While today’s cat and dog vaccines are extremely safe, there’s a growing concern about overvaccination and potential problems this may be causing in our pets. The majority of core vaccines for cats and dogs in the U.S. are approved for use every three years. While the vaccines may work for longer than three years in many individuals, this is the minimum amount of time they’ve been shown to be effective. It’s basically a safety net to make sure all pets are protected, regardless of their individual immune responses.
So, how would we know if your dog has an immune response to distemper that lasts five years instead of three? It is possible to test the level of antibodies in the bloodstream for some of these diseases. Of course, this is not a perfect system and circulating antibodies do not necessarily mean there is an adequate immune response (essentially, there are just too many “moving parts” for this to be a direct relationship). However, testing these antibody levels can give us enough information that many veterinarians are comfortable foregoing some annual vaccinations. The specific tests are called antibody titers — the blood is diluted, or “titrated,” and then tested at each dilution level until it tests negative for antibodies. Positive tests at a high level of dilution (a high titer) indicate a higher level of antibodies in the blood. While many pet parents (and veterinarians!) are comfortable with their pets receiving core vaccines at regular intervals, antibody titers offer a possible alternative. As with many areas of veterinary medicine, interpretation of vaccine titers is a contentious issue — discuss it with your veterinarian to see whether they feel it might be a viable option for you and your pets.