Titer testing offers alternative to annual vaccinations for dogs

Vaccination has been proven to save animals lives, and experts say it has helped to eliminate many diseases in the United States.

KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -- KCTV5 is investigating how often we vaccinate our pets.

One local woman says she believes over-vaccination led to her dog's death.

Vaccination has been proven to save animals lives, and experts say it has helped to eliminate many diseases in the United States. But now, many veterinarians and researchers are changing their opinion on how often those vaccinations are needed.

KCTV5 traveled to Kansas State University to uncover numbers showing an increase in the amount of pet owners who are considering not vaccinating as regularly and instead relying on a titer test to know when to give their pets their shots.

Experts said it’s a growing trend.

Titer testing is a simple blood draw that measures the antibodies of a vaccine in an animals blood. The test is recommended in a brochure that employees at the Brookside Barkery in Kansas City use to educate their customers.

Alex Strawder, Brookside Barkery store manager, said it’s been her mission to spark conversation about vaccination with her customers.

“I give it to everyone. I’m like, ‘Please do research, please do research,’” she said.

The brochure says “protect the pets – vaccinations can be life saving or life threatening.”

Strawder believes her dog, Grace, became violent after being vaccinated too often.

“It got so bad over the years, that I had to make the decision to protect my other dogs…and let grace go. Her behavior was so dangerous,” Strawder said.

While a normal vaccination rotation requires vaccines every 1-3 years for pets, a titer test shows if the vaccine truly needs re-administered, or if the old vaccine is still working. Not all veterinarians currently use titer testing and some may not offer it.

“It’s a mixed bag out there right now. Some people not familiar with the technology,” said Dr. Susan Nelson, a veterinarian at Kansas State.

Nelson uses titer testing on some of her patients. She said it’s especially helpful for older animals, or animals who are sick, and may have a negative reaction to a vaccine.

Kansas State is one of just three institutions in the world approved to analyze both rabies and core vaccine titer tests. That means the blood samples from pets all over the country are sent to Kansas State.

Nelson said it is important to remember core vaccines in the first year or two of your pets life are completely necessary. But after that?

“Can we start spreading them out? Yes ...” Nelson said.

She said it brings pet owners who worry about over vaccination some relief, since often they’re concerned about the amount of vaccine administered.

Nelson said in many cases, whether your dog is on a one -year, two-year or three-year vaccine, the volume of dosage remains the same. This is often a concern of people who fear over-vaccination.

The rabies lab at Kansas State is run by Dr. Susan Moore.

“They look at their pets almost like their child in some cases,” Moore said.

She says the amount of pet owners doing titer testing before deciding to vaccinate is skyrocketing.

In 2015 Kansas State ran core vaccine titer tests on 1,656 pets.

In 2018, just three years later, the number jumped all the way to 11,741.

Moore said there are a few reasons for that.

“Social media, more vets aware of it, people are concerned with how many times you vaccinate an animal ... so I think the conversations are out there," Moore said.

The conversation at the Barkery begins before you even walk in the door. On the outside of the building a big yellow sign explains the grooming company accepts titer tests in lieu of vaccination records. It’s a trend more and more animal-related companies are moving toward.

“To put that on your window and say ‘We accept titer testing’ ... is that opening up the gates for controversy?” KCTV5’s Joe Chiodo asked.

“Oh definitely," Strawder responded.

But, after losing Grace, Strawder said it’s her mission to not shy away.

“A blood test out there could have proven she was protected. And I actually did a Titer test on her and her titer levels were off the charts," Strawder said.

Strawder said she has talked with other customers who have had similar experiences.

The cost of a titer test varies vet to vet.

On average, it will run about $50 per pet. You can ask your vet to call Kansas State to analyze the results. Pet owners can choose whether or not to vaccinate their pets for most illnesses, but a rabies vaccine is required by law in both Kansas and Missouri.

The "protect the pets" brochures available at Brookside Barkery are distributed by a veterinarian who is at the center of much controversy right now for his views on vaccines.

He was recently put on probation after he was caught illegally decreasing the dosage of rabies vaccine used in in his patients.

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Copyright 2019 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.

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