Use Titer Testing Wisely. Save Money and Serious Illness
Okay, I’ll be honest. I’m worried about your understanding of titer testing. There have been a whole lot of comments on Facebook and elsewhere where I’m seeing I need to help you get more clarity.
Clearly, you are interested in this idea. Bravo!
But you really need to be smart about this if titers are going to serve you.
Misunderstanding them could cost you money.
Or worse: your animal’s health. That’s what brings me here.
Titer testing, in a nutshell, measures the amount of antibody to a given disease in your animal.
So, a positive titer for distemper, or parvo, or rabies indicates your dog has some protection again those diseases.
A titer showing up for panleukopenia, the feline version of distemper, tells you your cat has immunity to that disease.
Are you with me so far? All well and good to know this much.
But from here on, your understanding gets a bit dicey, as evidenced by many of the comments I see all over the net.
This is worth taking a deep dive on, so join me in learning how to use this tool properly.
I want you to be smarter than the average commenter on Facebook.
Your animals are depending on you for that.
Mistake #1: “No Vet Vaccinates Every 6 Months!”
I ran into this one a while back, as a commenter called BS on an article on titers mentioning frequency of vaccinations.
If you know me at all, you know I take over vaccination very seriously.
Vaccination, in my humble opinion, after watching animal health over the past 40 years, is your single most important decision.
It turns out that LOTS of vets, especially those flying under the corporate banner, do practice gross over vaccination, as irresponsible and damaging as it is.
In the name of “wellness,” Banfield does this!
How many people use Banfield vets?
A whole lot. They’ve got over a 1000 franchise clinics out there, most of them in PetSmart stores, and those are common, right?
Here’s a post I did some time back that’ll set you straight on the “no vet does this” idea:
But if you have been a regular reader of this website, you know better than to spend money getting into a mess like this.
Avoid this over vaccination danger by being smart.
Mistake #2: Titers Must Be Done Yearly
One commenter says,
tiger testing… is required to be done annually, to ensure the proper levels of immunity are present. I looked into it, and was very disappointed to learn that titer testing my dogs does not buy me anything.”
Spell check aside (I can’t imagine how expensive testing tigers would be, but I digress), there’s no requirement to titer test.
Do it or don’t do it at all. Do it as often as you wish.
Just be sure you understand what you are spending your hard earned money on when you get a titer test.
Here’s a person who’s doing it regularly, perhaps for her peace of mind, and look at the great results Lisa is seeing:
Lucy is 9 and still titers adequate immunity from her puppy shots.”
I’d suggest Lisa can stop titer testing.
Right now, it’s only a danger to her pocketbook, but if, in doing this titer testing, she’s going to make Mistake #6, the danger increases substantially!
Mistake #3: A Titer is Just a Snapshot in Time (It Changes Frequently)
This one is a corallary to #2. While titers do change, they don’t do so quickly.
The fact is, titers are pretty darned stable.
Here’s veterinary immunologist Ron Schultz, PhD on this point:
You should avoid vaccinating animals that are already protected, and titer testing can determine if adequate, effective immunity is present. It is often said that the antibody level detected is ‘only a snapshot in time.’ That’s simply not true; it is more a ‘motion picture that plays for years.’”
This speaks to the second mistake above: odds are high you don’t need to test titers annually.
In fact, having shown a titer at all, your animal can be counted on to have immunity against those diseases, probably for life.
Mistake #4: Titer Results Are Useless. There’s a Rabies Law That Trumps Them.
Whoa, not so fast.
Yes, rabies titers are something that can be measured, and true, if you bring the results to your local governing body (usually, your municipality, city, county, etc.), most of the officials will either
- Not know what a titer even is
- Not accept a titer result. “We need proof of vaccination.”
If your goal is to avoid unnecessary vaccination for the safety of your pet, you’ve got some options, and titers can play a role.
Please note: as rabies is a human health disease, you’ll want to read this page before you make your decisions. Considering what can happen if your animal bites someone is critically important.
“Out of date” on rabies vaccination?
You’ll want to read this good news, which further arms you with valuable information.
Plan A to Avoid Unnecessary Rabies Vaccinations
The majority of my clients, once they’ve learned about longevity of immunity from 1-2 rabies vaccinations, given after 16 weeks of age, and the inherent harm in over vaccinating, quietly “drop out” of rabies vaccination requirements.
YMMV (your mileage may vary), depending on where you live.
It’s worth being proactive on this, I think.
One rabies vaccination too many can cause great harm and even death.
A rabies law? The following of which could cause your animal harm or even death?
Probably worth thinking like this intelligent fellow,
When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.”
– Thomas Jefferson
A rabies titer, alongside your vaccination certificate, would offer proof of immunity, if your animal bites someone.
Plan B to Avoid Unnecessary Rabies Vaccinations
In the U.S., eighteen states now allow medical exemptions to rabies revaccination.
There’s some great language in these exemptions, language I often use in my letters of vaccine waiver that I write for clients to board or groom:
Colorado’s statute says,
A veterinarian licensed in Colorado may issue a written waiver as provided in this section exempting an animal from a rabies vaccination order if the veterinarian, in his or her professional opinion, determines the rabies inoculation is contraindicated due to the animal’s medical condition.”
Florida’s statute states,
A dog, cat, or ferret is exempt from vaccination against rabies if a licensed veterinarian has examined the animal and has certified in writing that at the time vaccination would endanger the animal’s health because of its age, infirmity, disability, illness, or other medical considerations.”
