Titer Test: Don’t Vaccinate Your Dog Unnecessarily

Written by Jan on October 22, 2008 – 4:29 pm

Titer Testing: a Simple Blood Test

Titer Testing: a Simple Blood Test

Enlightened veterinarians and pet parents have become increasingly wary of the health risks, and lack of benefits, associated with repeatedly vaccinating dogs after their initial “puppy shots.” Is titer testing the solution to the over-vaccination problem? Here’s a crash course to help you muddle through the mire of misinformation surrounding this simple blood test, and to help you decide whether or not to test your dog’s antibody titers.

What is titer testing?A titer test (pronounced TIGHT er) is a laboratory test measuring the existence and level of antibodies to disease in blood. Antibodies are produced when an antigen (like a virus or bacteria) provokes a response from the immune system. This response can come from natural exposure or from vaccination. (Note: titering is also called serum vaccine antibody titering and serologic vaccine titering.)

How is the test performed? Your test result will have an explanation of what your pet’s test result means. But if you want to know more, here’s the test in a nutshell: First, one mL of blood is drawn. The sample is then diluted. Titer levels, expressed as ratios, indicate how many times blood can be diluted before no antibodies are detected. If blood can be diluted a 1000 times and still show antibodies, the ratio would be 1:1000. This is a “strong” titer. A titer of 1:2 would be weak.

Should I test for all diseases?The most recommended test examines antibodies for both parvovirus and distemper, the two most important viruses.Rabies titers are also often tested. Usually, for most dogs, tests for other diseases are generally not considered useful or necessary.

Why test? The parvovirus/distemper test can help you or others (vets, groomers, kennel owners, etc.) determine if your dog requires additional vaccination, and may save your dog unnecessary shots. It is especially useful when making a decision about vaccinating an animal with unknown vaccination history, or for determining if puppies have received immunity from vaccination (more below).

Most experts believe strong titers are a more reliable indication of immunity than vaccination: tests show the actual immune response, not just the attempt to cause an immune response by vaccination. Do not expect, however, that everyone will accept test results in place of proof of vaccination.The subject of immunity is complicated, and we are programmed to think of vaccination as “the gold standard” — the more, the better. Experts who challenge the status quo are often maligned. Humans don’t like change.

How often should I test titers for parvo and distemper? You’re going to have to decide for yourself. Some vets recommend testing yearly, but this can be expensive. Others test every three years. Still others test five to seven years after vaccination. Why? Challenge tests show that successful vaccination against parvovirus gives most animals at least seven years of immunity. Distemper provides immunity for at least five to seven years.*

Dr. Ron Schultz, one of the most renowned pet vaccination experts in the country, believes that once a test yields strong titers, you need not test again.  In Dr. Jean Dodd’s article on vaccine reactions, she quotes Dr. Schultz on the value of testing titers: “an animal with a positive test has sterilizing immunity and should be protected from infection.  If that animal were vaccinated it would not respond with a significant increase in antibody titer, but may develop a hypersensitivity to vaccine components (e.g. fetal bovine serum).”

Does a weak titer mean that the dog needs a “booster” shot?Maybe not for dogs that have previously shown strong titers. Many experts, including Dr. Schultz, say the dog’s immune system will have produced “memory cells” that will produce antibodies when they’re needed. Think of memory cells as reserve forces. When known foreigners invade, they remember how to attack them.  Dr. Shultz has said, “show that an animal with a positive test has sterilizing immunity and should be protected from infection.  If that animal were vaccinated it would not respond with a significant increase in antibody titer, but may develop a hypersensitivity to vaccine components (e.g. fetal bovine serum).Read more about memory cells here. Read pages 5-6 of Antibody Titers vs Annual Vaccination by Richard Ford, DVM for more information.

Should I test my puppy? Yes!If so, when?Ideally, puppies should have had their last vaccination after 16 weeks of age then should be tested to see if further vaccination is necessary. There’s an excellent discussion about testing puppies in the 2006 American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Canine Vaccine Task Force Report (page 13) entitled What Are The Possible Applications of Serologic Testing? It reads, “Such titer testing is the only way to ensure that a puppy has developed an immune response after vaccinating.”

What do titer tests cost? Testing costs vary widely from practice to practice, so shop around. Some vets do in-house testing. Others use outside labs. Some mark up tests and services a little; others, a lot. You should be able to have parvo/distemper tests done most places for less than $100. Rabies tests, on the other hand, can cost considerably more, in large part because they are sent overnight to a lab. (Ask your vet to have a Titer Testing Day so that they can send multiple tests in one package and save considerably on shipping costs.) Consider contacting Hemopet, Dr. Jean Dodd’s nonprofit organization, for their pricing and her excellent reading of results. When comparative shopping, make sure pricing includes blood draw and shipping. jAnd suggest your vet check out Vaccicheck, a great new in-office test for canine parvovirus, adenovirus and distemper and one for rabies that offers results in 30 minutes at a low price.

