Titer Testing for Dogs – Definition, Cost, Different Types & FAQs

titer testing for dogs

Titer testing for dogs is a laboratory procedure that detects the number of antibodies in your dog’s bloodstream. A dog titer test typically tests for antibodies against canine distemper, canine parvovirus, canine adenovirus, and canine parainfluenza. The test is useful for owners who don’t want to over-vaccinate their dogs and for dogs with an unknown vaccination history. This test can prevent over-vaccination because it suggests whether a dog still has immunity for some diseases.

At the same time, however, titer tests are not always accurate. There are no accurate dog titer tests for some bacterial diseases like leptospirosis. As with any procedure there are pros and cons, so it’s important to know both sides before making a decision. With that in mind, read on to find the advantages and disadvantages of dog titer tests.

What is Titer Testing for Dogs?

The titer test is a laboratory blood test. It checks for antibodies in the bloodstream. This means that a titer test measures circulating humoral immunity against a disease. Testing involves taking blood from the dog and checking it in a lab. When a pet’s titer test comes back “protective”, it suggests that the dog can fight the disease. However, since the results of a titer test vary depending on the methodology used as well as the animal’s medical history, there are no definitive answers as to what’s entirely protective against disease.

For the most accurate titer test results, some vets will also carry out gold standard laboratory tests. These include the virus neutralization (VN) or the hemagglutination inhibition (HI) tests. If titer results correlate with VN or HI results, the overall conclusion should reflect a more defined antibody threshold.

Is Dog Titer Testing Accurate for All Vaccines?

Titer testing for dogs is not helpful for all diseases. Vaccine-induced immunity is a multifaceted process. It involves not only humoral immunity but antigen processing, local immunity, cell memory, and cell-mediated immunity. Predicting whether a dog has protection from disease based solely on humoral immunity somewhat simplifies the immune process.

Canine leptospirosis, for example, is difficult to evaluate accurately through titer testing. The MAT (Microscopic Agglutination Test) cannot distinguish between the antibodies produced by vaccination and those produced due to exposure to the disease. Leptospirosis vaccine titers are rarely higher than 1:800 and usually decline to 1:200 or less within 120 days of vaccination. For a positive result, titers should be 1:1600. A suspicious result is 1:800. The negative result is 1:400. This means that a titer test cannot accurately determine whether your dog has enough antibodies to fight the disease or not. Persistently high titers are seen due to natural exposure to the disease but not after vaccinations. This means that antibody titers for diseases like leptospirosis work better as diagnostic tools.

If drawn too soon after a vaccination, a titer test might be negative. This is because the vaccine is still active in the dog’s system. Don’t make the mistake of getting a titer test prematurely as it will yield inaccurate results. This doesn’t mean that titer tests are useless. While they are not accurate for pinpointing immunity from some vaccines, they are very helpful for others. They are also used as a diagnostic tool for some bacterial diseases.

what is titer testing for dogs
Titer testing detects the number of antibodies in your pup’s bloodstream.

Understanding The Results of a Titer Test for Dogs

A negative titer result suggests that your dog has no immunity for the specific disease. In most cases, a dog with a negative titer will need revaccination for the disease. This is because exposure to the virulent virus is should boost the dog’s antibody response to more appropriate levels. A dog with negative titer results after receiving core vaccines might be susceptible to infection if exposed to the disease. In puppies, this result might also reflect interfering levels of maternally-derived antibodies at the time of the vaccine.

A positive titer result suggests protective immunity. Positive antibody test results suggest that your dog might have previous exposure to the infection that they have recovered from. This can also indicate that your dog has immunity against the disease. If your dog’s titer results are positive, it may mean that they do not need another booster vaccine just yet. Always consult with your vet to discuss your dog’s vaccinations.

Interpreting titer test results is not always simple. For instance, a high titer for a disease might suggest that the dog has some immunity to that disease. This suggests that the dog does not require further vaccination. At the same time, low titers do not always provide reliable information about whether the dog is protected or not. This is because factors other than antibody levels are involved. Furthermore, some tests produce false-negative and false-positive results. They may indicate lower or higher antibody counts than what is truly present. For these reasons, titer tests are sometimes paired with gold-standard laboratory tests.

Benefits of Titer Testing

Titer testing offers several benefits. Not only does it offer some valuable insight into a dog’s immunity, but it also helps us owners to avoid over-vaccination of our beloved pets, and helps to save money.

Avoiding Over-Vaccination

Over-vaccination is the practice of administering vaccines when they are not necessary. Because it was once common practice to revaccinate dogs every year, when in reality these vaccines are only needed every three years, many of our dogs have been over-vaccinated. For those who worry about over-vaccinating their dogs, a titer test can help. It provides evidence as to whether your pet still has antibodies against a specific disease from previous vaccination.

Current research suggests that dogs only require core revaccinations every three years. This is in contrast to past guidelines that suggested core revaccinations are given yearly. Core vaccines for canine distemper, canine parvovirus, canine adenovirus, and canine parainfluenza are given as a combination called DHPP. Since the minimum DOI of this vaccine is anywhere from three to four years, it’s understandable that some owners are worried about over-vaccinating their pets. Checking your pet’s titer results can help you and your vet to make the most informed decision about your dog’s next revaccination, and when to schedule it.

Saving Money

Although titer tests are sometimes expensive, they can help to save money in the long run by avoiding unnecessary yearly vaccinations. The cost of a titer test varies depending on the specific disease, your region, and your individual veterinarian’s pricing. For the most part, a titer test’s costs can range between $40 and $80, while specific tests for rabies or distemper can cost anywhere from $120 to $150. The base cost for a titer test is a little more than most core vaccines but is not unreasonably high.

