With the increasing number of owners looking to avoid vaccinations, many pet lovers are seeking for the best way to ensure their dog’s safety without compromising on their personal beliefs and lifestyle. With conflicting advice available across the board when it comes to getting us humans vaccinated, it’s hard not to be a little cynical when it comes to looking after ourselves, as well as our pets- after all, how much medical intervention is too much?

We’re lucky to live in an age where we can grab vaccines where necessary- and to be in a world where we can choose to have these with a simple ticking of a box, or phone call to our local providers. Thanks to our amazing scientific abilities, researchers have discovered the best way to give yourself more options when it comes to vaccinations. Introducing the titer test (pronounced the “tight-er test”). Below, we’ll chat about what this means, what it does and how this can benefit you and your pet.

vet doing a titer test on a dog

What Is A Titer Test?

To understand the titer test, it’s important to understand how our (and our pet’s) bodies fight off illnesses and infections, as well as how the vaccines themselves work.

Essentially, when our body spots an infection anywhere in our body, we produce antibodies, which work to fight off the foreign body by breaking it down (at which point we may expel this through our snot, urine etc) and this works brilliantly for smaller issues like the common cold. Of course, this can take a few days to ramp up- sometimes even weeks for brand new infections.

When the virus is particularly nasty, those few days can mean the difference between life and death.  Luckily, once we know what the virus is and have done some testing with the base bacteria, we can use the dead or weakened antigens to create what we know as a vaccine. This jab is popped into the body, and the antigens go to work. The body then defeats this weakened bacterium, meaning that the body then knows the correct makeup of proteins etc to send out, should they ever come across this infection again. Naturally, this can save valuable days off any future antigen creations, meaning your life can literally be saved with a simple prick of a needle.

So, where does the titer test come in? Well, the titer actually takes a sample from your pet’s blood to test what your dog already has a natural immunity to, by measuring the levels of antigens present in your dog’s body. Of course, there are lots of different antigens that all vary, dependant on the illness that your body is trying to combat, therefore there’s a number of different tests available to check through each of the main types.

The titer test can also be used as a way of checking whether or not your pet is already suffering from an issue. For example, if a test is conducted on your dog and lots of a particular antigen type is found, it is safe to assume that your pet is already suffering from that particular illness. This is because the antigens are flowing freely, due to them fighting off the bacteria which is already present in the body of your pet.

 As such, when vets are looking into the substance count, they want to make sure that there is a healthy level of antigens available in the body, rather than a high amount. Therein lies the issue- since each individual has their own natural level, it can sometimes be difficult to determine how much is too much. That said, there are rough guides available dependent on breed, size, and bacteria present, which can be a huge help in decoding your pet’s blood structure!

What Can a Titer Test Detect?

There’s a huge variety of antigens that we’re able to detect, all of which are designed with a specific purpose of fighting off one specific strain of bacterial or viral infections. If you’re willing to pay the costs and are happy to have multiple injections sites on your pup, you could easily request a titer test for plenty of these. Of course, the majority of illnesses are things like the common cold, which we know can be fought off easily enough, assuming your dog is in good health- so it’s not always worth going for every test type! The big issues you might want to check for are as follows:

  • Rabies

Rabies is a deadly virus that affects the brain and spinal cord of mammals and is transmitted through the saliva. It has been found in every state, with the exception of Hawaii, and often leads to an uncomfortable death. The rabies antibody titer test is regarded as being very accurate.

  • Lyme disease

Lyme disease leads to problems in the joints, arthritis, lameness, abnormal fluid build-ups, weight loss and, eventually, kidney failure. It is transmitted through tick bites and can be very painful for your pup. A c6 antibody test can check for your dog’s natural immunity or whether there has been prior exposure to the illness.

  • ANA

ANA stands for Antinuclear antibody test and, as the name suggests, it checks for levels of antibodies in your dog’s system. This test can check for illnesses such as Lupus- therefore, rather the ANA being a type of pre-vaccination check, it’s more to see how your dog is faring on the whole.

Other, common tests include checking for antigens for parvovirus and distemper, which can be common in puppies and dogs.

titer test for canines

How Is The Titer Test Done?

The titer test is carried out by a trained phlebotomist/vet who will draw blood from your dog’s leg. After shaving a small part of the leg near to a healthy vein, they will likely place a band around the leg first, to ensure even blood flow to the area, then sterilize the shaven area to ensure no risk of foreign bodies contaminating the sample, and to make sure your dog isn’t put at risk of infection.

