What is titre testing and how can it help you optimise the health of your dog?
Titre testing is a simple way to avoid over vaccinating your pet. This article explains about the recommended vaccinations for dogs and why titre testing is an important tool to help you keep your dog happy and healthy.
The Background On Core Vaccinations For Dogs
The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) produces vaccination guidelines to provide current scientific advice and best practice vaccination for dogs. The guidelines classify vaccines as either core or non-core; core vaccines are identified as those that give protection against diseases that are life threatening or cause significant rates of disease. Specifically, the core vaccines protect against:
- Canine distemper virus (CDV)
- Canine parvovirus-2 (CPV)
- Canine adenovirus-1 (CAV).
The WSAVA guidelines are that all dogs should receive the core vaccinations as a puppy, as a yearly booster then following this, every 3 years or more. They state that-
“Vaccines should not be given needlessly. Core vaccines should not be given any more frequently than every three years after the 6- or 12-month booster injection following the puppy series, because the duration of immunity (DOI) is many years and may be up to the lifetime of the pet.”
This statement is contradictory, because if the duration of immunity can be many years or even a lifetime, a yearly booster and then one every three years may still be needlessly vaccinating. This advice is also often taken to mean that we should vaccinate every three years but this is not the case because if the dog is already immune to these three core diseases, re-vaccinating will not add any extra immunity.
What this suggests is that it is advisable to test the immunity of your dog rather than just blindly vaccinating on an arbitrary time scale. Fortunately this can be done quite simply and although it is not offered by all vets, many progressive, modern vets do this by offering something called a titre test. This gives dog owners an important alternative route to routine vaccination, so that they are only administered when needed.
“The principles of evidence based veterinary medicine should be better practice than simply administering a vaccine booster on the basis that this would be ‘safe and cost less.” WSAVA
So What Is Titre Testing?
Titre tests indicate whether or not your dog has immunity against the tested diseases. Your vet takes a small amount of blood from your dog and it is tested in a laboratory for the amount of antibodies present. A negative test result indicates that the dog has little or no antibodies, so revaccination is recommended. A positive result means further vaccination is pointless because the dog is already immune to the diseases tested for. Titre testing is therefore a really useful tool to see the immunity status of your dog for the core diseases.
Why Bother To Titre Test?
Vaccinating dogs that are already immune is not only futile but it also unnecessarily exposes your dog to the risks and side effects of vaccines. Whilst vaccines do save lives by protecting against potentially fatal diseases, they aren’t without the risk of side effects, some of which can be serious.
Reactions to vaccines are known as adverse events and common problems include:
- hair loss
- loss of appetite
Moderate reactions include:
- behaviour changes
- weight loss
- suppressed immune system
The most severe reactions to vaccinations include:
- organ inflammation
What Else Does The Research Say About Vaccine Risks?
Moore et al (2005) found that adverse event risk was up to 38% greater for neutered versus sexually intact dogs and up to 64% greater for dogs approximately 1 to 3 years old versus 2 to 9 months old. The risk also significantly increased as the number of vaccine doses administered per office visit increased; each additional vaccine significantly increased risk of an adverse event by 27% in small dogs under 10kg and 12% in dogs over 10 kg (vaccines commonly contain more than one disease). Moore et al found the clinical signs of a vaccine reaction were-
- Facial swelling (30.8%)
- Wheals or urticaria (20.8%)
- Generalised pruritus (15.3%)
- Vomiting (10.3%)
- Localised vaccination site reactions (8%)
- Systemic signs- fever, lethargy, anorexia (5.5%)
Valli (2015) reported a low percentage of adverse reactions but events following vaccination included vomiting and diarrhoea, respiratory disorders, anaphylactic shock, loss of consciousness, neurological and autoimmune disorders and death.
What Does The UK Veterinary Medicines Directorate Say About Adverse Reactions To Vaccines?
In 2016, safety reports describing adverse reactions in dogs showed that the vaccines most mentioned were inactivated Leptospira only vaccines. The next most often reported group of vaccines were the core live viral vaccines offering combined protection against distemper, adenovirus and parvovirus. Combined live viral and inactivated bacterial vaccines for protection against distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, parvovirus and leptospirosis were the next most often reported vaccine group.
