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What Are Titer Tests and Why Might My Veterinarian Recommend Them?

Reviewed by Dr. Celeste Clements, DVM, DACVIM on Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Posted August 06, 2015 in Dog Checkups & Preventive Care

Dog outside close upAugust is the Center for Disease Control’s Immunization Awareness Month, so I figured it is a great time to talk a bit about something that is gaining popularity among pet parents. A procedure that pet owners hear more and more about these days is “titer” testing. But just what are titers? What are they tested for and what do they mean?

What is an antibody titer?
As you might remember from high school biology, the body uses antibodies to attack foreign substances to keep the body healthy. Unlike, say, antibiotics that work against many different bacteria, a dog’s body will naturally create unique antibodies in response to specific, foreign organisms (or actually anything that the body ‘sees’ as foreign). This is a basic part of your dog’s immune system and typically helps your dog to fight off disease. Titer tests may help your veterinarian determine the concentration of a specific antibody in your dog’s blood.

How do vaccines create antibodies in dogs?
The presence of a specific antibody in the blood is a reflection of past exposure to that respective antigen/organism. In fact, it is on this basis that vaccines work – when a pet is vaccinated it is exposed to a modified, “killed” or weaker strain of an organism that causes disease. This allows your dog’s body to develop antibodies to fight it off. These antibodies stay in your dog’s body for a time and usually provide various levels of immunity to the more common or stronger forms of that specific organism.

Why might my veterinarian recommend a titer test for my dog?
Your veterinarian may recommend an antibody titer for a number of reasons:

  1. To determine if your dog currently has or has previously had a specific infection. (for example -  Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis)
  2. To determine current immunity against infectious diseases and the need for booster vaccinations (for example - canine distemper, canine parvovirus)
  3. To evaluate the efficacy of a recent vaccination (for example -  canine distemper)
  4. To detect the presence of antibodies that may be fighting against tissues or cells in your dog’s own body (for example – autoimmune diseases, like IMHA)
  5. To determine immune status against rabies and others for travel purposes.

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Mike has more than 35 years of experience in companion animal veterinary practice and is a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2013.