The Great Debate: Vaccines and Titers

The issue of vaccinations, and their effect on our pets’ health, has recently become an area of much debate in the world of veterinary medicine. For many years, veterinarians have administered multiple annual vaccines with the understanding that they were providing an important preventative health measure for their client’s pets. But as the decades have passed, we have begun to see a steady increase in the number of pets having adverse reactions to some of these vaccines. These reactions range from the animal just being “off” for a few days, to having allergic reactions causing swelling and hives, to life threatening anaphylactic reactions.

Many veterinarians and pet owners are now questioning whether pets need vaccines in such a frequent and repetitive pattern. While past studies have certainly proven that the administration of these vaccinations provides adequate immunity against the diseases, there have been very few studies determining how long these vaccines may be effective beyond their respective 12 or 36 months immulogical lifespan. The common thought has always been, “it doesn’t do any harm, so just revaccinate.” But now, concerns about the cumulative effect of our pets receiving multiple vaccinations, containing numerous antigens, year after year that may be compounding on each other and causing unintended health problems for our pets.homemade raw meat cat food

We receive many vaccines as children and maintain immunity for our entire life, so why doesn’t this happen with our pets? Do certain factors reduce the efficiency of our pets’ immune systems and, if so, should these not be more heavily evaluated as a part of making the decision whether or not to vaccinate? Now add into the mix the geriatric pet and those animals immunocompromised by disease or immunosuppressed by medication, and you have a sizeable portion of the pet population that is potentially at risk of suffering serious health problems by repeated immunizations.

The good news is that there is a simple blood test available called a “blood titers,” that can be done for most pet vaccines to determine how much immunization “memory” is being retained by the pet’s body weeks, months, or years after the vaccine is administered. These are reliable tests used across the world to determine immunity for import and export of pets that show the actual level of vaccine antibodies in their bloodstream at a given point in time. Hundreds of thousands of vaccine titers have been run independently by veterinarians, and in some cases they have shown as much as 15 years immunity protection for a vaccine in some animals. We must also keep in mind that vaccines are not always 100% effective. Most manufacturers only guarantee the efficacy of their vaccines in the mid-90% range. This means that as many as 1 in 20 pets that receive a vaccine may not actually be immunized by that vaccine as their body does not utilize the injected substance. This is just another important reason for performing a titers test early in the life of an animal.

Thankfully, vaccine manufacturers, veterinary groups and the veterinary teaching hospitals are starting to recommend less frequent vaccinations and that pets be evaluated periodically to determine their immulogical status. Laws have been passed in many jurisdictions, including Citrus and surrounding counties in Florida, that allow for medical exemptions if the pet is determined “not healthy” or that it may be at risk for serious health complications if it is vaccinated. These factors are now pushing vaccine titers to the forefront in veterinary medicine when determining how frequently our pets should be vaccinated.

Without a doubt, the diseases our companion animals are susceptible to are dangerous and should be avoided. However, I feel that it is also vitally important to the health of our pets to periodically check their immunity levels instead of just automatically re-immunizing them year after year.

Whatever your situation, make an INFORMED decision about your pet’s health. I strongly recommend using those vaccines with the highest purity levels, use the least frequent vaccination protocols, pay close attention for signs of adverse reactions to vaccinations, and add in some type of detoxification protocol after vaccination. YOU are the custodian of health decisions for your pet. Find a practitioner that shares your beliefs or at least respects your right as the owner to make the right decision for your pet.

Dr. Trish Kallenbach DVM CVCP