If you have a dog, you need to know what a titer test is. Some dog owners use the titer test to help determine if their dog's vaccinations are up-to-date but there is some dispute as to the effectiveness of this approach.
Although your dog's vet can perform a titer test to check the antibodies in your dog's blood, the reasons for titer testing your dog need to be carefully considered.
The purpose of this short guide is to simply explain what a titer test for dogs is, not to advocate for or against their use in your own dog's diagnostic plan.
As ever, always discuss the pros and cons of any medical tests with your vet and do not be afraid to seek second opinions.
Titer test for dogs: an overview
A titer test (pronounced tighter test) is a blood test that can help confirm whether or not your dog has contracted a disease or is at risk of developing one.
The titer test makes use of antigens, which are molecules that match up with antibodies, which are produced by the immune system in response to disease.
When the immune system is exposed to an antigen, it produces an antibody that matches it.
How do titer tests for dogs work?
Benefits of a titer test for dogs
The benefits of using titer testing for dogs are the same as for human health.
Tests that measure antibodies against viral diseases can help confirm whether a dog is free of a persistent cough or persistent infections and can help determine if a dog is at risk of getting a disease that requires treatment.
Titer testing and canine vaccinations
Not everyone agrees that titer testing for dogs in relation to deciding whether or not to vaccinate is a good idea.
VitalAnimal, a website that publishes opinion on a number of veterinary issues says:
Some diseases have been studied enough that scientists claim to know what level of antibody protects against that disease, so this level is called a “protective titer.”
The problem with this approach is that low titers do not equate with lack of protection, especially if measured several years after the last vaccination.
About your dog's immune system
A dog's immune system works a lot like the human immune system.
We humans have different antibodies for the same type of bacteria and viruses, so if you get sick with one type of bacteria, your immune system will remember that and make antibodies to fight it the next time it comes around.
They are called antibodies because they are like little weapons that fight the disease.
A dog's immune system has special antibodies called IgM (Immunoglobulin M).
A dog's IgM has a red patch on it. IgM antibodies are for bacteria and viruses. While it is not the same as human antibodies, because we make IgG antibodies, and they don't have red patches, these type of antibodies are called "mixed."
Learn more about how your dog's immune system works »
Should I get a titer test for my dog?
It very much depends on what purpose you are considering the titer test.
The best thing you can do is discuss with your vet, never be afraid to get second (or even third) opinions.
Further reading & resources: Titer testing for dogs
What does a dog's titer test results look like?
Image for illustrative purposes only:
Titer test for dogs: quick summary
- A titer test is a blood test that measures the level of immune system proteins called antibodies.
- A dog titer test typically tests for antibodies against canine distemper, canine parvovirus, canine adenovirus, and canine parainfluenza.
- Titer testing involves taking a small sample of blood and testing it to identify the antibodies present within the sample-antibodies against the core transmissible canine diseases and health conditions.
- The most common titer tests for dogs look for antibodies in parvovirus, distemper and rabies, and can help pet parents, vets, groomers, kennel owners, and other people who work with dogs learn about animals with unknown vaccination history, or decide if their dogs need additional vaccinations, as titers can show the actual immune response.
- The Titer test is absolutely not a replacement or a substitute for a proper vaccination and should rather be used as a yardstick to determine whether or not your pet needs a particular vaccination.