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What is a Titer Test? Should Your Pet Have One?

The well-being of our furbabies is a top priority, and regular vaccination is an essential part of protecting our cat or dog's health. But in the last 20 years concerns about over-vaccinating in children led pet parents to ask the same kinds of questions. In response, the American Animal Hospital Association revised some of their guidelines, increasing certain vaccine timetables from once a year to once every three years.

How do vaccines work?

In short, vaccines actually introduce weak or inactive proteins of a disease into the body to stimulate an immune response, so the immune system retains a "memory" of the disease. Then, if a dog or cat is exposed to the actual ailment the immune system's memory cells can kick in to fight the disease.

How does a titer test work?

A titer test for a specific disease determines the presence and level of antibodies in the blood. The results can tell your vet the level of immune memory. Meaning how well a cat or dog's immune system responded to a vaccination and the level of protection from a specific disease.

For example, if your dog was immunized against canine parvovirus (CPV) a year ago, your vet can administer a titer test to determine if sufficient immune memory was established. If tests indicate adequate titer levels a booster shot may not be needed.

What to test for and how often?

Titer testing can be done for anything your cat or dog is vaccinated for, from rabies to Lyme disease, feline leukemia or herpes. If the test indicates a high level of antibodies in the blood, a booster may not be needed for a number of years.

But keep in mind that immunity can change very quickly depending on an animal's age, stress levels and exposure to illnesses or disease. If your pet is very healthy a titer test can save you the expense, and the possible side effects, of over-vaccination.

It is crucial to keep in mind that a titer test is not a substitute for immunization. Vaccines do provide protection and responsible pet owners should be aware of each state's vaccination requirements for cats and dogs. It is also important to find a veterinarian with whom you can discuss the pros and cons of vaccinations and titer tests. 

For more information, or to read up on the subject, check the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) website.