Saturday, November 13, 2010

To Booster Or Not To Booster: Jasmine's Parvo and Distemper Titer Results Are Back

Until two years ago I was an oblivious dog owner. I figured that taking my dog to a vet should be all I'd need to do. In a perfect world, I guess, it should have been.

Take the dog to the vet, do what the vet says. I didn't even realize that there was anything else I could have been doing.

The vets go to school, don't they? How can I add anything to that? 

Two years ago I received a brutal wake-up call. Five years of frequent vet visits didn't do anything for Jasmine's well-being! Instead, issues had accumulated to the point when things simply fell apart!

Faced with the situation as it were I realized two things:
  1. Not all vets were created equal
  2. It was time to take charge

First thing on the agenda at that time was figuring out how to deal with Jasmine's torn cruciate ligaments. Then tackling other issues one at the time.

Vaccinations were at the end of a very long list. 

As it wasn't the most pressing issue in the past two years, I continued with the traditional annual boosters as directed.

This summer, however, things have settled down enough that I had time to pay more attention to the matter.

After reading several books, including The Nature of Animal Healing by Dr. Martin Goldstein, and Speaking for Spot by Dr. Nancy Kay I started wondering whether annual boosters for Parvo and Distemper really were the best thing for Jasmine.

Yes, vaccinations are one of the daunting issues.

Many experts believe that we are dangerously over-vaccinating our dogs, many still believe that annual boosters are necessary, and some don't seem to really know which side they should be on.

How does one navigate through this? 

It caused me quite a bit of anguish. It seemed to me that all there is available out there are opinions unsupported by data. I am long past the point when I'm willing to make a decision based on anybody's opinion. What to do?

Of course I could have taken the easy way out and just booster and get it over with. 

Would that be the best thing to do for my dog? There are compelling arguments about the consequences of over-vaccinating which include things such as autoimmune diseases, allergies and even cancer!

Whether the data supporting this belief are sufficiently conclusive or not, it surely raises a serious doubt. With all the advances of veterinary medicine our dogs seem to be getting sicker and sicker. Could it be that over-vaccinating is one of the main causes?

I could have done the opposite and simply decide not to booster.

But the diseases in question are very dangerous and can be deadly. Should I dare to leave Jasmine vulnerable to this risk? That was a leap of faith I was not willing to take.

What other option is there? Titers.

What on Earth are titers?
Titers are a blood test that measures the actual level of protection your dog’s immune systems has against certain diseases. (source: The truth about vaccines: Dog and cat owners be warned).

If you think that there are no arguments about reliability of such testing, think again.

However, the consensus seems to be that if the antibody levels measure high enough, than the dog is protected against that particular disease. That's something, isn't it?

Jasmine's Parvo and Distemper titer results came back yesterday. 

A year and a half since her last booster she has plenty of antibodies for both. No booster is necessary! Next year we will test again.

Dilemma resolved.

Titers are more expensive than the booster itself. But it is a low price to pay for peace of mind.

Note: Some vaccines, such as for Leptospirosis and Lyme disease do provide protection for one year only. Before deciding on any non-core vaccines (vaccines other than Rabies, Parvo, Distemper and Adenovirus), I recommend a thorough evaluation of your dog's exposure and risk.

It's your dog's health!

Further reading:
The truth about vaccines: Dog and cat owners be warned
Dog Vaccines: Are You Over-Vaccinating?
To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate Your Dog or Cat: Which is Safest?
Vaccination Concerns and Potential Side Effects for Dogs and Cats
Vaccinations for Your Dog: A Complex Issue


  1. I too have heard the arguements both ways. To tell the truth I have never heard of a titer test and couldn't be positive any of the locals vets around here have either. Thank you for pointing this out. I will be sure to look into it.

  2. Yes, some vets remain either oblivious or opposed to the argument. You should be able to convince your vet to titer though.

    After a long anguish trying to decide what is the best thing to do, to me titering is the most sane solution.

  3. I asked my vet tech about this today. She said they do not insist on yearly vaccinations, except in high risk dogs. The very young, the elderly, etc. She said if an owner wants yearly vacc's they will do it, which I took to mean, "we aren't going to turn away the income." But they will titer, or not booster at the owners request. I was glad they were flexible about it.

    I have read stories where people had to find a new vet due to their current vet not being willing to catch up with the times of not doing yearly vacc's. I didn't want to be in that position, I love my vet!

