Titer Tests for Dogs

Lauren Jones, VMD
Written by:
Published: June 3, 2022
Titer Tests for Dogs

Vaccines have been under scrutiny for years in the human realm. There have been debunked studies, mainstream media stories under fire, and unproven claims from social media influencers. Veterinary medicine has also had similar difficulties and questions surrounding the efficacy and safety of vaccines.

To address some concerns of pet owners, you can have simple bloodwork done, called a titer, to determine your pet’s need for continued vaccination. Even though titers for dogs are an option, immunology and vaccines are highly complex subjects. Talk to your veterinarian to determine the best methods to keep your pet safe.

What Is a Titer Test for Dogs?

A titer test for dogs involves measuring the level of antibodies against a particular disease in a sample of blood. Antibodies are produced in response to an antigen, or stimulus. Your dog’s body can produce antigens after vaccination or after being infected with bacteria or viruses.

Vaccines provide a benign or altered version of the actual disease. These small, foreign invading cells stimulate the immune system to make specific antibodies, or disease-fighting cells.

Then, your dog’s immune system will have an army of cells prepared to fight an illness quickly if they are infected. As a result, your dog will have no illness or significantly lessened symptoms of illness.

A titer test measures those specific antibodies for immunologists and veterinarians to interpret. It can provide evidence whether an animal has antibodies against a disease, which may correspond to protection. 

Dog Titer Tests and Antibody Levels

A positive or high value may suggest that your dog has many antibodies to fight the potential infection, while a negative or low value could indicate your dog does not have protection and may require a booster.

However, the immune system is constantly learning, changing, and attempting to protect the body from all sorts of invaders. Because of this, a high titer today does not necessarily guarantee immunity.

Titers are, effectively, a snapshot of your dog’s antibody level at a single moment in time. Antibody levels can change or be influenced by numerous factors, including:

  • Type of antigen stimulus

  • Stress

  • Previous vaccination

  • Medications

  • Health status

  • Genetics

  • Maternal antibodies, in younger dogs

State Laws and Dog Vaccinations

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) is the authoritative source of evidence-based recommendations and expert opinions on vaccines. There are two categories: core and non-core vaccines.

AAHA considers the following vaccines “core,” or of critical importance to vaccinate:

Most state laws do not accept antibody titers as proof of protection for fatal and zoonotic diseases, such as rabies

Other vaccines fall into the “non-core” vaccination category, allowing veterinarians to vaccinate at their discretion. Veterinarians look at a variety of factors when determining if and when an adult animal needs vaccine boosters, including:

  • The pet’s lifestyle

  • The pet’s risk factors and history

  • Disease prevalence in the area

  • Vaccine manufacturer’s instructions

Is a Titer Test Right for My Dog?

Vaccine titers are more expensive than vaccines, but they can help you and your veterinarian make the best decision for your pets. They are especially important in these situations:

  • If your dog travels often and is frequently exposed to diseases

  • If your dog has adverse reactions to vaccines

  • If your pet is already ill, especially with immune-mediated diseases or cancer

  • If your pet is taking drugs that suppress their immune system, such as:

    • Steroids

    • Chemotherapeutic agents

    • Immune-modulating drugs

  • If you adopt an adult dog with an unknown vaccine history. Titers can show what they’ve already received or been exposed to.

  • If your dog is a “non-responder.” This means that even if your dog has multiple vaccinations, they never reach a protective antibody level. This is important because it may mean your dog is more susceptible to diseases and may necessitate a change in lifestyle to best accommodate their immune status.

How to Keep Your Pet Safe From Infectious Diseases

Work with your veterinarian to keep your dog healthy and free from diseases. Here are some tips:

  • Have your dog examined by your veterinarian every 6-12 months.

  • Keep your dog on year-round flea and tick preventives to keep them free of fleas and ticks and the diseases they spread.

  • Monitor your dog for heartworm disease and use monthly heartworm prevention.

  • Monitor your dog for intestinal parasites with fecal testing (taking a poop sample).

Discuss your dog’s needs for vaccines or titers to keep them free from infectious and deadly diseases.

Featured Image: iStock.com/NickyLloyd


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