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Canine Titers And Vaccinations

By Dr. Linda Kennedy MS SLP ND

Vaccinations, the administration of a small amount of an antigen to trigger an immune response, is used in
humans and many other animals including dogs to help protect against disease. The idea is that when the
foreign body (the antigen) is introduced to the body, the body's natural defenses create antibodies to
defeat the antigens. These cells then remember their response, and are prepared for the next
encounter.

Lately though, there has been some discussion on whether some of the effects of immunization on dogs
might possibly outweigh the benefits. The present standard for dog vaccination is set by the American
Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) according to the 2006 Canine Vaccine Guidelines, and even that
esteemed group is taking a hard look at current vaccination practices. At the very least, it seems that the
methods and practices of vaccinations need some review.

Canine vaccine classification

Currently, vaccines are classified as either core or non-core vaccines. Core vaccines are those required by
law or regulation and are usually related to common diseases or past epidemics among dogs. The core
vaccines vary by time and area but usually include rabies and canine adenovirus and parvovirus. Non-core
vaccines are usually reserved when there is a high probability of the dog coming into contact with a
disease, such as when they board in a crowded kennel and could be exposed to Bordetella bronchiseptica
(canine kennel cough) or move to an area of high exposure to afflictions such as Lyme disease. However,
depending on your state, the types of vaccinations and the vaccination schedule may vary, which is a
good indicator of how little consensus there is in the scientific community on what the best practice is.

How often should you immunize your dogs?

Any vaccine given is usually reapplied at some point, depending on the type of vaccine the dog needs.
These vaccines can be required as frequently as one per year. However, the real surprise is that there are
no long-standing medical studies that this frequency of administration or reapplication is in direct
correlation to overall canine health. In fact, in the last five years, much of the momentum has been on
decreasing the frequency of vaccinations. The AAHA accepts that 7 years may be a more reasonable
expected life of immunity for the average dog, but believe 3 years is a good compromise between
caution and risk. The other issue is, the vaccine dosage is the exact same for a small dog such as the Toy
Poodle or a large dog such as the Doberman Pinscher.

There are a number of reasons for this recent movement away from yearly vaccinations, but the most
compelling is some mounting evidence that too frequent vaccinations can result in inflammation, arthritis,
and even cancerous tumors in the commonly injected area. Dr. W. Jean Dodds (D.V.M.) lists some of the
reactions she has seen: "The clinical signs associated with vaccine reactions typically include fever,
stiffness, sore joints and abdominal tenderness, susceptibility to infections..." Other reasons include some
common sense-type questions such as, why dogs need yearly injections when humans can go half of
their lives or even a lifetime without a secondary shot or immune booster? Questions such as these have
not been adequately answered by current research.

At this point, you may feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. After all, over-immunizing your pet
could possibly have some disastrous consequences but not immunizing your dog at all hardly seems the
answer. In response to that, a large contingent of pet owners backed by some veterinarians on the
cutting edge of this issue, including Dr. Dodds, have become vocal in their support of titer testing.

Titer tests

Titer tests are performed through blood work and in most cases can show the veterinarian whether or
not your dog has the proper immunities to be safe in his or her environment ('titer' is a term that
indicates the concentration of the amount of a substance in a solution). Unfortunately, it is not a fail-safe
gauge. To be more precise, a titer test two weeks after vaccination can show whether a vaccination has
created the necessary antibodies and memory cells to be effectively immunized, but it cannot be used as
a perfect determination of what your dog needs. Sometimes a negative response from a titer test may
falsely indicate that a dog needs an immune booster when in reality the dog's immune system has the
capability of fighting off an infection.

Of course, this still leaves us in a bit of a quandary. As discussed before, proliferate immunizations seem to
be counter to common sense and have been shown in some early trials to actually be harmful. Although
titer tests can be used to check your dog's immunity levels, they are not perfect.

Where the issue of dog vaccination stands now

Standard wisdom seems to be to at least lengthen the period between immunizations, especially for
low-risk dogs (such as those that have little contact with other animals). In fact, many states are
considering implementing regulations that would change the mandatory immunities periods from once a
year to once every three years or more. Researchers at the Veterinary Schools at the University of
Minnesota, Colorado State University, and University of Wisconsin are also involved in this discussion, and
have advocated a rotation of vaccinations rather than all-at-once vaccinations or boosting.

This very subject, the possible negative side-effects of over-immunizing dogs, is at the very forefront of
the veterinary discussion, and it would be a good idea to monitor the newest reports and articles to
determine the best way to care for your pets. Dr. Ronald Schultz of the Chairman of Pathobiological
Sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, and the previously mentioned Dr.
W. Jean Dodds are leading researchers on this subject, and reading more of their works is a good way to
stay abreast of the latest developments.

Certainly, we want what is best for our dogs, and would not like to cause our animals any harm, even if it
is with the best of intentions. Remember that just because traditional veterinary wisdom is accepted as
customary, does not make it automatically correct.

Dr. Linda Kennedy MS SLP ND: Is an accomplished researcher, author and naturopathic doctor. Although
a "people doctor", she takes many of the same health principles and applies them to the care of her pets
and passion, the European Doberman and her occasional litter of Doberman puppies.