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.