Vaccination management

I meet owners who express concern about over-vaccination; more often than not, this has led them to the decision on not to vaccinate their dog. If they don’t send their dog to a boarding kennel or day care, there is little motivation for them to do so – other than any regular visits to their vet.

I can understand the concerns, but I also get concerned that these owners are relying on herd immunity – the odds that the majority of the herd (in this case, the dog population) are immunised and so their dog isn’t at risk because most animals are protected.

But then we have communities, like last year on the West Coast, who experience parvovirus infections across a range of puppies and dogs…

This blog is a re-print of an article I wrote for NZ Dog World magazine in 2014.  There is the option to titre test our dogs to test their levels of immunity and to give us more information on whether to vaccinate or not.


Titre testing is available in New Zealand but few dog owners appear to know about it, says Karen Cooper, Laboratory Manager with Gribbles Veterinary in Auckland.  “This testing option was not previously available here, but despite its recent introduction the uptake of the testing has not been huge.”

calming a cute puppy patient at the vet's

Vaccination time… or is it? (photo courtesy of Gribbles Veterinary)

A titre test measures the levels of antibodies in the blood.  Testing can be done for immunity to canine parvovirus and canine distemper virus.

Dr Jean Dodds, who is a leading holistic veterinarian and founder of Hemopet, a non-profit blood bank for dogs in the USA, says that research has found that an animal’s titre level remains constant for years.  Therefore, there is little risk that an animal will be misdiagnosed as having sufficient immunity.

A negative titre test would mean that the dog requires a booster vaccination, whereas a positive test would mean it does not.

Dr Dodd’s vaccination protocol calls for vaccine antibody titres to be undertaken every three years.  For most veterinary practices in New Zealand, three-yearly booster vaccination is routine.  Titre testing could be done in lieu of an automatic vaccination but in most cases the dog owner needs to ask for it.

The NZVA’s policy on vaccine use states:

Veterinarians should maintain a professional approach to all aspects of the use of vaccines. This includes encouraging widespread vaccination as an important means of preventing and controlling infectious diseases while ensuring that vaccines are not used unnecessarily.  Veterinarians should aim to maintain the profession as the source of informed knowledge on the use of vaccines and be responsible for the correct use of these agents.

Veterinarians should adhere to their ethical and legal obligations by informing their clients of the risks and benefits of vaccination of companion animals, keeping comprehensive patient records and vaccination certificates.

Why titre?

The most popular application is in puppies to check for an effective immune response; a titre test can be performed approximately two weeks following the final vaccination.

In older dogs, the main concern is avoiding the risks that are associated with vaccination.  These risks may involve localised swelling, lethargy, fever and allergic reactions ranging from mild to severe.   There may be no need to expose their bodies to the pressures associated with vaccination if they have sufficient immunity.  With rescue dogs, titre testing can provide insight into their immune status.

One issue for some owners is whether their boarding kennel will accept the tests.  The kennels I spoke to for this article varied in their position from “We require dogs to have a current vaccination certificate to “We would like to think of ourselves as educated and discerning and therefore we are happy to accept results of a titre test.” 

When boarding your dog, it is important to understand that there is no titre for kennel cough and so vaccination is likely to be needed.

Titre testing may not be suitable for every dog; re-vaccination may not be suitable for every dog.  It’s up to the owner to make an informed choice.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

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