Should Pets Get Titers or Vaccinations?

by Dr. Shelby

With the long time controversy of human vaccines and autism, it is not hard to see how pet parents have the same hesitations or fears of vaccinating their pets. Although autism is not the concern in dogs and cats, side effects like neurologic problems, anaphylaxis, hair loss, immune mediated diseases, arthritis and infection have pet parents wondering if the benefits of vaccines really do outweigh the risks. More and more, veterinarians are encountering pet parents wishing to opt out of vaccinating their pets and requesting antibody titer measuring instead.

Measuring antibodies involves obtaining a sample of your pet's blood and diluting it repeatedly and then exposing the diluted samples to an antigen (the virus or bacteria). The samples are then measure to determine the concentration of antibodies. This information helps determine the level of immunity a pet has to a certain virus or bacteria. Even still, many veterinarians find conflicting opinions on whether the level of immunity is accurate. More confusing still is the fact that different diseases and viruses yield different results for titer levels. For instance, depending on the virus, a positive titer could indicate protective immunity, infection, or exposure to that virus.

In the past, various organizations such as the American Association of Feline Practitioners, the AVMA and the American Animal Hospital Association have all agreed that the level of immunity from vaccination lasted over one year. Following this information, many veterinary clinics began practicing the suggestions from these organizations and vaccinating every 3 years. Soon after, a case was made for measuring the antibodies in the blood to determine if immunity does actually last for 3 years. While this may seem like a great alternative to vaccinating, the AVMA believes that assessing true immunity based on titers alone is controversial due to the lack of core vaccine studies to determine the connection between the long term status of antibodies in the serum, how they respond to viruses and bacteria and how well theses responses protect the animal.

So what's the answer? Most likely, it's a combination of routine pet vaccinations and titer checking, depending on the actual virus or disease in question. To learn more about the issue and figure out how to begin the conversation with your veterinarian, please learn more via the AVMA article about this issue.