune system. This response can come from natural exposure or from vaccination. (Note: titering is also called serum vaccine antibody titering and serologic vaccine titering.)

How is the Test Performed?

Your test result will have an explanation of what your pet’s test result means. But if you want to know more, here’s the test in a nutshell: First, one mL of blood is drawn. The sample is then diluted. Titer levels, expressed as ratios, indicate how many times blood can be diluted before no antibodies are detected. If blood can be diluted a 1000 times and still show antibodies, the ratio would be 1:1000. This is a “strong” titer. A titer of 1:2 would be weak.

Should I Test for All Diseases?

The most recommended test examines antibodies for both parvovirus and distemper, the two most important viruses.Rabies titers are also often tested. Usually, for most dogs, tests for other diseases are generally not considered useful or necessary.

Why Titer Test?

The parvovirus/distemper test can help you or others (vets, groomers, kennel owners, etc.) determine if your dog requires additional vaccination, and may save your dog unnecessary shots. 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.

Most experts believe strong titers are a more reliable indication of immunity than vaccination: tests show the actual immune response, not just the attempt to cause an immune response by vaccination. Do not expect, however, that everyone will accept test results in place of proof of vaccination.The subject of immunity is complicated, and we are programmed to think of vaccination as “the gold standard” — the more, the better. Experts who challenge the status quo are often maligned. Humans don’t like change.

How often should I Test Titers for Parvo and Distemper?

You’re going to have to decide for yourself. Some vets recommend testing yearly, but this can be expensive. Others test every three years. Still others test five to seven years after vaccination. Why? Challenge tests show that successful vaccination against parvovirus gives most animals at least seven years of immunity. Distemper provides immunity for at least five to seven years.*

Dr. Ron Schultz, one of the most renowned pet vaccination experts in the country, believes that once a test yields strong titers, you need not test again. In Dr. Jean Dodd’s article on vaccine reactions, she quotes Dr. Schultz on the value of testing titers: “an animal with a positive test has sterilizing immunity and should be protected from infection. If that animal were vaccinated it would not respond with a significant increase in antibody titer, but may develop a hypersensitivity to vaccine components (e.g. fetal bovine serum).”

Does a Weak Titer Mean My Dog Deeds a “Booster” Shot?

Maybe not for dogs that have previously shown strong titers. Many experts, including Dr. Schultz, say the dog’s immune system will have produced “memory cells” that will produce antibodies when they’re needed. Think of memory cells as reserve forces. When known foreigners invade, they remember how to attack them. Dr. Shultz has said, “show that an animal with a positive test has sterilizing immunity and should be protected from infection. If that animal were vaccinated it would not respond with a significant increase in antibody titer, but may develop a hypersensitivity to vaccine components (e.g. fetal bovine serum).Read more about memory cells here. Read pages 5-6 of Antibody Titers vs Annual Vaccination by Richard Ford, DVM for more information.

Should I Test My Puppy?

Yes! If so, when? Ideally, puppies should have had their last vaccination after 16 weeks of age then should be tested to see if further vaccination is necessary. There’s an excellent discussion about testing puppies in the 2006 American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Canine Vaccine Task Force Report (page 13) entitled What Are The Possible Applications of Serologic Testing? It reads, “Such titer testing is the only way to ensure that a puppy has developed an immune response after vaccinating.”

What do Titer Tests Cost?

Testing costs vary widely from practice to practice, so shop around. Some vets do in-house testing. Others use outside labs. Some mark up tests and services a little; others, a lot. You should be able to have parvo/distemper tests done most places for less than $100. Rabies tests, on the other hand, can cost considerably more, in large part because they are sent overnight to a lab. (Ask your vet to have a Titer Testing Day so that they can send multiple tests in one package and save considerably on shipping costs.) Consider contacting Hemopet, Dr. Jean Dodd’s nonprofit organization, for their pricing and her excellent reading of results. When comparative shopping, make sure pricing includes blood draw and shipping.