Have a holistic vet worth his salt? If you do, his opinion is enough to keep your animal from further rabies vaccinations, laws not withstanding.
Get him to write you a waiver, based on your animal’s health challenges.
A titer may help, as part of this waiver letter.
It’s dangerous to your pet’s health to just roll over and vaccinate because there’s a statute saying you must.
Mistake #5: Titer Testing is Expensive!
Several commenters cite the expense of titer testing.
It can be, but shop around.
There are kits your vet can use, so testing might range from $60-$80, if done in the vet’s clinic.
If they send the blood to a lab instead, it’ll be more like $150–200.
Some said it’s cheaper to just vaccinate yearly!
Oh my! Let’s look beyond short term costs here!
Yes, Dr. WhiteCoat is clearly still doing annual vaccinations, counter to all the current recommendations.
Only because he can. There’s no one to stop him, science be damned.
The danger here is taking the easy road of “just vaccinating” instead of assessing your animal’s need.
If titers can help you make wiser decisions, use them.
But, let’s compare the expense of titer testing with the cost of disease coming about from unnecessary vaccination.
You might think differently about expenses when you read some of these outcomes from “just vaccinating” instead of titer testing.
Certainly what I’ll do in the future (titer test). I’ve spent close to $500 on vet bills as a result of a rabies shot and still my Doberman is suffering.”
–“What happened,” another reader asks?
“Severe diarrhea, panniculitis, bald spot now on the injection site about the size of a quarter. It’s been 3 months now and she’s still on (ID) a gastrointestinal dog food that somewhat helps.”
Nalyn really learned how expensive and risky revaccination can be:
My dog developed Immune Mediated meningitis shortly after being re-vaccinated. She almost died. grand mal cluster of seizures, left side was paralyzed then her back legs for 2.5 weeks. I was actually told to put her to sleep because she had no chance to survive. 10 grand later and an amazing neurology team, she is in remission.”
[Still think titer testing is expensive?]
Nalyn’s not alone, by any means. Julie writes in from the UK,
2008 my Cavalier developed Immune Mediated Haemolytic Anaemia. He nearly died. His odds were 50/50. 2 emergency blood transfusions, bone marrow aspirates, drugs….cost £15k to get him well; add to that the cost of the vaccinations that caused it! I thought I was protecting him, instead I was killing him. I haven’t vaccinated my dogs since. PLEASE DON’T OVER VACCINATE.”
[again, in addition to being life threatening, you’ll notice the expense involved.]
On the bright side is Susan’s contribution:
Did my first Titer last week, just got the results & they were perfect, it (costed) $137.00. It would of cost me that for all the shots. No more Vacs for my fur-family!”
Cynthia expressed sentiments close to mine, and she hasn’t even found the less expensive version yet:
It is worth every penny of the $150. The first thing I ask a vet is do you do titers. If they do not, I find another vet… I think it says a lot about a vet that won’t do titers.”
Can you do some shopping to find vets who do this testing in house? If your vet doesn’t, perhaps it’s time to suggest he start.
That, or you and your pocketbook will be going elsewhere (right on, Cynthia!).
Mistake #6: The BIG ONE: Revaccinating When Titers Fall
If You Misunderstand This, You’ll Put Your Animal At Risk
The central point of danger to your misunderstanding titer testing is this:
Continuing to vaccinate your already-vaccinated animal
is risky business.
Falling titers or not.
Why The Risk? Serious Disease!
Let the comments above inform you of this danger. Real folks, really serious and costly vaccine injury.
Or ask your holistic vet for their examples.
We all see them on a daily basis.
Our last dog died after the lepto vaccine was given. We now go to a holistic vet.”
Barbara tells of the well known cancer appearing at the vaccine site,
Cats also can develop a cancer at the vaccine site. Feline Vaccine Associated Sarcoma has been known about since the late 80s…My cat BC died from this cancer. It’s real and it’s still happening”
Sherry tells of her dog getting cancer:
My Tifanny was dx with lymphoma two weeks to the day after being vaccinated. If left alone, she would have been dead in less than two weeks! Through chemo and a bunch of dietary and supplement changes, she lived nine additional months.
As I explained in an article Dogs Naturally Magazine shared with their readers, falling titers does not mean immunity is gone.
Reread this bold part once more. It’s the most common mistake many of you seem to be making.
It’s shows up again and again, across way too many dog group social media sites.
It’s also the most dangerous mistake you can make.
Titers will fall, eventually. Probably years from now (see #3 above).
(Though, interestingly, rabies titers often continue to rise after vaccination has stopped. More than one of my holistic vet colleagues has measured this phenomenon.)
It’s critical to understand that a fallen titer does not mean more vaccinations are necessary.
Want to know why? It’s a sound argument of immunology I call the Fallacy of Titer Tests.
As in all things in critical thinking, you can’t skim over things like titer testing when the result could be serious disease or death for your animal.
Mistake #7: Falling for “Protective Titers Numbers Game”
This one has some of you also running to get vaccines after you test titers and the result comes back “positive” (good!) but “not protective” (aww?).
We’ve got a great veterinary immunologist explaining this:
There are no numbers. If the actively immunized dog or cat is tested, and the test is considered positive, regardless of the number, the animal is immune.
— RD Schultz, vet immunologist, U. of Wisconsin
Good to remember this about vet immunologists: they don’t sell vaccines!
- Does your vet have a different opinion about “protective titers?”
- Does he sell vaccines?
Is intelligent titer testing part of your plan for your animal? Did you learn something today?
Tell us in the comments.