Vaccination is likely to be the first thing that a pet owner would think of after getting a new pet. It is one of the most effective ways to protect a dog or cat from some contagious and possibly fatal diseases. In areas where a large percentage of pets are appropriately vaccinated (herd immunity), it has been so effective that many of these diseases seem to have disappeared. Occasionally, outbreaks do still occur and it is in times like these that animals, with up-to-date vaccinations, are protected from these diseases.
Research has shown that adequately vaccinated dogs and cats have a much longer duration of immunity than what is labelled on the vaccine bottle, mainly for the canine distemper virus (CDV), canine parvovirus (CPV), canine adenovirus (CAV) and the feline parvovirus (FPV). Hence, the question that follows is “Are we over-vaccinating our pets?” This is where antibody level (titre) testing comes into play.
How vaccines work
Vaccines are made up of killed or weakened viruses or bacteria, that trigger an immune response when introduced into the body. This immune response results in production of antibodies specific to each virus, as well as white blood cells that target and kill the virus. These antibodies last a long time in the body and this is the way the body “remembers” how to defend itself against an infection in future. However, each time a vaccine is administered, there is a risk that the immune system may cause an adverse reaction. So, when an animal is over-vaccinated (i.e. repeatedly vaccinated even when the body has an adequate immune response to the virus), we are increasing the chances of an adverse reaction happening.
Antibody titres (levels)
Antibody titres tell us if the body has any antibodies present to fight off an infection if it occurs. If the test cannot detect any antibodies, it means that the immune response needs a vaccine booster to increase the antibody levels. If the result indicates that antibodies are present, then a vaccine booster is unnecessary at that time.
Occasionally, there is a small number of puppies and kittens who do not produce an adequate immune response despite completing the usual primary course of vaccination. Antibody titres allows us to identify these individuals and follow up with another vaccine booster to make sure they are well-protected from the above diseases.
There are now reliable in-house test kits that offer a quick result within 30 minutes with a blood sample. So you do not have to wait for results for days while the laboratory analyses the sample! The vet can then decide whether vaccination can be done on the same day to avoid you making another trip to the clinic.
If your pet has been vaccinated with a complete primary course of vaccines, or has suffered serious adverse reactions to the vaccine previously, then you may like to discuss with your vet the alternative of antibody titre testing the next time your pet’s vaccination is due.