Should You Vaccinate Your Dog?

August 9, 2018
By Ranny Green

Reprinted with permission from

Vaccinate or titer? You’ll want to read this when it’s time for your dog to have a booster shot. It can be complicated, or not! Should you vaccinate your dog? Whether to vaccinate or titer is the option facing dog and cat owners annually.

A few decades ago the decision was a no-brainer; simply update the protection with an annual booster. Well, those days are history, except in the case of non-core vaccines, which are optional and should be considered based on the dog’s exposure risk, i.e. interaction with other dogs and where you live. The determination if these are needed should come after consulting with your veterinarian during your dog’s annual check-up. Non-core vaccines provide protection for 12 to 14 months.

The subject received plenty of focus at last month’s American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) convention in Denver where one of the hot-button sessions, “The 2017 AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) Canine Vaccination Guidelines: Vaccine Issues and Controversies,” tackled a wide array of subjects affecting clients including AAHA immunization protocols for young and adult dogs, adverse reactions, titers vs. vaccinations, rabies immunization vs. rabies law.

Panelists included Dr. Richard Ford, a professor emeritus at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine; Dr. Link Welborn, owner of five Tampa, Fla. veterinary hospitals; and Brian Conrad, practice manager of two Kennewick, Wash., hospitals.

Dr. Richard Ford

“The vaccine environment in our profession is particularly dynamic,” Ford told the practitioners. “In the coming years, new vaccines will certainly be introduced, information regarding the use and selection of existing vaccines will be revised and updated and new questions regarding protocols will surface.” Consequently, he emphasized while the revised 2017 AAHA guidelines were published after several years of study.

The new canine guidelines, Ford noted, are recommendations only, not requirements. Protocols may vary, particularly in regard to state rabies legislation.

One area where there is no debate on the protocol efficacy for both puppies and kittens is the initial series of core vaccines.” Without question,” Ford explained, “that is very high on the list of value-added costs of pet ownership, regardless of the animal’s environment or lifestyle.” The puppy three-dose protocol is recommended between six and 16-weeks-of-age. The three-in-one core vaccine includes parvovirus, distemper and hepatitis; rabies vaccination should not be given in any dog or cat younger than three months of age.

The Impact of Human Health Concerns on Animal Health Vaccinations

Welborn and Conrad see no “controversy” surrounding canine and feline vaccines. If there is one, it’s a “spin-off” from concerns over vaccine-associated Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in children, explained Ford. “Pet owners are asking veterinarians about the risk of vaccination and over-vaccination of pets causing injury/illness. While adverse reactions associated with vaccination can, and do, occur they are rare – less than 0.1 percent – and they are linked to allergic reaction to one or more of the constituent proteins in the vaccine dose.”

Pet owners’ pro-activeness in this corridor is prompting more to request titer testing when it’s time for their dog to undergo a vaccine booster injection at age three- or four-years-old. “Owners do have a clue about titers,” Ford emphasized. “Of the more than 3,000 veterinarians I have surveyed on this point, close to 98 percent say the primary reason they perform antibody testing in practice is because the owner requested it. Currently, there is an owner-driven market, most likely stemming from parents’ concerns about over-vaccinating their children.”

Ford characterized antibody testing as a clinical “resource,” i.e. a “tool” available to veterinarians and their clients. “It’s all about understanding what information can be derived from the results.”

What’s titer testing all about?

A titer is a method of measuring antibodies in a blood sample for specific diseases. The veterinarian will draw a small amount of blood then test it. Titers are generally expressed as a ratio: if the number is high, it reflects your dog has enough antibodies to fight off a specific disease and boasts an immunity from infection. In many cases, immunity is the result of a prior vaccination. If the animal’s titer count is low, it may not have immunity, but may still have some protection.

Conversely, titer testing is not recommended for non-core vaccines (canine leptospirosis, Bordetella or Lyme disease) because they only provide short-term protection.

Titer tests are considered accurate for rabies vaccines, most of which have a three-year longevity. But keep in mind state and local regulations vary on that matter, many require a booster injection at varying time intervals.

Costs vary depending on whether the patient serum sample is sent to a commercial laboratory or done in-house with a licensed test kit; generally it’s about the same as a vaccine dose.

“It is generally expected,” Ford continued, “that in most dogs and cats the core vaccines protect for many years to life following completion of the initial series. Vaccines for feline herpesvirus and calicivirus are less immunogenic and may not provide life-long immunity.”

Brian Conrad

As a hospitals practice manager, Conrad presents a bit of a different perspective in dealing with clients and veterinarians. “The profession has evolved in many new directions the past two decades. Vaccination protocol is just one. We are educators, not salesmen. When it comes to vaccinations versus titers, it is up to our staff to fully explain the options to each client and let each make the decision, since they know their pet better than anyone.”

Being Informed And Educated Is Key to Making a Decision

“Clients are smart and well-informed and have plenty of information at their disposal that was not available years ago. Consequently, it’s incumbent on our entire staff to be knowledgeable on vaccination and titer options. That includes brochures in the office and reputable websites in which to direct them,” said Conrad.

Welborn added, “The vast majority of veterinarians are focused on doing what they consider to be right for the patients in their care.”

To stay updated about canine vaccinations, visit the Canine Guidelines section on the AAHA website:

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