What are Vaccine Titers?

02- vaccine

I have written many times about the use of vaccine titers to see if a pet needs a particular vaccine. Just to be sure we’re all on the same page I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain titers in more detail.

A titer is a blood test that measures the amount of antibodies for a specific disease that’s in an animal’s bloodstream. Antibodies are proteins produced by cells of the immune system that help to fight off infection. If a dog or cat has an adequate level of antibodies for a disease such as distemper, it shows that the pet’s immune system has the ability to fight that disease and the vaccine is not needed.

There are a few of shortcomings of vaccine titers. The first is that titers tend to fade over time. While a vaccine protects a pet into the future, a titer gives his immune status at this moment. A pet that has an adequate titer today may have a low titer in 2 weeks or 2 months or 2 years. For this reason, titers need to be monitored periodically. I recommend yearly vaccine titers.

Another shortcoming of titers is that a low titer does not mean that the pet’s immune system cannot fight off the disease. Antibodies do not remain in the blood stream forever. They are produced by the immune system when the body is challenged by the disease (either by infection or vaccination). It is possible that a pet can fight off the disease even though he has a low titer. However, we can never be certain that a pet with a low titer can fight the disease so in this case I recommend giving the vaccine.

A third shortcoming of vaccine titers is that the US government does not recognize the rabies titer. In other words, even though your pet has a high rabies titer, the law says he must be vaccinated every 3 years. For this reason, I do not find Rabies titers to be very helpful.

A final deterrent for getting titers done on pets is that they can be expensive – certainly more expensive than just getting the shot. On this issue I have good news for local pet caregivers. At Beaver Animal Clinic we have taken advantage of an offer made available by the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association to have vaccine titers done at Kansas State University (the gold standard) for a very reduced rate of only $61.00 total. We are making it more affordable to keep your pet healthy, holistically.

Have you had your pet titer tested?

8 thoughts on “What are Vaccine Titers?

  1. Linda Vick

    I have been titer testing for years. Very interesting results last year: rabies titer was sitting on the minimum and I was told that I “should vaccinate now because immunity will expire in about 30 days”. Huh? And this was from staff at my holistic Vet’s office. Sshhhhhh! Can you hear a ticking clock???

    Reply
  2. mimi

    I have done titers for sometime and although I cannot license my dog where I reside, I still have decided to not do the rabies vaccine this past year .He is now 9 years old and has had at least 3 rabies vaccines throughout his life. I feel that this is adequate for where we live and how we interact in our particular town. I agree that this is a personal choice among pet owners and should be considered very seriously. I thank all those people who have advocated for titers and continue to support the American Holistic Medical Association. It is a very worth while organization to support.

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  3. Lorin Grow

    Omg, one of my clients just got titers done on her 2 dogs and it cost $500! She could’ve flown out to you on a super saver ticket round trip, gotten titers with you AND saved money!

    Reply
  4. Mary

    1. The titers (antibodies) of a vaccine, are they the same for its wild virus?
    2. Do vaccine virus produce the exact antibodies as its wild virus?
    3. If they can recognize a wild virus titer versus a vaccine virus titers for the same disease , then would this not mean that the vaccine virus and the wild virus have produced DIFFERENT specific antibodies than the other ? Would this not mean that the vaccine virus will not make the immune system produce antibodies that a wild virus would produce?
    4. Why can you differentiate a vaccine virus antibody versus a wild virus antibody ?

    Reply
    1. Dr. Doug Post author

      Vaccines are generally made by using the natural virus and extracting one specific antigen. So, the vaccine-induced antibodies react to one specific antigen. Any virus may contain hundreds of different antigens. As long as the vaccine uses one of the key antigens then it will be effective at causing the immune system to react if the body is invaded by the virus. So vaccine-induced antibodies are the same as those produced by natural infection but natural infection may cause antibodies to be formed that match antigens other than those used by the vaccine. In other words, a natural infection will cause the formation of antibodies other than the one specific antibody used in the vaccine as well as the one that the vaccine induces. Testing for those other antibodies (if there is such a test available) could help tell the difference between a vaccine titer and a titer from natural infection. Vaccines are generally tested by doing a challenge study – A group of animals is vaccinated and later exposed to a natural infection. If the vaccinated group fares better than unvaccinated animals, then the vaccine has been proven to be effective. Hopefully this makes sense and answers your questions.

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