What are titers?
Have you ever heard someone talking about getting titers done for their dog? Has your vet ever mentioned it? Or perhaps you read an article in the Whole Dog Journal about titering but wanted a little more information?
Today I want to talk to you about the importance of doing titers when it’s beneficial to do them, how to get them done, and what it involves.
What Are Titers?
By its medical definition titer means “the concentration of an antibody, as determined by finding the highest dilution at which it is still able to cause agglutination of the antigen.”
Okay…so what does that mean and how does that apply to your dog?
It’s all to do with vaccinations.
When your dog is vaccinated, they are exposed to a killed or weakened version of an organism so that their body produces antibodies necessary to fight that organism.
For example, a parvo vaccination includes either a modified living version of the parvovirus or a killed version. When this virus is injected into your dog, their body responds by creating antibodies to fight the virus. These antibodies stick around for a while and during that time, your dog is protected against contracting the virus again because they have antibodies against it.
Now, the veterinary community has long made recommendations for revaccination schedules based on little scientific evidence at all. Why? Some believe it is because it’s better to be safe than sorry. Others believe it’s simply a matter of greed. I prefer to believe the first.
For example, it has long been recommended that the parvo vaccination should be repeated after three years to increase the presence of parvo antibodies in your dog’s body to maintain immunity. More recently, however, research by Dr. Ronald Schultz, a veterinary immunologist at the University of Wisconsin, showed that the period of immunity after vaccination is actually much longer than originally thought. In fact, for some vaccinations, one-time vaccination provided lifelong immunity!
Of course, individual immunity will differ from dog to dog depending on a range of factors, but this research certainly raises concerns over over-vaccination.
Why Worry About Over-Vaccination?
Why should you worry about over-vaccination?
All vaccinations come with the potential of adverse reaction. The chance of adverse reaction to vaccination is small for most dogs (some breeds have a higher prevalence for adverse reaction), but increasing your dog’s exposure by giving unnecessary vaccinations increases this risk for an adverse reaction.
It isn’t only the initial reaction to the vaccination itself that pet owners should be concerned over, vaccinations can also cause some dogs to have an increased risk of chronic illness, autoimmune diseases or diseases such as cancer.
And then there are the additives in vaccines. Just like human vaccinations, dog’s vaccinations contain ingredients other than the disease organisms. One example of this is aluminum. With every vaccination, your dog is exposed to a small amount of aluminum and over time that quantity accumulates. With that accumulation comes side effects related to toxicity…in the case of aluminum, this is often cognitive dysfunction.
Okay…So What Are You Supposed to Do?
Let me preface by saying that I am NOT an anti-vaxxer. I believe that vaccinations have their place and have transformed medicine as we see it today. I do NOT recommend avoiding vaccinating your dog. I do, however, believe that you can get too much of a “good thing” and that vaccinations should not be given when they are unnecessary.
There is a problem, however. Many vets are taught that the “protocol” is annual vaccination.
This is where it’s important that you advocate for your dog.
“But how can I advocate for my dog if my vet doesn’t “buy” Dr. Schultz’s research findings?”
Many vets shun Dr. Schultz’s findings because it’s not what they were taught or how their company does business. How can you – someone who likely did not attend veterinary school – argue against the protocol of your vet – someone who did go to veterinary school?
You don’t have to.
This is where titers come in.
What Are Titers?
A titer is a blood test that takes a look at the antibody level in the blood. By running a titer each year that your dog is “due for revaccination” you can determine SCIENTIFICALLY whether your dog requires that vaccination or not.
If a titer shows that your dog still has enough antibodies to provide effective protection against a virus or disease, then a revaccination is not necessary.
If your vet argues against this, it’s time to find another vet.
Will titers always show that your dog still has immunity? No. Different dogs react differently to vaccines and disease. This is why it’s necessary to run a titer rather than to simply rely on Dr. Schultz’s research. You need to KNOW that your dog is protected against serious diseases that could ultimately take their life.
Why Don’t More People Run Titers?
Many dog owners simply don’t know that running titer tests are an option.
It is ALWAYS an option.
Another reason why dog owners don’t run titers more regularly is cost.
Titer tests themselves aren’t expensive, no more than vaccinations, but should a titer reveal the need for vaccination, you will need to pay for the titer as well as the necessary vaccination.
So is it worth the cost to run titers? It really depends on your financial situation.
For me and Jet, it was always worth running titers, particularly as he got into his older years. He was an illness-prone dog with poor overall health so anything I could do to reduce his exposure to risk of any kind was beneficial.
Let Me Reiterate…
Before I sign off for the day, let me reiterate here that vaccinations ARE IMPORTANT for your dog. Diseases like rabies, parvovirus, and distemper are devastating and often fatal. You owe it to your dog to vaccinate them against the possibility of contracting such contagious diseases. That said, you also owe it to them not to over-vaccinate.