I'm seeing a potentially dangerous trend among animal owners in pursuit of avoiding vaccinations, a laudable goal. That same trend can cost you needless money, so gather round, and let's explore this.
Cheryl wrote in the comments to last week’s post:
One of my furbabies is a little Chihuahua named Ricco who has an enormous amount of skin issues and allergies. When I discovered he had been to about 4 different households in his life before me, I realized that his issues are more than likely due to vaccinosis. He is now slowly on the mend and all my furbabies now get yearly titers. (emphasis mine)
As I alluded to in my Fallacy of Titer Tests page, titers have value, but using the information from them wrongly will:
- Hurt your animal
- Hurt your pocketbook
The Dangers of a Little Knowledge
You are part of a growing community of people seeking to provide the best natural care to your animals. You want them to be Vital Animals, those glowing, well-balanced, fully free animals that bring you joy not only today and this week, but for many happy healthy years into the future. And, when it’s time for them to shuffle off their mortal coil, Vital Animals can usually do this at home, with ease, naturally, and without ERs or euthanasia solutions in the equation.
A large part of getting this glorious outcome depends on you walking the Natural Path, and taking responsibility for the animals in your care. It’s no longer in your best interests to turn that responsibility over to Dr. WhiteCoat, as he’s not on the same path, especially in the most important piece of health care you must decide: vaccinations.
Many of you have, rightly, sought to reduce or eliminate vaccinations after reading in various places that the common practice of repeatedly vaccinating your animal throughout her life is neither useful nor safe. One alternative that’s been offered to you is titer testing.
Titers: What, Why, and When?
Titer tests are blood tests that measure the level of antibodies your animal has made. Your dog goes in, gets a needle poked into a vein, blood is pulled into a syringe and it gets tested, usually in a lab but now perhaps, in your vet's clinic. You pay anywhere from $40 to $200 to get some numbers on a piece of paper.
Many view these numbers as their “get out of vaccination jail” card. But I submit misreading these numbers may get you and your animal into trouble. Let’s dig in and try to avoid that.
The What: Numbers? I Don’ Need No Steenking Numbers!
The lab report comes back with numbers indicating the amount of antibodies your animal made against those diseases tested (usually canine distemper, parvo, rabies, or feline distemper).
The idea behind titer testing is that if your dog or cat or horse has antibodies against the viruses that threaten to cause disease, you can rest easy that protection exists.
That’s an immunologically sound thought. But only to a point.
The Why: Assessing Immunity
The reason these titers could be of interest is that the numbers on a titer test correlate pretty well with immunity. Immunity is resistance to disease. It’s what we’d like our animals to have, and it’s what we hope is the outcome of those much maligned things called vaccinations.
Did you know this? It’s not common knowledge, even among many veterinarians. It’s often assumed that pumping the vaccine into your animal automatically means he’s now safe from the dreaded diseases that could kill him. Not so.
For example, if you vaccinate your pup at six weeks of age, or even younger, there’s about a 50:50 chance that no immunity will result to distemper or parvovirus. Why? Mom’s colostrum gave your pup antibodies against both, and those antibodies are preventing the vaccine from stimulating his own immunity. Mom’s protection is temporary though, and we need long term protection.
Many also think that immunity “runs out” on day 364 since the last vaccine was pumped in. When those postcards come, saying, “Beau is due for his vaccinations! Please call for an appointment today!”, it sets some people into a bit of a panic.
The act of squirting more vaccine under Beau’s skin is somehow thought to be akin to filling an empty reservoir.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
A truth in immunology is this:
Immunity to viruses persists for years or for the life of the animal.”
And another truth, from the same veterinary immunologists:
Furthermore, revaccination…fails to stimulate…(further immunity)”
The When: Run a Titer When it Makes Sense
Save Your Money (and your pet!) by Not Running it When it Doesn’t!
It’s a given that titers have limits. Any immunologist knows this. They fail to measure a significant piece of immunity, called cell mediated immunity.
The most useful time to run a titer test is after your youngster has received her initial series of vaccinations. Especially if you’ve limited that series to just one or two vaccinations, the last being after 16 weeks of age. The odds are you’ve just conferred lifetime immunity to your youngster.
If you want to know how effective your vaccinations were in conferring immunity (i.e. did vaccination = immunization?), ask your vet to run a titer test a few weeks later.
Here’s what’s useful in assessing those numbers:
If there’s any measurable titer to the disease in question, your goal has been reached. Your youngster has actively made immunity to those viruses you had squirted in via vaccination. It doesn’t need to meet some standard of “protective” to be useful; it just has to be positive.
That indicates you are more than likely now the proud owner of an immune pet, and you can confidently say “No!” to more vaccines. For how long?
Falling Titers: Oh-oh or No Big Deal?
Testing yearly will eventually show titers that fall off. Does that mean immunity is gone and you’ve got to head in for a “topping up” of the immunity reservoir?
(And stop thinking that a “reservoir” even exists. I actually hesitated writing this word, as I don’t want you to think this is in any way reality).
It only means the antibody levels are waning. And why wouldn’t they? It’s a waste to keep making more antibodies when there’s no exposure to more virus. In its wisdom, the vital force deems its work is done in this area, and stops pumping more antibodies into the blood.
But, the good news is this: cellular memory is still very likely present to the bad guy you vaccinated against and, should your buddy ever be exposed to this virus again, BOOM, the antibody production factory fires up and the titer rises once again, and rather quickly at that.
So, it’d be a mistake to equate a titer that’s fallen with a lack of protection, and a greater one to think you need more vaccinations to re-establish protection. Immunity is still there, quietly, watchfully alert.
[In the older guys, I like to add a nice immune boost in the form of transfer factors, just to be sure their immune systems are acting out of the greatest responsive intelligence. And perhaps that’s a subject for another blog post.]
Have you used titers? Does this info help? Maybe you've even seen this: your animal's titers kept on increasing for years after you stopped vaccinating! That's what happened to my colleague's dog on testing rabies titers. Let us know in the comments.