In contrast, the cost of dog vaccines ranges from $20 to $150 in the first year, and from $10 to $100 per year thereafter. The cost varies depending on which vaccines are given, and whether they are given at a vet’s office, or at a low-cost vaccination clinic run by a government agency or humane organization. Depending on your circumstances, a titer test could be cheaper than the revaccination and thus could mean that you spend less on vaccines in the long term.

Who Should Get a Dog Titer Test Done?

Dogs with an unknown vaccine history, i.e. shelter dogs, dogs who are due for their next vaccines, might benefit from titer testing, and when importing a pet to another country. Shelter animals come from all backgrounds. While some might have received all their vaccinations, others may have only had a few or none at all. To understand which vaccine a shelter pet needs, the prospective owner should consider a titer test for the core vaccines. In addition, titer tests are an option when your pet’s next vaccines are coming up. If you want to avoid over-vaccinating your pet, a titer test can show what diseases your pet has immunity to. In cases of vaccines with a duration of immunity (DOI) of three to four years, a titer test can help to advise you on when it is best to vaccinate your pet again.

To import a pet into the EU, a dog must fulfill several requirements. One requirement is to pass a titer test for rabies. For the EU pet travel scheme, a blood sample should be taken at least 30 days after the rabies vaccine to test for rabies antibodies. We strongly recommend confirming with the appropriate animal health authority before arranging the vaccine and titer test as regulations in each country vary. On rare occasions, some dogs fail to reach adequate titer cut-off. In these cases, your dog might have a booster injection. Your vet might also recommend a different vaccine make to improve your pet’s results.

negative titer result for dogs
A dog with a negative titer will need revaccination for the disease.

Titer Testing for Dogs – FAQs

Have any more questions or concerns about dog titer tests? Our Frequently Asked Questions section will point you in the right direction!

How Much is a Titer Test for Dogs?

The cost of a titer test varies depending on the disease, your region, and your individual veterinarian’s pricing. Titer test costs can range between $40 and $80, while specific tests for rabies or distemper can cost anywhere from $120 to $150. Costs might also vary depending on if your vet can perform the test in-house. Other vets will need to send the sample off to a laboratory for testing.

You will also need to consider the price of the initial consultation fee. Keep in mind that vet costs vary widely depending on where you live. Vet fees are competitive based on the rates of other vets in the local area, as well as the nature of the services that they offer. Your dog’s size and weight can also influence costs. Make sure to research the potential fees before agreeing to a titer test to avoid unexpected costs!

How is a Titer Test Done?

In order to obtain the blood sample, your vet will shave a small patch of fur from your dog’s foreleg or neck. They take a small sample, one to three milliliters, by inserting a small needle into your pet’s vein. The process is very similar to a human blood test. Most dogs tolerate this procedure well. Gentle restraint might be used for nervous dogs.

The blood sample clots and then separates. A minimum of half a milliliter is necessary for the test. If ambient temperatures during transport will exceed 80F, the sender should include a frozen cold pack. Your vet might send the sample off to a lab for testing or store it until it can be processed in-house. The method used to process your pet’s sample depends on the test used. Antibody titers can be obtained via the following tests:

Generally speaking, antibody titers are calculated by diluting the blood sample in serial ratios. For example, the ratios could be 1:2, 1:4, 1:8, 1:16 or higher. Using the appropriate detection method, each dilution is tested for the presence of antibodies. If the antibody is detectable in each of the dilutions but was not detected in a 1:32 dilution, the titer is 16. If it is detectable in the 1:2 and 1:4 dilutions, the titer is 4. This is because the titer value is indicative of the last dilution in which the antibodies were found.

How Often Should Rabies Titer be Checked?

Rabies titer tests are necessary 30 days after vaccination, before entering a rabies-free country. Rabies-free countries and some countries that are rabies-controlled will ask that you test your dog for rabies before entering. For countries in the EU, the titer test only needs to be done once over the life of your dog. This is provided that the rabies vaccinations are kept up to date. Other countries outside of the EU only accept titers for a specific period of time.

It’s important to note that positive rabies titer results do not make your pet exempt from vaccination. You are free to check your dog’s rabies titer results as you wish! However, the authorities will not accept positive titers in place of full vaccination. Make sure that you read up on your state’s laws regarding rabies vaccines to avoid legal problems.

rabies titer for dogs
Rabies-free countries will ask that you test your dog for rabies before entering.

At What Age do you Stop Vaccinating your Dog?

Your veterinarian will need to discuss this with you. Ultimately, your vet knows the complete medical history of your dog. They can decide whether it is still safe for your senior pet to receive vaccines or not. Typically, senior pets receive most vaccines every three years unless it is no longer safe to do so. Regardless of your pet’s age, they will still require a rabies vaccine in accordance with local laws unless they are exempt for other reasons. Old age alone is not legally a valid reason to not vaccinate your pet against rabies.

Is Titer Testing Worth it for Dogs?

Titer testing, like all other procedures, has its advantages and disadvantages, but its advantages outweigh the cons. Although titer tests can be expensive, they are especially useful for shelter pets with an unknown vaccination history, and for pets who have been over-vaccinated in the past. If in doubt about your pet’s vaccines, always ask your vet for advice!

Not all owners wish to give their pet a titer test. This is due to costs, the disease in question, and simply wishing to re-vaccinate their pet regardless of titer results. With the knowledge that core vaccines are needed every three years, not every year, owners can simply book the next booster without any tests at all. Titer tests are also not useful for some bacterial vaccines, so in these cases, titer tests are not “worth” the effort.

Dog titer tests are useful for owners who don’t want to over-vaccinate their dogs and for dogs with an unknown vaccination history. This test can prevent over-vaccination because it suggests whether a dog still has immunity for some diseases.

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