Wait! Before jumping to the conclusion that vaccinating is much cheaper than testing, remember that testing can be a one-time (or at least rare) expense and is no riskier than any simple blood draw. Vaccinating, on the other hand, can potentially cause a lifetime of illness.

Should I test for rabies antibodies? The rabies titer test will give you an indication of your dog’s immunity if he or she is at particular risk for contracting rabies. It may also be required prior to international travel. Test results will NOT be accepted by Animal Control and most others as a substitute for vaccination of healthy dogs as required by law.

If your dog has documented health problems or documented adverse reactions to shots, your vet may be able to get your dog an exemption to rabies vaccination. (Learn more at www.Truth4Dogs.org.)A rabies titer test is not usually necessary when requesting an exemption but may be useful when re-applying for a denied exemption. It may also give you and others piece of mind if you’re contemplating an exemption.

(Note: a French challenge study has shown rabies vaccination gives immunity for at least five years. In the U.S, the Rabies Challenge Fund is doing concurrent tests for five years and seven years to extend the period between shots. This important nonprofit study is funded solely by donations from dog lovers like you.)

Can I test titers immediately after vaccinating? To get an accurate test, you must wait at least 14 days after vaccination before testing.

What if your vet, groomer, spouse, best friend, kennel owner or day care proprietor says titer testing is “voodoo science,” that your dog needs continued vaccination even if testing indicates otherwise? Know that vets out of school longer than 10 years received little or no immunology or vaccinology training in school; they shouldn’t be considered experts unless they’ve devoted hundreds of hours to research and training. Others who want to influence you may have no training at all and may be acting out of fear. Do your own research and advocate for your dog.

I hope I’ve given you enough information to make reasoned decisions. The subject is hardly black and white; it is riddled with shades of gray. I’d like to thank veterinary crusaders against over-vaccination Drs. Margo Roman and Tamara Hebbler for their help with this article, and Drs. Jean Dodds and Patricia Jordan for answering my many questions about vaccination over the years.

Where can you learn more? Visit my web page Vaccinating Dogs, and also the articles and videos archived on this blog by clicking the “Vaccination” link. For indepth information in an easy to read format, see my “Rethinking Vaccination” chapter in my award-winning book, Scared Poopless: The Straight Scoop on Dog Care.

Also see the excellent information from Dr. Schultz at Antibody Titer Tests: A Video Featuring Ron Schultz, PhD

Other articles of interest:


Why do unnecessary vaccines matter?
Watch our new 3-minute video on
adverse vaccine reactions in dogs and cats

Titer Testing: A Crash Course
New In-Office Titer Test for Dogs: Test Before Revaccinating
Vaccinating Dogs: 10 Steps to Eliminating Unnecessary Shots

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* Challenge studies prove immunity by exposing an animal to a disease.These studies show distemper immunity given by the Rockborn Strain gives 7 years immunity; the Onderstepoort Strain, 5 years. Ask your vet which strain was used to vaccinate your dogs. Read more by clicking here.

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67 Comments to “Titer Test: Don’t Vaccinate Your Dog Unnecessarily”


  1. KID Says:

    The other day I took my 3 y/o lab in for immunization titers and a full panel thyroid test since she already had to have blood drawn for rocky mountain spotted fever. Four weeks ago she had to have surgery on both knees and her shoulder so when she was under they did a routine test for diseases that could be effecting her joints…rocky mountain spotted fever was one, which she tested positive for and has been on doxy since. Anyhow, when they drew her blood the other day they took it from her external jugular, which made me nervous and a little sick to my stomach. The last time she was in for blood work I asked why the neck and they responded that’s just where they take blood on dogs. Now I’m not a dog medic but however, I have been a medic for people for over 15 years and the only time I went for an ej was when I had no other options. To me, there are options.. 4 to be exact… when the tech was not able to get enough blood from her neck (which my baby was not struggling at all..she was crying..not wining…CRYING with tears in her eyes..which made me even sicker) she had to do a re-stick. I insisted she pulled from the leg this time, which she did and was successful. This last tech told me that she had to pull from the neck because of how much blood she need and I figured that since she just had surgery on both knees where they used her back legs for ivs, it made sense at the time. In retrospect…her hind legs probably would have been the better choice. Anyhow, I was a little upset because she was digging around my baby’s neck like she didn’t know what she was doing and I started to stop her after she repositioned the third time but then she got blood so I kept my mouth shout and continued to comfort my baby. The tech tried to tell me that there are no risks involved by taking it from her neck; I corrected her and said there are risks because of how close the arteries are as well as the trachea and other critical things even if her neck is fatty, which it is. At least the last time the vet tech got it on the first try. My question is…does anyone know the protocols of drawing blood in veterinarian teaching hospitals/schools. Most “training” type sites or videos I have been to all show drawing from the neck versus a leg and why have I heard several canine medics tell me this is their first route of choice? Any insight would be greatly appreciate since we will have to return annually for blood work. I’m thinking about drawing it up myself and just taking the blood to them. Thoughts?