Wait! Before jumping to the conclusion that vaccinating is much cheaper than testing, remember that testing can be a one-time (or at least rare) expense and is no riskier than any simple blood draw. Vaccinating, on the other hand, can potentially cause a lifetime of illness.

Should I Titer Test for Rabies?

The rabies titer test will give you an indication of your dog’s immunity if he or she is at particular risk for contracting rabies. It may also be required prior to international travel. Test results will NOT be accepted by Animal Control and most others as a substitute for vaccination of healthy dogs as required by law.

If your dog has documented health problems or documented adverse reactions to shots, your vet may be able to get your dog an exemption to rabies vaccination. (Learn more at www.Truth4Dogs.org.) A rabies titer test is not usually necessary when requesting an exemption but may be useful when re-applying for a denied exemption. It may also give you and others piece of mind if you’re contemplating an exemption.

(Note: a French challenge study has shown rabies vaccination gives immunity for at least five years. In the U.S, the Rabies Challenge Fund is doing concurrent tests for five years and seven years to extend the period between shots. This important nonprofit study is funded solely by donations from dog lovers like you.)

Can I Titer Test Immediately After Vaccination?

To get an accurate test, you must wait at least 14 days after vaccination before testing.

What if your vet, groomer, spouse, best friend, kennel owner or day care proprietor says titer testing is “voodoo science,” that your dog needs continued vaccination even if testing indicates otherwise? Know that vets out of school longer than 10 years received little or no immunology or vaccinology training in school; they shouldn’t be considered experts unless they’ve devoted hundreds of hours to research and training. Others who want to influence you may have no training at all and may be acting out of fear. Do your own research and advocate for your dog.


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12 Responses to Titer Testing

  1. Excellent article – I’m just looking into Titer Testing for my Springer and found this very helpful. Thank you.

  2. Devon

    Hi there,
    I stumbled upon your site looking for some information about vaccines. I have two pound puppies (9 and 12 weeks) that got their second round of 4in1 boosters as well as a second dewormer this past Tuesday. They received the first set while at animal control, so we aren’t sure how they reacted to those, but our 9 week old little girl reacted terribly. Wednesday,the evening after her shot, she was vomiting, then on thursday she had horrible, explosive diarrhea and was generally listless. We fed her boiled chicken and rice, with pedialyte throughout the ordeal.Friday we took her to our vet. She had lost over a pound in the three days, and is looking increasingly emaciated. The vet gave her some subcu fluids, cerenia, diphenhydramine, and ran a blood panel (nothing abnormal save for slightly low white cell count). She sent us home with instructions to keep her hydrated and administer children’s Benadryl every 8 hours. She still has no interest in food or water. We have been giving her warmed wet food mixed with pedialyte, but she’s not her feisty little self. Sorry for the long winded rant. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • Dogs Naturally Magazine

      Did the vet run a snap test for Parvo? I would treat with Parvaid immediately, you can get it sent overnight. Also, use the Emergency Tea recipe on their website until you get it, just google Ambertech Parvaid and you will find it. Even it if isn’t parvo, this herbal solution works well for all types of diarrhea and vomiting. Continue with the Sub-Q’s and I would recommend bringing a stool sample to the vet for a parvo snap test and running another WBC. Take her off the Benadryl and put her on the Parvaid.

