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CHOOSE THE TITER TEST

Few issues in veterinary medicine are as controversial as the debate about administering annual vaccinations to our dogs. Long considered part of the standard of baseline, responsible veterinary healthcare, and credited with conquering some of the fiercest canine viral and other infectious diseases, vaccinations now are also suspected of creating vulnerability to illnesses and chronic conditions such as anemia, arthritis, seizures, allergies, gastrointestinal and thyroid disorders, and cancer. As we’ve previously discussed in numerous articles, few people advocate refraining from the use of vaccinations altogether, but increasing numbers of veterinary experts recommend administering fewer vaccines to our dogs than was suggested in recent years. The current wisdom is to vaccinate our animal companions enough, but not too much. Does this seem a little arbitrary? It could, especially since the veterinary profession lacks complete information about exactly how long the effects of canine vaccines last. (We bet you thought that most vaccines “last” about a year, which is why you are supposed to bring your dog to the vet for more shots every year, right? Well, you’re wrong, and we’ll explain why below.) Fortunately, there is a tool that veterinarians and dog owners can use to determine whether or not a dog really needs further vaccination at any given time. It’s called a “titer test,” and it’s readily available, not terribly expensive, and offers multiple advantages over the practices (intentional or not) of over-vaccination and under-vaccination. To understand what a titer test is and what it can do for you and your dog, you need a little background information about vaccinations and their use in this country.

Understanding titer tests
The term “titer” refers to the strength or concentration of a substance in a solution. When testing vaccine titers in dogs, a veterinarian takes a blood sample from a dog and has the blood tested for the presence and strength of the dog’s immunological response to a viral disease. If the dog demonstrates satisfactory levels of vaccine titers, the dog is considered sufficiently immune to the disease, or possessing good “immunologic memory,” and not in need of further vaccination against the disease at that time.

Using the new TiterCHEKTM test kit, your veterinarian can now draw blood from your dog when you first arrive for his annual health exam, and within 15 minutes, be able to tell you whether or not he needs any vaccines.

Titer tests do not distinguish between the immunity generated by vaccination and that generated by natural exposure to disease agents. A dog may have developed immunity to a viral disease by receiving a vaccine against the disease, by being exposed to the disease in the natural environment and conquering it, sometimes without having demonstrated any symptoms of exposure to the disease, or by a combination of the two. Therefore, titer tests really measure both the “priming of the pump” that comes from vaccines, and the immunity resulting from natural exposure to disease during a dog’s lifetime. Only an indoor dog that has been totally sequestered from the natural environment is likely to have developed all of its immunity from vaccinations. Although the magnitude of immunity protection received by vaccination only is usually lower than by vaccination plus exposure, it doesn’t matter how your dog developed its strong immunity to specific viral diseases, as long as the immunity is present. By “titering” annually, a dog owner can assess whether her dog’s immune response has fallen below adequate levels. In that event, an appropriate vaccine booster can be administered.

Which titers tests?
Some dog owners, aware that there are dozens of vaccines available, are concerned that they would need to order titer tests for each vaccine. Actually, measuring the titers for just two vaccines, according to Dr. Dodds, can offer the dog owner a reliable “picture” of the dog’s immunological status. Good immunity to canine parvovirus (CPV) and canine distemper virus (CDV), she says, indicates proper “markers for the competence of the dog’s immune system.” Although the laboratories will also perform vaccine titer tests for other canine diseases, such as coronavirus and Lyme, Dr. Dodds deems these tests a waste of money. Protection from coronavirus, Dr. Dodds explains, depends on the current state of health of the dog’s gastrointestinal tract, not on what’s in the dog’s blood, so serum tests are not conclusive. Lyme is regionally based and not a significant threat to the general canine population, so only dogs in a high-risk environment need titer testing for Lyme. Dr. Dodds emphasizes that titer testing is not a “guess” at immunological response in a dog; when dealing with CDV and CDP, there is absolute correlation between certain high titer values and what is frequently referred to as “protection” from the diseases in question. In this case, the animal’s owner and veterinarian can feel quite confident that the animal possesses sufficient resources for fighting off a disease challenge. When the tests reveal that the animal has borderline or low titer values, the owner and veterinarian should consider revaccinating and then testing the titers again. It may turn out that the animal simply needed a booster to stimulate a stronger immune response. Or, maybe the people involved learn that the animal lacks the ability to respond normally to vaccines, that is, by mounting a proper immune response. In this case, the owner and veterinarian have gained very valuable information about the dog’s compromised immune status – information they never would have gained by simply vaccinating and assuming the dog was “protected” as is usually the case with healthy dogs. As you can see, in reality, simply administering vaccines to dogs every year is more of a guessing game than using titer tests to learn about the dog’s immune competence. Studies worldwide support titer test results as comprehensive information about a dog’s immunological response capabilities. * by Lorie Long ~Whole Dog Journal

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