Q. My friend said she does antibody titers for certain diseases for her dog. What is this all about?
A. Since the pandemic, more people are aware of the importance of antibody titers and disease protection. How does that apply to your dog? It is common knowledge in veterinary medicine that vaccination for core diseases give good protection against these pathogens. Veterinarians also know that some dogs may develop unwanted problems after being vaccinated. Just like everything else, a little is good and too much can cause problems. That is why vaccinations given yearly are now given every three years, and some folks run antibody titers instead of vaccinating.
Let’s unpack the last paragraph. Every veterinarian is taught immunology in school. Immunology is the study of how the body fights disease. It is a complicated subject. Every second a dog is exposed to thousands of organisms, such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, and toxins, that can cause disease. Our dogs are equipped with a beautiful defense system called the immune system. Part of this system has specific cells, T cells and B cells, whose job is to recognize pathogens, the bugs that make dogs sick, and destroy them. They do this by making little proteins called antibodies. These antibodies match a part of the organism, which attach and neutralize the pathogen. Once neutralized the body can remove these bugs and keep our dogs healthy.
Your dog’s body makes antibodies when he is exposed to a pathogen or a vaccine. These antibodies will protect your buddy from disease. Antibodies have a life span, but there are special cells called memory cells that will remember how to make antibodies against previously known pathogens. This is how the body can protect Fluffy against so many diseases.
Vaccinations are made to safely cause the body to make antibodies against a specific disease. When the antibodies are at a high enough level, your dog will not get sick. The problem is a dog may develop a disease triggered by the vaccine. Because of this problem, research was done at Cornell to see how much antibodies are needed to protect against a disease and how long a vaccine will protect your dog against a disease. The research covered seven years and tested vaccines’ antibodies against distemper and Parvo. Findings showed antibodies are maintained at a protective level for at least seven years. It also found the level of antibodies needed to keep these viruses from taking hold in the body.
This information gives the guardian and the veterinarian another tool to safely protect your best friend from disease. The minimal antibody level for protection has been established for the core vaccines, Distemper, Adenovirus, and Parvo. Instead of routinely getting a vaccine for these diseases, you can have antibody titers performed instead. Titer is the measurement of the antibodies. If the titer is high enough, your pup is protected. Many training centers, kennels, and groomers will accept a protective titer instead of a current vaccine.
Titers are available for only a few of the diseases we vaccinate our best friend. Like everything in life, nothing is perfect. To vaccinate or do titers is a discussion you should have with your veterinarian.
Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH
Animal Wellness Center