Annual booster vaccinations in our dogs have been the norm for decades. Any responsible dog owner will surely take their dog to the vets year after year for its annual booster. But are we vaccinating unnecessarily? Are we putting our beloved dog’s health more at risk than we are protecting them? With increasing evidence of vaccines causing health issues, a growing number of pet owners are turning to titer testing their pets rather than simply vaccinating every year.
Before I continue, please note that I am not a vet, I have no medical or immunology training and I am not attempting to give veterinary advice. I have done lots of research, some of which I will present here and as a result of that research I have chosen not to re-vaccinate my dogs. I suggest you do your own research and decide for yourself whether to revaccinate or not.
What is Titer Testing?
Titering is simply blood tests that measures the level of antibodies your animal has produced in order to fight disease. A blood or serum sample is taken by a vet and a laboratory test will reveal the level of antibodies to those diseases. Also known as a serology test or antibodies test, titer testing is used to determine if the animal has responded to vaccinations or has natural immunity from being exposed to a particular disease. It can also be used to test the levels of maternal antibodies in pups that have not yet been vaccinated. In simple terms, titer testing will tell you if your dog has immunity to a disease or not.
What does Titer Testing Cost?
The cost of the test will vary from one practitioner to another and will also depend on the method they use. It used to be that each of the diseases we routinely vaccinate for could be tested individually at a cost of around £50 each. We now have available to us a neat little kit called VacciCheck™ which tests for three diseases simultaneously: Canine Parvovirus (CPV-2), Distemper (CDV) and Infectious Hepatitis (ICH). The cost of the VacciCheck™ kit for vets to purchase is £36 [at the time of writing this]. Vets will no doubt charge a consultation fee and possibly a fee for taking a sample of blood. Some vets may also add a mark up to the VacciCheck™ cost so prices will certainly vary.
I live in St Helens and the only veterinary practice in my town to offer this service using VacciCheck™ is Medivet, who charge £60.20 in total which includes the cost of the VacciCheck™ plus a consultation fee of £24.20.
So it’s much cheaper to just vaccinate, at least then we know for sure they’re immune, right?
This is what I once believed too, but it’s not right at all. They’re immune if they have a response to the vaccine. Most dogs do, but some don’t. There is also evidence that shows how vaccinating too early can cause the vaccine to fail because maternal antibodies may be still be quite strong and destroy the vaccine as if it were a virus. We appear to be vaccinating much earlier than I’ve ever known, as early as 7 weeks in many cases. Maternal antibodies only begin to fade at around 10 – 12 weeks and can still be present for much longer. Renowned veterinary immunologist, Dr Shultz recommends we only vaccinate at 16 weeks.
The cost of a booster vaccination is around £25-£30, much cheaper than a titer test, but for me this is certainly not about the cost, this is about the health of my dogs and the risks associated with vaccinating, the potential bad reactions or even death, the poisons such as mercury and aluminium that go into the vaccines. Not to mention the greed and corruption of the pharmaceutical companies who lie about their vaccines and diseases in order to sell their products.
There is no doubt that modern vaccinations have enabled us to protect our pets effectively against serious diseases but adverse reactions do occur. Dr Jean Dodds, a world renowned animal vaccine expert reports that “the clinical signs associated with vaccine reactions typically include fever, stiffness, sore joints and abdominal tenderness, susceptibility to infections, neurological disorders and encephalitis, collapse… liver or kidney failure, bone marrow suppression.”
I have witnessed bad reactions to vaccines and I can tell you, it’s scary. One particular case I witnessed was a pug, around 4 hours after the vaccination, had a serious reaction. Her face and throat became swollen to the point she couldn’t breathe properly and her eyes were completely closed and weeping. She was feverish and you could see the poor girl was scared not knowing what was going on. She was shaking and needless to say, so were we, out of fear for her life. Fortunately, with some quick thinking and some antihistamine [half a Piriton] she was quickly on the mend.
There have also been recent reports of one vaccine in particular, the Nobivac Lepto-4, actually causing death in 120 dogs in the past three years, with 2000 reports of dogs having adverse reactions. Some will argue that these cases have never been proven to be caused by the vaccine but nevertheless, for me, the anecdotal evidence is enough.