  3. Rhonda Floyd

    I throw my money out the window to pay for yearly titers in order to keep the vaccination police away from my precious little ones. One vet laughed and made a joke about “little white dog reaction” when my tiny rescue Maltese had horrible vomiting and diarrhea after a parvo vaccine. (I gave permission for parvo only vaccine only to find out later that she had been given a combo vaccine which I specifically forbade)! I have titered-out my dogs for years and have had a dog test low on titers one year and with no intervention, test adequate on the same titers the next year. Just like vaccines, titers are no guarantee that a dog is protected against a disease, but it is the best quantifiable indicator we have. As a CVICU nurse, my titers were tested for HepB after being vaccinated. But they don’t require my being RE-titered every year! Once is enough!
    I have a precious rescue shih tzu who started having seizures a few weeks after receiving a rabies vaccine – his only vaccine in 5 years. People are not aware that rabies reactions may take weeks or months to present and so may not be recognized as reactions. Our rescue has many stories of dogs dying of anemia or dying immediately after vaccines – and many people applying to adopt are doing so because their dog died after vaccines.
    A friend had a vet finally admit to her that he vaccinates every year because he is not doing what is in the best interest of the dog, but that his job is to protect the public health of people. Of course, I don’t think parvo, distemper & respiratory viruses are a public health issue and he still requires them if you use is practice. It is just SO exasperating to constantly fight to protect these little ones from vets who are supposed to “do no harm” but instead push routine vaccines to get you into the practice. Thankfully, there are a few good vets who know the truth & are willing to judge a dog on his individual needs. Interesting that the specialty vets NEVER push routine vaccination or demand proof of vaccination. That tells me something for sure!
    Love the rabies challenge fund and so thankful for what they are doing. Don’t know if it wil ever be accepted by the vet societies though…

  4. Thank you for this article, with all the different debates between vets and dog owners this has made it easy to understand so that we pet owners can make our own educated decisions for OUR dogs. I’m fed up with never getting a straight answer and paying every year…..to kill my dogs!

  5. Hi Ron and Sandy. I’m so sorry for your loss. I wish I could say your situation is unusual but I hear similar heartbreaking stories every day. I have one of my own.

    If you have a chance, please post Koda’s story at http://www.dogs4dogs.com/blog/2008/06/18/20/ There are lots of rabies vaccine reaction stories there and it just adds to the evidence that this vaccine is dangerous.

    I also hope you’ll support the wonderful efforts of the nonprofit http://www.rabieschallengefund.org They are working to make the vaccine safer and will soon have established a titer standard for dogs.

    All the best,
    Jan Rasmusen

  6. Ron & Sandy

    I am glad to have read this article of yours. On 2/22/11 we had to say goodbye to our 4 yr old PUG “KODA”. He went into anaphylatic shock as a result of receiving a vaccination on 2/19/11 :(
    Please continue to educate the public. Thank You!

  7. Dear Jan, thank you very much for your well-written article. My beloved male Standard Poodle passed away on Nov 3, 2011 from the rabies vaccine. I had been telling and begging my vet for ages to please run a titer on the rabies vaccine for him as we did with all the other vaccines, and he would not. He always insisted that in S Cal it would not matter and that there would be nothing we and he could do. Shomer, our beloved dog ran his titers on the parvo/distemper sky high. They were blown away how high, as though he had just been vaccinated the previous day, similar to what you wrote. And these would be take a cpl of years later.
    I work in health with humans and animals and have a lot of biochem background. What good it did for us..
    You should look in to the MTHFR gene as I do with people. It stands for methytetrahydrofolatereductace test. It shows how well the liver methylates. Meaning, methylates, or attaches on to the toxin in the liver and draws it out to the intestines or renal area to poop or urinate it out. If they do not methylate well, it stays in, and eventually leaches in to the blood system, which takes it to crucial organs and tissues in the body, causing much harm.
    There is so much I could say about this gene. But, I even contacted Davis vet school and their statement to me was, “Even if we did test for this and saw the gene expression, we would not know what to do with it.” This flabberghasts me, because all mammals have a liver, and the liver does the same action in all mammals, hence the same for all of us. At least, in humans, dogs and cats.
    Meanwhile my young Standard Poodle became so sick it turned to cancer and killed him within one year. He was so young. Do know, I do not go to that vet anymore. They never even said a word of anything to me after I begged and pleaded for the titer. They never said anything to me after Shomer’s deadly diagnosis, either. How many more pets will die because they are not designed to take in so many toxins on top of one another. What makes them so different from humans how have these very same difficulties?
    Sincerely, Elinor Silverstein


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