  2. Erin Says:

    Hi I really want to protect my dog and cat from over vaccination. But I am concerned about animal control. Would they make me vaccinate even with a Titer test done? I don’t want my pets to get cancer etc because of over vaccination. Any advice?

  3. Jan Says:

    Erin, the only vaccine of interest to Animal Control is rabies. At this time, a titer test cannot be used in lieu of vaccinating. If your pet is an adult, and has had two vaccines already, you probably just need rabies once every three years. In many states, cats don’t have to be vaccinated at all. Check online or with your vet.

    Here’s my best article on Questions to Ask Before Vaccinating. It should answer your questions. http://truth4pets.org/question-before-vaccination/

  4. Toronto Dog Walking | Canine Nutrition Consultation | blog | oh my dog Says:

    […] lasts for life. There is a way to find out if your dog is still immune; it’s called a titer test (a blood test which measures antibodies). About 2 years ago I titer-tested my own dog who was 6 […]

  5. Amber Says:

    Hi:

    I am a first-time dog owner and have recently adopted a Maltipoo (Maltese/Miniature Poodle) puppy; I’ve had her for over 3 weeks and she’s nearly 5 months old. She came from a shop specializing in small designer-breed dogs obtained from local breeders.

    I’m worried, however, about her being over-vaccinated, especially since she is sometimes a finicky eater and is, as I mentioned, of a small breed. The shop gave me a record of the shots they’ve already given her:

    NeoPar, when she was just over 4 weeks
    Intra-Trac-3 (Bordetella), the very day after the NeoPar
    Galaxy (Nobivac) DA2PPv at nearly 8 weeks
    Another DA2PPv at 18 weeks (the day I brought her home)

    So I took her to the vet for a check-up about 10 days after bringing her home, and they told me she needs a DHPP vaccine (4 weeks after the second DA2PPv). I’m due to take her in there later this week.

    But after reading about the risks – what with her possibly being separated from her mother too young (first vaccine at 4 weeks?!), being small, and her spotty shot record. I was thinking about canceling her appointment, waiting a month or two, and then taking her in to get a titer test.

    What do you think would be the best course of action here?

  6. Jan Says:

    Hi Amber. Your dog has definitely been over-vaccinated. The top researcher, Dr. Ron Schultz, will tell you that just ONE viral vaccine given at 15 or 16 weeks will likely give immunity for life. Please read http://truth4pets.org/question-before-vaccination/ and please watch the series of videos with Dr. Schultz and Dr. Becker at http://truth4pets.org/videos/

    Your dog was also given too many vaccines at once. Every additional vaccine given increases the chance of a reaction by 24%. http://www.dogs4dogs.com/blog/2009/09/30/vaccinating-small-dogs-risks-vets-arent-revealing/

    If your dog was mine, I wait until 3 weeks after the last vaccine given at 18 weeks and do a titer test for parvo and distemper. If positive, experts say no additional vaccines are needed. Wait as long as you legally can for the rabies vaccine. http://www.dogs4dogs.com/blog/2010/09/23/rabies-vaccination-12-ways-to-vaccinate-more-safely/

    On another subject, it’s likely your puppy is a puppy mill pup. Good breeders don’t sell their dogs in stores and don’t let just anyone with a credit card buy them, just as human babies aren’t just sold in stores. Good breeders want their puppies to have a good home, the right home. Stores like this are illegal in many places in California and elsewhere — for good reason.

    Find a holistic vet to help your dog recover from all those drugs. http://www.truth4pets.org/vets Good luck!

  7. Amber Says:

    Hello, Jan:

    Thank you so much for your speedy reply. I’ve decided to cancel her appointment and arrange for a titer test after the holidays have passed.

    I did read about the correct ages for vaccinating puppies, and in the case of mine it looks like she was given her shots too early and then too LATE for them to be effective for her.

