You may be hearing a lot of buzz lately about “titers.” All responsible dog owners are familiar with vaccinations. Whether you’re an experienced puppy owner, rescue dog foster family or just own and love dogs, you know dogs need vaccines, just like human children do.
All About Vaccines
In the canine world, puppies start off getting their required “puppy shots” around 8/9 weeks old. These shots cover the basic, most common diseases that your dog could get exposed to. The Amerian Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has a list of recommended vaccinations that they consider the “core” vaccines. Core vaccines include:
- Canine distemper virus (CDV, referred to as distemper),
- Canine parvovirus (CPV, parvo),
- Canine adenovirus (CAV, also known as canine hepatitis)
The initial core vaccines are expected to provide protection for a minimum of one year, however recent research is leading many to believe that they last much longer than this. These findings are leading some dog owners to question how necessary the most commonly accepted vaccination schedule really is.
Other Required Vaccines
Rabies is also on the list of required vaccines, though, unlike the other diseases, rabies vaccines are required by law. The required frequency of the rabies vaccine depends on the state you live in. State laws are in place for rabies vaccines because of the greater risk that rabies poses to humans. Most states require rabies shots every two to three years, some require them annually.
Depending on where you live there are other non-core vaccines that your vet will recommend for your dog. These can include vaccines for kennel cough, Lyme disease, canine coronavirus and canine parainfluenza.
What About Titers?
More and more the necessity of vaccines, especially the boosters that follow are being questioned. Over-vaccination can be as problematic as not getting vaccinated enough. The article titled “Vaccine Titer Tests” on The Whole Dog Journal website states “The core vaccines are an important and life-saving component of responsible dog care when administered properly – neither too frequently nor inadequately.”
How can you, as a responsible dog owner know if your dog does indeed need the boosters? There is a simple test available that your veterinarian can order that will help to determine the answer to this question. It’s called a vaccine titer. A titer is a simple blood test that is able to tell if your dog has the antibodies to the diseases that the core vaccines protect against. If antibodies are present your dog is considered to be immune to that disease.
Titers are not new. Traditionally, after a puppy has had their first vaccine they will get a titer done two to three weeks after. This will show if the vaccine administration was effective or not. Sometimes puppies first vaccinations may not “take” due to the mother’s antibodies still circulating in their body. The mother’s antibodies make the vaccine ineffective. This test is a fairly standard test that most all veterinarians will do. Most current recommendations are that the dogs be tested again every three years if the titers show they do have sufficient amount of antibodies to the core diseases. If the titer test shows no active antibodies it means that they are not protected from that disease and will need to be vaccinated or they risk getting sick if they’re exposed to it.
How to Decide What’s Best for Your Dog?
There is some debate among veterinarians as to whether the presence of antibodies does truly protect your dog from becoming sick if exposed. Research shows more and more that it is rare for a dog that has antibodies to one of the main diseases to become infected. Opponents will argue that this does not mean the dog cannot become symptomatic if exposed.
If you’re considering the pros and cons of titer tests and want to research further, one of the most respected and referred to veterinarians with an established protocol for minimal vaccination is Dr. Jean Dodd. She is an excellent resource for those that are undecided or need guidance on following a minimal vaccine plan.
Keep in mind as you’re considering whether to vaccinate or titer test that not everyone will accept titers as acceptable proof that your dog is protected. If you use a boarding kennel or take your dog to dog obedience classes you will want to check their policies. Also, if you’re traveling out of the country a titer will not be accepted as proof of protection against disease and you will be required to have vaccination records.
As always, when it comes to the care and health of your dog and any decisions regarding vaccines or titers you should consult your veterinarian. Vaccinations should be determined individually between you and your veterinarian for each dog you own based on a combination of factors. Those factors should include age, genetics, breed, current health, where you live and you and your dog’s lifestyle. Your vet knows your dog’s history, is familiar with the diseases that are most prevalent in your region and can guide you on what’s best for your dog.