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Titre testing vs Over-vaccination

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) is like the World Health Organisation, but for the animal world. It sets up committees of the best vet specialists all over the world to look at issues like obesity, neutering or vaccination. 

Over vaccination in dogs

The WSAVA Vaccine Guideline Group (VGG), convened in 2006, comes out with recommendations every few years. Its four eminent immunologist members state that, when talking about the three core canine vaccines for Distemper, Adenovirus Hepatitis and Parvovirus, ‘the duration of immunity is many years and may be up to the lifetime of the pet.’

They also recommend blood antibody titre testing to determine antibody levels to these diseases to help guide vets and owners in deciding if the dog needs a booster at all in their lifetime. They do not recommend vaccinating with the core vaccines every three years. They say three years is the maximum frequency the core vaccines should be used. Not the optimal, but the maximum, suggesting boosters could be given at four, five or six or more years apart. 

Lepto vaccine

Leptospirosis (Lepto) vaccine, against Leptospirosis, the rat urine disease, on the other hand, needs to be given every 12-18 months as it has a shorter duration of immunity. The decision to give or not to give a vaccine is based on the prevalence of Lepto in the dogs’ environment (ask the vet how often they diagnose Lepto at their practice) and the lifestyle of the dog. Lifestyle means how keen they are to roll and play in wet ditches and brackish water. If you have a toy dog who never leaves your arms, for instance, their chance of getting Lepto is much less than a water-crazy, working Spaniel. 

The WSAVA VGG note that there are more adverse events (unexpected vaccine reactions) with toy dog breeds than larger types. They recommend vaccinating these smallies with Lepto only after careful consideration of their risk of contracting the disease. 

What is titre testing

Titre testing is easy and quick. All the vet does is take a small amount of blood and test at the practice or send off to a lab. Results are usually back in one to four days. The test measures antibody levels for the three core vaccines. Low scores are taken to indicate low immunity and boosting with the appropriate vaccine may be considered. High titres show good immunity. Titre tests are usually repeated every one to three years in most practices. 

Contrary to some opinions, titre test results don’t just tell you the result on the day. If the dog shows antibodies, these wane very slowly, over years in some cases. Where the result can change rapidly from one day to the next is where a dog with low to moderate immunity comes across a non-fatal dose of one of the core viruses. In this situation, the dog’s immune system can produce antibodies very quickly, showing a marked change (for the good) over just a few days. 

It’s really worth talking to your vet about titre testing. Why would you put petrol in your car if the tank is already full from the last time you filled up?


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