Titer Tests: Don’t Vaccinate your Dog Unnecessarily

vaccine4Enlightened 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?

Blood antibody titer testing (a simple blood test) is the best way to determine if an animal or human has received immunity from vaccination.  (Just giving a vaccine proves only that you’ve given it, not that it worked.)

Testing your pup after her “puppy shots” tells you if immunity was achieved, potentially eliminating unnecessary revaccination.  (Remember, every vaccine brings with it the potential for adverse reactions, ranging from a fever to even death.) Testing a new adult dog, or a dog with unknown vaccination history, helps determine if further vaccination is necessary and tells you which vaccines, if any, to give.  In the US, most experts recommend testing for parvovirus and distemper. Most other vaccines are either unnecessary in many areas or don’t confer immunity long enough to bother testing. At this time, titer testing is NOT a legal substitute for rabies vaccination.

If your vet doesn’t test titers as a routine matter before revaccinating, or if the cost is prohibitive, I hope you’ll tell your vet about a new inexpensive, quick in-office test, VacciCheck.

Titer Testing Can Assist in Avoiding Core Vaccine Over Vaccination

Although most veterinarians agree vaccines are necessary to prevent serious canine and feline infectious diseases, the frequency in which pets are vaccinated is debated.  Why does this matter? Although vaccines are largely safe for healthy animals, adverse reactions, both minor and serious, do occur. This is particularly bad when vaccines were given unnecessarily because the animal didn’t need the vaccine in the first place.

It is known that dogs, after vaccination, often maintain protective antibody to the important core diseases Canine Hepatitis, Parvovirus and Distemper for at least three or more years. Blood studies have shown immunity for seven years or more. But how do we know that the antibody levels of our pets through vaccination are adequate?

Titer Testing to Determine Duration of Immunity (DOI)

Duration of immunity refers to the length of time an animal is able to resist disease.  Blood antibody tests can be used to demonstrate the DOI after vaccination for many vaccines, including all the core vaccines. When antibodies are present there is no need to revaccinate the dog or cat for the specific disease tested. If antibody titer is absent, some vets believe a previously vaccinated dog should be revaccinated unless there is a medical basis for not so doing so. Studies have shown, however, that a dog that has had it’s “puppy shots” is likely immune for many years, even for life.  That means that even without a sufficient level of circulating antibodies, the immune system has “memory” and will still mount a response if exposed to that virus.

The minimum DOI data does not imply that all vaccinated dogs will be immune for the period of time listed, nor does it suggest that immunity may not last longer (e.g. the life of the dog). The percentage of vaccinated animals protected from clinical disease after challenge with canine distemper virus, canine parvovirus and canine adenovirus in studies conducted by Dr. Ronald Schultz was greater than 95%.

Previously, a significant drawback in performing antibody tests was the cost and the time to obtain results, as it required sending blood or serum to a lab. Consequently, many pets were unnecessarily needlessly vaccinated in the interest of time and money. . Times have changed.

A Concept Change in Titer Testing

VacciCheckVacciCheck is a rapid, simple, reliable and cost-effective antibody test useful in determining if a dog requires additional vaccination. It can also help determine the vaccination status of a dog with unknown vaccination history or help determine if puppies or kittens have developed immunity from vaccination.  What is also unique about the VacciCheck is that the test provides a simultaneous result developed for all three core vaccines per test, and results are received within about 20 minutes. Veterinary clinics and shelters therefore have a quick and simple in-office test that can be performed at a reasonable cost to the pet owner or shelter.

In the past, even though there was an intention by many pet owners and /or veterinarians to carry out titer testing for core vaccines as opposed to instead of automatically revaccinating, the price of a laboratory titer test when compared to a vaccination was often prohibitive.  The lab costs for these tests continue to rise.

Therefore s a result, with the price factor lessened via the use of the VacciCheck, veterinarians can send ‘annual Health Check’ reminders instead of Vaccination reminder cards for vaccines.  Why is this important?  The annual Health Check moves the emphasis from, and client expectation of annual revaccination, thus saving pet parents money and eliminating adverse reactions from unnecessary 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.

(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 test titers immediately after vaccinating? To get an accurate test, you must wait at least 14 days after vaccination before testing.

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 is not necessary as titers tend to remain stable for years. Others, like me, recommend a test every three years. Still others test five to seven years after vaccination. Why? Challenge and serology tests show that successful vaccination provides long-term protective immunity: Canine Adenovirus-2 (CAV-2) 7 years/9 years challenge-CAV-1/serology; Canine Parvovirus-2 (CPV-2) 7 years challenge/serology.  Incidently, Canine Rabies is 3 years/7 years challenge/serology.

What if your vet, groomer, spouse, best friend, kennel owner or day care provider 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 or perceived liability. Ultimately, it is your decision and your dog.  Do your own research and advocate for your dog.

Although there is much more that we need to know about duration of immunity to canine vaccines, the information we have at present provides adequate justification for the vaccination recommendations that I and other veterinarians have made and continue to make regarding frequency of vaccination.