VacciCheck only tests for Parvo, Distemper and Hepatitis
When dogs are vaccinated, depending on your location, it is usually vaccinated against: Distemper (CDV); Parvovirus (CPV-2); Infectious Hepatitis (Adenovirus) (ICH); Parainfluenza; Leptospirosis and sometimes Kennel Cough (Bordetella). VacciCheck™ only tests the antibodies to CDV, CPV-2 and ICH.
Although Kennel Cough is highly contagious, it is mostly treatable and sometimes clears by itself. It can be serious but rarely is. Have a read of what Dogs Naturally Magazine has to say on Bordetella. The Kennel Cough vaccine is usually optional anyway. Do your own research also.
Parainfluenza is one of the causes of Kennel Cough. It’s basically just Dog Flu. It can be treated and it can develop into pneumonia if not treated early enough. The antibodies of this virus is not tested for with VacciCheck™ but can be tested for separately, many vets offer this service.
Leptospirosis is uncommon but it is certainly exists. When questioned, the vet who I consulted for my dog’s titer said “I’ve never had any confirmed cases”. Again, the antibodies of this virus is not tested for with VacciCheck™ but can be tested for separately.
Of all the diseases we vaccinate for, Parvo is the one I am most concerned about and even that is treatable provided you identify and treat it early enough. Hepatitis is rare. Distemper is also very uncommon, certainly in the UK. But the evidence is strong that once immunised the dog is protected for life. Dr. Shultz says that once vaccinated and the animal has had a good response to the vaccine (produces a good level of antibodies), it will be immune for life. Other professionals say vaccines last for just 3 years.
How often should we titer test?
Vets will recommend that if you are going down the route of titer testing instead of routinely vaccinating then you should have the animal’s antibodies checked annually. The vet who I consulted for my dog’s titer recommended I have it checked annually in order to be completely safe, explaining that all dogs are different and some dogs’ antibodies do show a significant decrease after a year. But if Prof. Shultz and many, many others are correct, and I believe they are, then once immunity is established, re-testing is not necessary.
The immune system is much more complex than this, we should also consider Memory Cells. Over time, if an animal has no exposure to a virus he was vaccinated against, his antibodies may subside. But should he become exposed to the virus once again, those memory cells trigger the reproduction of antibodies against the recognised virus.
If you look at the Serology report [below] of a VacciCheck™ test I had done recently you will see that the level of antibodies for each of the three viruses has a score of between 0 and 6, 6 being the greatest level of antibodies. The score for ParvoVirus is the highest and Distemper the lowest. This may suggest that this particular dog has recently been exposed to the ParvoVirus, hence her antibodies are strong. These figures are consistent with the relative prevalence of the diseases. Parvo is, by a large factor, more common than Distemper. Distemper being so rare that it is unlikely she has been exposed to it since her puppy vaccinations.
Where can I get my dog titer tested?
You should speak to your own vet in the first instance, although titer testing is only just beginning to really ‘catch on’, you may find your own vet doesn’t offer this service yet. VacciCheck™ is one of the latest tools for titer testing and stocked by an increasing number of veterinary practices. The Pet Welfare Alliance website has a list of VacciCheck™ stockists for you to download. You could ask your vet to stock it if not already. The kits have a limited shelf life and if there isn’t much of a demand then a vet will not stock it.
You need proof of vaccination to access many pet services
Unfortunately some insurance companies do require proof of vaccination and won’t accept a positive titer result as an alternative. Many pet services such as boarding, training and other doggy related services will also want to see your dog’s vaccination card before providing their services.
Titer testing is a relatively new trend within the dog owner community as people are only just becoming aware of it. Hopefully as awareness increases and more people are ditching vaccines, providers in the pet services industry will be forced to accept a positive titer as proof of protection. This is slowly catching on, the latest Guidance for Dog Boarding Establishments 2016 are suggesting that “certification from a veterinary surgeon of a recent protective titre test may be accepted in individual cases as evidence of protection against adenovirus, distemper and parvovirus”.
And finally, one thing I must add to the discussion of immunity and the dog’s ability to fight diseases. Whether you vaccinate or you titer or even choose to do neither, in order for your dog to be able to fight disease effectively, he must be in good health or his immune system will just not function properly. Good health comes from, above all, good food and the correct amount of exercise.