A clean needle is then used to take a blood sample, which will then be sent to a testing facility- although some vets will check the samples in-house, saving both time and money. Once a piece of gauze or wool is used to apply pressure to the site and stop the bleeding, a small bandage may be applied to stop your pup from re-opening the break, and you are free to leave.

All-in-all, the procedure should take no longer than half an hour, with the blood sample itself only taking a minute or two. You should receive your results within two weeks but it’s usually much faster than that.

Titer Test Cost

The price of titer tests can depend on a number of factors. First and foremost, there’s the question of what you’re looking to test. Some facilities have specialisms while others may only take a few of the more common titers on. This can add to your price range, since you, or the sample itself, may need to travel some distance to find a vet or researcher who is willing to test your pup. The test itself can also cost more, depending on what the researchers are looking for in the blood sample, this can naturally increase costs since more time is taken pouring over the sample results.

Another matter to factor in is the general price range of your local vet. Naturally, a vet that charges more for their time will invariably be more expensive when it comes to titer testing. It’s also a little bit of a zip code lottery since the test costs also vary from state-to-state and region-to-region.

Finally, any office visits or consultancy costs will also contribute to the price of a titer test- particularly if you aren’t using your regular provider of pet care since they’ll need to go over the history of your dog and talk you through any issues you might experience.

However, with all of these factors taken into account, it can still work out cheaper to have your pup take a titer test over a regular, yearly vaccination and, as such, the average cost of a low-end titer test is around $40-$60. The more expensive facilities can charge up to and around $120 per test, although this is rare since competition is so high for pet care.

vet taking a puppy's blood

Pro’s And Cons

If you’re still not sure about whether you should have your pet go through the titer tests instead of their regular vaccinations and boosters, it’s a good idea to check the pro and con list we’ve made for you, below. These should summarise the benefits of having a titer test vs the benefits of vaccinating, as well as the cons that naturally come with both choices.

Pros

  • Once your dog has been tested and it’s been shown that the antigens are already available and ready to fight off any infections, you won’t need to have that titer test or vaccination done, again. This can save on painful needles every year.
  • While the cost of the titer is generally more expensive than a vaccine, the proof of immunity can mean that your dog may not need a fresh booster every year. Over time, this can save you a great deal of money.
  • As there are no foreign bodies entering your pup, the likelihood of any side effects is little-to-none (there is always a slight risk of infection from any break in the skin, but good aftercare should negate this)
  • Some titer tests can proactively search for issues that may become more noticeable down the line, such as the ANA titer, which checks for illnesses such as Lupus- something that cannot be immunized against. This can give you valuable time to medicate and help your pup with any diseases or problems that can become more pronounced over time.

Cons

  • Diagnostic testing is not always 100% accurate and no self-respecting researcher and scientist will ever say otherwise. As such, there is always a risk of the results coming back as false positives and false negatives.
  • A titer test does not prove to some organizations that your dog is immune to a particular disease. If you’re looking to pop your pup in a kennel, for example, you might find that the owner will not take a dog that hasn’t been vaccinated. This would mean that you’ll need to get your dog immunized before taking them to dog training, kennels and any other communal area where many dogs can be found, therefore negating the use of the titer test, at all.
  • In line with the above point, it is currently not accepted for any titer test to be taken in lieu of the rabies vaccination, in the US.
  • All illnesses have multiple streams of the same type and not every test will be able to pick up on every type (think of how you can have a different strain of cold every year. Even though it’s the same illness, the strain itself changes, which leads to your sniffles while your body fights the foreign bodies).

Final Thoughts

If you’re thinking of using titer tests instead of having your dog receive their booster injections annually, it can be a really good idea to have your pup vaccinated during the first year of their life, before moving on to titers. This ensures that your pups immune system can’t be compromised during their first, most vulnerable year and can help you keep your dog at their happiest and healthiest. Of course, after this time, it may be useful to undertake titer tests in order to save on long-term costs, as well as avoiding any unnecessary jabs from your vet!

Sources:

  1. The Truth About ‘Titering’ Instead of Vaccination, PetMD
  2. How Do Vaccines Work?, Live Science
  3. What is a Titer Test, and is it Right for Your Pet?, PetMD
Olivia Williams
Olivia is our head of content for MyPetNeedsThat.com, mum of one and a true animal lover. With 12 different types of animal in her family, it's never a dull moment. When she isn't walking the dogs, feeding the cats or playing with her pet Parrot Charlie, you will find her product researching and keeping the site freshly updated with the latest products for your pets!

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