Vaccine Titers

Vaccine or serological titers may be used to help determine the vaccination/protection status of an animal.  The Canine Vaccination Guidelines within the WSAVA Guidelines for the Vaccination of Dogs and Cats state that, while antibody testing still can be relatively expensive, “The principles of ‘evidence-based veterinary medicine’ suggest that testing for antibody status (for either puppies or adult dogs) should be better practice than simply administering a vaccine booster on the basis that this would be ‘safe and cost less.’”  Some dogs maintain antibodies for their entire lives to canine distemper, canine parvovirus, and canine adenovirus, said Dr. Ronald D. Schultz, professor of immunology and founding chair of the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and an author of the WSAVA and AAHA guidelines. 

In his controlled studies, he has found that dogs maintain immunity to CDV, CPV-2, and CAV seven to nine years after vaccination, as proved by protection against virulent challenge. He said, “The presence of active antibody response to these viruses is a clear indication of protection. There is no confusion on this point.”  Dr. Schultz noted that the canine distemper, canine and feline parvovirus, and canine adenovirus core vaccines are all modified-live virus vaccines. In general, he said, modified-live virus vaccines provide longer-term immunity than killed virus vaccines do. 

“We can use titers to know whether or not the animal does need to be revaccinated, or we can simply go on a schedule and just revaccinate,” he said. While few practitioners would have thought of doing titers 10 years ago, he sees more and more titer testing today. He said, “Dr. Laurie Larson in my laboratory is running thousands of gold-standard titer tests per year, and the push is coming from owners who wish to avoid unnecessary booster vaccination.”  Dr. Schultz emphasized, “This is something that the owners just need to recognize: how important those core vaccines are. Every puppy and every kitten should receive them. Antibody testing assures us that the dog or cat is protected by the vaccine, or not, and is a very useful tool for every small animal practitioner. This is the only practical method to be certain the animal has developed an immune response to a given core vaccine.”   

Dr. Gershwin of the AVMA Council on Biologic and Therapeutic Agents concluded, “Pet owners need to work with their veterinarians to determine the best schedule of immunizations for their pet. This will be dependent upon individual situations, such as allergic reactivity and factors such as being on an immunosuppressive drug.”   

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