Vaccinations versus antibody titre testing in dogs 

There is much discussion about the availability and effectiveness of antibody titre testing as an alternative to vaccination in dogs. Vaccination programs over many years have played an important role in preventing many diseases in humans and also in dogs and cats. However, it is being increasingly recognised that veterinarians need to reduce the vaccine load in pets to lessen the risk of adverse reactions.

So, how do we reduce vaccine load?

Following guidelines developed by the Australian Veterinary Association and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, Inner South Veterinary Centre moved from administering the C3 vaccine (Distemper, Parvovirus and Hepatitis) annually to three-yearly in adult dogs. However, Kennel Cough vaccination has remained an annual booster as there are no vaccines providing long-term immunity.

Further research has found that most dogs that receive a complete initial puppy course of vaccinations, and a booster at just over one year of age, will be protected against Distemper, Hepatitis and Parvovirus for a long time, possibly longer than the three years. However, this cannot be fully relied upon as the response to vaccination is variable.

Do you have concerns about vaccinating your dog?

  • What if my dog cannot be vaccinated?
  • What if they have had reactions to vaccinations in the past?
  • What if they have an illness that makes vaccinations risky or ineffective?

Antibody titre testing may be a solution in some of these situations.

Antibody titre testing—what is it?

An antibody titre test is a blood test that measures the levels of certain protective viral antibodies that are circulating in the blood.

A titre test has limitations because vaccines against viruses provoke two types of immunity—the production of antibodies and cell-mediated immunity (not involving antibodies). Titre tests only measure the antibody response and are therefore not a true reflection of the total immunity status of an individual. Titre testing for Distemper, Hepatitis and Parvovirus, if requested, would be performed when vaccination falls due.

Titre test results

Those animals which return a negative titre test result would be considered in need of a booster vaccination. Those with a positive titre test result would not. Testing would then be repeated every three years. Titre testing is usually more expensive than booster vaccinations.

Please note that canine titre testing does not replace the need for your pet to receive an annual health check. Annual health checks are critically important for detecting, preventing and treating diseases and other ailments as early as possible. The administration of Kennel Cough vaccines and heartworm preventive treatments would be done annually as well.

Pet owners also need to be aware that boarding kennels may not accept unvaccinated dogs regardless of titre levels. This would need to be discussed with individual kennel operators well prior to the boarding date.

If you are interested in antibody titre testing, speak with your veterinarian at your dog’s annual check-up.