  4. Dear Katie. Yes, the policy is different place to place, vet to vet.

    Some places seem automatically booster every 3 years or more. Some insist on annual boosters.

    I wish they could all agree on one thing.

    I think that you love your vet for a reason, and therefore the chance that such vet would not be open to discuss this issue is quite low.

  5. I am of the feeling that dog booster shots are a money maker for the vets. With humans, once the inital round of vaccines are finished in childhood, they are never needed again. You don't see teens and adults geeting vaccinated for rubella or mumps ever other year, it's because the anti-bodies are in the blood for life. Aside from rabies, which is required by law, after the puppy shots they don't need anymore.

  6. Dear Karen. Well, yes, but the issue is more complicated than that. Some even argue that that is the only time people will bring their dogs to the vet. They are likely correct for a high percentage of their clients. That is an important point because regular check ups are an important tool in early detection of disease.

    Some truly believe that the annual boosters are necessary. Some seem confused by the issue.

    The opposing experts believe that immunity for an adult dog lasts anywhere from 3 to 7 years. Only very small group seems to believe that immunity might last for lifetime.

    I even read that our blind belief that human immunity lasts for life time has lead to re-emergence of some already extinct diseases.

    Immunity for tetanus, for example is recommended to be boosted every 10 years in humans.

    Overall the issue seems substantially more complicated than it would seem at a first glance.

    I was going over this for a long time, considering everybody's argument. For me, bottom line was this: whatever opinion feels right to me - am I willing to bet my dog's life on it?

    The answer to that question for me was no. I am not willing to bet my dog's life on it.

    If the titer showed antibody levels lower than what is considered safe level of immunity, I would have been back on the decision train as the opinions on how to interpret such results also vary.

    Fortunately, the levels are high enough so that everybody can be content with the level of immunity Jasmine has.

    Having such results is important for my peace of mind.

  7. Hi Y'all,
    Great article. My Humans changed my vet over this very same thing. I have to get rabies this year because it's the law. That's the only shot I need! ROO, ROO!!!
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  8. This is very interesting to us because I hear about all these other dogs getting shots all the time and I almost never get them. (*knock on wood*) I think vaccinations are one of those things that saved a lot of lives in the beginning (both human and animal) but it seems like our docs & vets are a little "vaccination happy" and refuse to admit that over-vaccinating causes problems too.

  9. Vaccinations are an awesome life-saving thing. But all in moderation, as my dad always said.

    If there is evidence that the immunity lasts longer than a year and seems to be evidence that over-vaccinating can be harmful, why do it?

    We now have a proof that Jasmine still has full immunity. Not every dog will respond the same way, but there is means of finding out.

    There are even arguments that vaccinating when there is full immunity is useless, same way as with puppies during the time they still have immunity from their mothers.

  10. It's hard to believe that there are vets that haven't heard of titer tests. That's basic medical knowledge (my own human doctor did blood titers on various vaccinations for me to evaluate my own situation. It's sad that vets either don't know or don't care to do some basic things like this. It's great that people are educating themselves and learning how to ask the right questions.

  11. Great information, I agree getting a titer is the way to go. I live in California where you have to get the rabies vaccination regardless of test results. However that is the only shot my dogs get, at least it's only required once every three years. So far they have had plenty of antibodies for all shots.
    There are a couple of vets doing some research to determine how long the rabies vaccine is good for, here is the website if you would like more information.

  12. Dear Jason. I agree, very sad. I came to believe that educating oneself is the only way to go. If for nothing else than for the ability to find a good vet.

  13. Dear Kelley. Great stuff. With the rabies it's a bit more controversial topic, as this is a deadly disease that humans can contract also.

    But some good solid research is definitely a great idea.

  14. I have never heard of a vet turning away a client because they will not booster (with the exception of rabies) but I have heard of many clients walking away from vets tired of talking about it. Although I have had my share try to tell me I need to booster. I am not a fan of yrly boosters.

    In Ontario we do have a provision that if an a dog is deemed "unhealthy" they are exempt. Which is important to keep in mind and discuss with your vet. Great links.

  15. Hi Miss Kodee, thank you for reading! :-)

    Well, some vets are still pretty stubborn about this. I didn't have that happen, but I can see how it could.

    Yes, having an exempt for dogs who wouldn't do well with boosters is important.