Don’t vaccinate until you have titre tested
Dr Lise Hansen
Recently, I was invited by Canine Health Concern (CHC) to talk to its members about natural feeding. CHC was the first British organisation to promote natural feeding (paying for Dr Ian Billinghurst to come from Australia and lecture here in the 1990s), to warn against the over-vaccination of dogs and to promote the use of titre testing. Titre testing? As Dr Lise Hansen explains in this article, titre testing is a cheap, easy and simple way to check if your dog or cat remains protected by the last core vaccine, whenever this was given. Dr Hansen, by the way, is the author of ‘The Complete Book of Dog & Cat Health’ – one of the best books on canine and feline care available. Details to be found at the end of her excellent article. Jonathan Self.
The jury is in
The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) has issued clear and detailed scientific guidelines informing dog carers and veterinary staff on the safe and correct use of vaccines for dogs and cats. It is worth noting that these guidelines aim to minimise the number of vaccines given to each animal while still ensuring maximum protection. It is a huge step forward for the health of our dogs that these guidelines now exist, so that we can use vaccines in a way that is based on independent expert advice rather than on mere assumption or commercial interest – and it falls to every vet to follow them. Unfortunately you may still encounter veterinary practices that have not yet updated their protocols, indeed some still refer to ‘the annual vaccination’ – a truly outdated concept.
Core and non-core vaccines
The WSAVA guidelines divide dog vaccines into two groups: core and non-core.
The core vaccines are those against parvovirus, distemper and adenovirus, given together in one shot. Once a puppy has been successfully immunised, he will, in virtually all cases require no boosters. Ever. The core vaccines have been shown to provide life-long protection in 98% of dogs. It is this ongoing protection that can now be tested through a titre test.
The non-core vaccines frequently given to dogs are those against kennel cough and leptospirosis. The WSAVA states that a main reason for publishing the guidelines is to minimise the use of these vaccines. They are classified as non-core because, in the case of most dogs, the benefits do not outweigh the risks connected with these vaccines. If given, they need to be repeated annually, but the point to remember is that for the average pet dog it is the expert recommendation that they should not be given at all.
Titre testing – the answer to (almost) everything
A titre test is a cheap, easy and simple way to check if your dog or cat remains protected by the last core vaccine, whenever this was given.
Your vet or veterinary nurse will take a small blood sample, which is then checked for specific antibodies. Your vet may send the sample to a lab, of course, but the test can now be done using a simple test kit, and takes just half an hour, so more and more veterinary practices offer this as an in-house service, which greatly reduces the cost.
The presence or absence of antibodies against a given disease provides a clear yes/no answer to the question of whether or not the animal is protected. There is no degree of protection, it is an easy, all-or-nothing situation. An animal who tests positive is protected, and will gain nothing from further vaccines.
Revaccinating an adult dog or cat without first checking for antibodies exposes the animal to unnecessary risk, and simply makes no sense.
Is titre testing reliable?
In the past, experts have discussed what level of antibodies constitutes protective levels, and advocates of the status quo approach to vaccination have tried to cast doubt on the reliability of titre testing (old habits die hard, and vaccination is, undeniably, big business). This doubt has now been settled, and today experts agree that titre testing (including the use of in-house titre test kits) is, as the chair of the WSAVA’s Vaccination Guideline Group puts it, ‘the new revolutionary tool in veterinary medicine.’
The WSAVA stresses that titre testing is not only reliable, it constitutes a higher standard of veterinary practice. This is not just a matter of striving to reduce the incidence of vaccine side effects; rather, it reflects a core principle of good medicine: that we should never perform a procedure (in this case a vaccination) without first establishing that it is indicated and in the patient’s best interest. I would even go so far as to recommend using a pet clinic’s adherence to WSAVA vaccination guidelines (including the use of in-house titre testing) as an easy way to tell the good from the bad. Good medicine is just good medicine.
So, having read this, what can you do today?
If your dog is five months or older and has never had a titre test, it is overdue.
Get the test done at a veterinary clinic that has the equipment to offer in-house testing. This not only reduces the cost, it also ensures that the vet is able to advise on the basis of the test result. This is not always the case when the sample is sent to a lab and a vet who is not yet familiar with titre testing (they sadly still do exist) is then asked to interpret the test result.
Take 15 minutes to sit down and call the nearest veterinary clinics. Simply ask if they offer ‘in-house titre testing to check for lasting immunity following vaccination’. Most of us have several clinics available within an hour’s travel. If you live in a remote area and your local vets are a bit old fashioned, you may have to make a day trip of it or maybe time the test to coincide with your holiday plans. Just get it done.
The current vaccination guidelines can be found in their entirety at www.wsava.org
The Complete Book of Dog & Cat Health by Dr Lise Hansen is published by Hubble & Hattie (https://www.hubbleandhattie.com/shop/HH5415/).