    I sincerely hope she’s not from a mill. I’ve heard that puppy mill dogs tend to be sickly. But so far, she seems to be okay. After bringing her home I was concerned because she ate very little and slept a lot. But her appetite has gradually increased, and she definitely has more energy and is very affectionate.

    Again, thank you very much!

  8. Jan Says:

    Amber, the good news is that if your dog made it without illness, the vaccines weren’t too late. In fact, they are likely more effecti
    Not all puppy mill dogs are sickly, but they are more likely to be because of in-breeding. They are also more likely to be poorly socialized. There’s a great book on behavior and socialization by Jean Donaldson: Culture Clash.

    There’s also a product I recommend: raw goat’s milk from A+ Additional Answers. It’s inexpensive and will help with digestive problems. I give it to both my dogs. (Their foods also look good.)

  9. Debra-anne Says:

    WHAT IS YOUR OPINON ON GIVING DOGS HEARTWORM MEDS.i have 2 rescues Nikki who I rescued at 5 months old now 18 months and an older dog of around 4 yrs old nikki is 4.6 and april is 9 lbs..both are Chihuahuas..they both were started on heartguard plus when rescued and I was told upon adopting them both that I had to continue the monthly treatment..may I add I had my beloved Sally-anne for 17 yrs she never received any yearly shots or heartworm treatment and my point I had her for 17 yrs???..why must I give all this poison to my new babies??? and should I stop or can I stop..we live in south fla..

  10. Jan Says:

    Debra-Anne, I have two articles on heartworm that I think will address your very good question: http://www.dogs4dogs.com/blog/2009/05/13/heartworm-medication-safety/

    Here’s my favorite article on vaccinating as well: http://truth4pets.org/question-before-vaccination/ I hope you’ll read it.

  11. Yearly Shots, Not Our Friend - Anyone Else - Boxer Forum : Boxer Breed Dog Forums Says:

    […] And you can do titer test to see if your dog needs a vaccine. Hope you guy gets better soon! Blood Test for Dogs to Test Immunity; Don't Over-Vaccinate! | Truth4Dogs __________________ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qaru1pvCHOU Gunther Mastiff/Pit Mix […]

  12. Claudia C Chapman Says:

    I have had Springer Spaniels for over 20 years. Our latest pup (11 weeks) is from a litter sired by our 10 yr. old male Springer. Our son bought one of our male puppy’s liter mates, and they often play together while our son is at work in our yard. He vaccinated his puppy with the 4-in-one right before I left on a trip to our second home with our puppy. (I was waiting till ours was a full 12 weeks.). They spent one day together post vaccination of the litter mate. Within 48 hrs. Our pup was lethargic, had swollen, painful lymph nodes under his jaw, and his ears seemed infected. I planned on doing minimal vax’s. I’m now wondering if he contracted live viruses/bacteria shed by his brother??? He hardly woke up for 4 days, got up to pee, drink and eat minimally, and then just slept most of 4 days. I’m in the middle of nowhere, so I pulled out my homeopathics and treated his ears and gave olive oil with Oregano oil orally. He is now (7 days out) back to normal. He did eat deer feces when I wasn’t looking and has been licking his forelegs a lot. I AM CONSIDERING NO FURTHER VACCINATIONS. I am in 95969 zip, the nearest holistic vet is 400 miles away. CAN ANYONE REFER ME TO A VET WHO CAN CONSULT WITH ME LONG DISTANCE.

  13. Jan Says:

    Claudia, yes, the virus can be shed by the vaccinated dog. There are some wonderful holistic vets who will consult by phone at http://www.truth4pets.org.

  14. Sue Huss Says:

    Just like with children I believe too many vaccinations at once can create autism in dogs. My friend’ who had a playful active dog suddenly noticed her dog’s personality had changed overnight after some vaccinations.

  15. Titers Testing – Tell Me More | K-9 Angels Rescue Says:

    […]  *  *  *  *  *  * Titer Test: Don’t Vaccinate Your Dog Unnecessarily October 22 2008 http://www.dogs4dogs.com/blog/2008/10/22/titer-test/ . *  *  *  *  *  *  * More On Vaccine Titers July 11 2012 […]

  16. The Importance of Selecting a Good Vet | Long Live the Dog Says:

    […] after their initial vaccinations and boosters, are usually immune and carry the antibodies for 5-7 years. Many vets do not even carry the 3 year rabies vaccine, basically forcing clients to receive the […]

  17. Holly Says:

    My two dogs just died within five months of each other from giving them a rabies shot. I wish I would have known this. This makes me sadder. I am going to tell everyone about this!

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