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An Introduction to Titer Testing

By on October 6, 2018

From time to time, there are paradigm shifts in pet care. And sometimes when those large changes in thought take place, there’s confusion.

Each time a new option or suggestion becomes available, there’s some counter-argument to its efficacy or safety. It seems there are no clear answers. While some feel as if the new thinking is uninformed or incorrect, others wonder why people are changing their ways because the old way hasn’t given them any trouble.

Here, we’d like to introduce you to an option in vaccinating your animals- another divisive issue- titer testing.

There are many different lines of thought on vaccination. A recent development is the anti-vaccination sentiment. A more common position on vaccinations for pets include folks who automatically take the recommendation of veterinarians and/or guidelines set. There are also pet owners who can blend concepts from different schools of thought on shots. There’s no single mode of operation here as there are many paths to choose from.

It should be said, before we get any deeper, that vaccines are the most-effective, proven way to prevent, even eradicate disease. Proof can be found in the fact that polio has all but disappeared from the face of the Earth, among other examples. It should also be said that there’s a lot of mystery surrounding this topic of conversation. There’s much we don’t know. That said, educating yourself and taking charge of your animal’s care can’t hurt, regardless of where you decide to lean. If we are to suggest anything related to vaccination of your animals, it would be to have an open dialogue with people you trust and make informed decisions.

A relatively new concept that’s being explored by folks wanting to be more informed about the immunizations their animals are suggested to receive is titer testing.

So what is a titer test? It’s a simple blood test that measures levels of disease-combating antibodies in your pets. When an antigen or stimulus presents itself in a dog’s system (for example, a virus like Parvo) antibodies are (hopefully) there to ward it off. A titer test determines whether a dog has enough antibodies to fight a bacteria or virus that enters the system. The test will say there’s an amount lower, equal to, or higher than the suggested number of antibodies and pet owners then decide whether to immunize.

Why do some pet owners complete a titer test for their pets before determining what to do about vaccinations? There is some fear that goes into getting a vaccine. Some of it is warranted. One realistic fear, as we study immunology more now than ever, is that of over-immunizing.

When a dog (or human) is over-immunized, unwanted side-effects can result from the response a body has to the shot. It’s possible that no side effects can result from getting a shot, too, even when sufficient antibodies are already present in the system. Veterinarians the world over are studying the stuffing out of the issue and some information on that can be found here. Sometimes no adverse reactions result from immunizations; other times, side effects can turn out to be worse than the disease the shots are being given to prevent. The entire idea behind a titer test is to have information available that can inform your decisions on immunizing.

Here’s an example of how a titer test can inform your decision on immunization:

Let’s say it’s time to get a vaccination according to your animal’s immunization history and guidelines. Instead of automatically giving the shot, a titer test is completed. The results can come back and tell you, for example, that your dog has some number of antibodies that can fight off a virus. You’d then compare that number to the suggested level of antibodies in your dog’s system. Whenever a shot is due, a titer test can be run to gain information about antibodies present. At any point, you can run another titer test to determine whether you feel the shot is needed that time around.

A titer test’s information you may inform your decision whether you’re skipping a shot or administering it. Again, the point in getting the test run is that you’ve then got more information than if you hadn’t run it.

If you’re interested in learning more about titer testing, visit this link to the Kansas State Daignostics Lab where you can find resources including materials you and/or your vet will need to initiate the testing process. Pricing is available there, too, which is very affordable relative to the typical test nationally.

One other thing to note: If ever there’s a situation where you need to present proof of current vaccinations, please note that not everyone is willing to accept a titer test at this point. You can talk with your vet and the party requesting proof of vaccination to determine how to reconcile this. An example: the Nebraska Humane Society wants proof of a rabies shot, not a titer test result (even if it says antibody levels are much higher than what’s suggested).

Bottom line: Titer testing can give pet owners information that is not available without a test. Some feel another shot could cause unwanted side effects and, using the results of a titer test, some choose to skip shots knowing antibody levels should be high enough already.

And as stated earlier, there are folks all over the board when it comes to changes in thought. And with this relatively new tool in pet care, talk with people you trust and make a decision.

One last note: those who run titer tests for their animals aren’t necessarily “anti-vaccination” folks. Others who are skeptical about titer testing aren’t just “pro-vaccination” folks, either. And, for the record, we’re not absolutely pro-or-anti-vaccination here, we’re merely informing readers of a tool that may or may not inform decisions in their pet’s care.

About Eric Forrest

Eric is a pet lover, bookworm and dad. He's had 5 family dogs, 4 cats, a cottontail rabbit he nursed back to health, and two ducks. Cats are his preference, but Eric loves all little critters.

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