What is titre testing?
Titre testing (pronounced “tighter”, got to love the English language!) can save your pets from over-vaccination, which is now linked to a number of longer term health issues. The test checks for antibodies against specific viruses that can cause diseases
One millimetre of blood is drawn from your pet and diluted to a point where no antibodies to the specific disease are found. Titre levels are expressed as a ratio, so blood which has been diluted 1000 times before antibodies were absent is a strong titre. If the antibodies are not present after just a few dilutions, then it is a weak titre. A titre test is normally run for the presence of antibodies for parvovirus and distemper, but can also be done for rabies and other diseases.
Why not just vaccinate to be sure?
Puppies and kittens receive antibodies from their mother before they are born and through her milk; there is no point vaccinating until these natural antibodies diminish. Once the youngster is fending for itself, it is good practice to give two vaccinations to ensure protection against the most common viruses.
However, annual vaccination is not only futile as you cannot “top up” an animal’s immunity (it is either immune or not), but is has also been shown in recent studies to increase the risk of chronic illness.
What does titre testing show?
A positive titre test result indicates that an animal has protective immunity. As long as there is a measurable titre to the disease in question, your pet has produced immunity to that virus. It can be a strong or weak result, there is no threshold, but a positive result of any level represents immunity.
If the animal is previously unvaccinated, it suggests he or she has been exposed to the disease and recovered, thus producing natural antibodies. If the pet was vaccinated as a youngster, it suggests that the vaccine has done its job.
A negative titre test needs to be read in context. If the animal has never been vaccinated, then it is likely that it has not produced any antibodies to the disease and could be at risk. However if the animal was previously vaccinated, it may be that over years the antibodies have disappeared. This does not mean there is no immunity as he or she may still be protected by the memory cells. In order to deduce whether or not that is the case, a previous positive titre would be required.
Titre test results are particularly useful when making a decision whether or not to vaccinate a rescue animal with an unknown history. If you wait at least 14 days after a vaccination, titre testing will also show if the injection has worked on youngsters and they have produced antibodies.
Falling titre test results
Annual testing will likely show that titre results drop over the years. This does not mean that your animal’s immunity is declining, it just means that the levels of antibodies are lower. Antibodies are just one part of the complex immune system; memory cells are another key factor in protection.
If the animal has not had exposure to the virus since the initial vaccination or infection, then it doesn’t need to waste time making antibodies. However, it will still be protected by memory cells which act like reserves. They remember the disease and how to fight it, and can mobilise as soon as the virus is detected, rapidly producing the required antibodies. Immunity is still present, it just doesn’t need to be as active.
There is strong evidence that immunity persists for many years, if not life, from vaccines given as a youngster. Furthermore, the science of immunology refutes the theory of “topping up” vaccines with regular boosters. Titre testing will help you decide whether or not you want to vaccinate your pet.
Where can you get titre testing?
Many vets now offer titre testing and you can check for your local vets on the VacciCheck page.
For more information on vaccinations and holistic care for your dog’s immunity, book a place on Dr Nick Thompson’s masterclass held at Unique Pets, Chamberlain Road, Aylesbury, HP19 8DY – call the shop on 01296 706403, but hurry as places are limited.
Written by: Lucy Ellis