Vaccines accounted for almost half of all authorised medicines mentioned in adverse event reports.
So whilst we need to protect our dogs against serious diseases by vaccinating, it is important that we do this only when necessary in order to protect our dogs against other health problems. Rather than following a blanket schedule of vaccination, titre testing enables you to only vaccinate dogs that need it.
The Perils Of Outdated Pressure
There are still some vets who advocate yearly vaccinations and others who push the yearly and tri-annual boosters regardless of the evidence to the contrary, many do not even offer titre tests. Another problem is that the labelling on some vaccines has not been updated, so there are vaccine products which still state that the duration of immunity is one year.
Boarding services (kennels & home boarders) are permitted by their licensing conditions to accept titre testing results as proof of immunity, however unfortunately there are still those who disregard this and insist on routine vaccinations too, even though this isn’t always in the best interests of the dog.
The WSAVA say-
“Above all, it must be remembered that even a 3-year license is a minimum DOI for core vaccines and for most core vaccines the true DOI is likely to be considerably longer, if not lifelong, for the majority of vaccine recipients.”
What Can Dog Owners Do?
To avoid unnecessarily exposing your dog to unneeded vaccines and their potential side effects, you can ask your vet to titre test first. This can be done before both the yearly and tri-annual boosters. If your vet won’t provide this service, phone other local practices and ask if they will.
When choosing a home boarding or kennelling service, check if they will accept titre test results before booking. There are knowledgeable professionals who appreciate the risks of over vaccination and who will support you in wanting what is best for your dog. The test must be done by a vet, this will provide you with professional proof of immunity and good boarding services will understand this. If a service refuses to accept titre results, these are your choices-
- Stay with the service and potentially over vaccinate OR
- Look for an alternative service who will work with you for your dog’s welfare
Local councils can provide a list of licensed dog boarding premises to help you with your search.
Our Recent Experience
We were receiving regular reminders for our dog’s yearly booster from our vet, Milo had received just his puppy vaccinations a year before. The home boarding service we used also wanted him re-vaccinated before he could go again. Despite these demands we were reluctant to blindly vaccinate without checking whether Milo actually needed them first.
Titre testing is not difficult or expensive, our dog happily stuffed his face with cooked chicken whilst our new vet took the blood and Milo didn’t even notice! We had him tested instead of going ahead with the recommended yearly booster and he received a positive result for all three diseases. Titres greater than 1:40 suggest protective immunity, his results were as follows-
Canine Adenovirus 1:128
If we hadn’t requested the titre test, Milo would have received a totally pointless booster vaccination and been exposed to the associated short and long term side effects. Instead, he has proven immunity and we have also protected him against the potential harm of over vaccination. We will continue to use titre testing in the future, our vet is happy that it does not need to be done every year, so we will test again in 3 years time.
References/ Further Reading
Schultz, Thiel, Mukhtar, Sharp & Larson. Age and long term protective immunity in dogs and cats. Journal of Comparative Pathology, 2010, Volume 142, S102-S108.
Day, Horzinek, Schultz and Squires. Guidelines for the vaccination of dogs and cats compiled by the vaccination guidelines group (VGG) of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA). Journal of Small Animal Practice • Vol 57 • January 2016.
Moore, Guptill, Ward, Glickman, Faunt Lewis & Glickman. Adverse events diagnosed within three days of vaccine administration in dogs. Journal American Veterinary Medical Association, 2005, 227(7):1102-8.
Meyer, K. Vaccine Associated Adverse Events. Animal Practice, 2001, Volume 31, Issue 3. Pages 493-514.
Valli. Suspected adverse reactions to vaccination in Canadian dogs and cats. Canadian Veterinary Journal, October 2015; 56(10): 1090–1092.
Veterinary Medicines Directorate. Veterinary Pharmacovigilance in the United Kingdom Annual Review 2016. www.gov.uk/government/publications
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