If you’ve ever needed the services of an animal ER you’re probably aware that high on the list, if not first, is the question, “Has your pet been vaccinated in the past few weeks?” This is commonly asked because so many dogs and cats have adverse and sometimes severe reactions to some or all of these vaccine components:

  • the altered virus
  • adjuvants (additives used to induce a more sustained immune response)
  • preservatives

In some cases, the reaction is long-term and adversely affects the overall health. Holistic vets refer to this chronic condition as vaccinosis. This term may seem new, but J Compton Burnett, a homeopathic doctor, coined the term over a century ago to describe an array of various illnesses that seemed to be triggered by vaccinations.

Many of us adopt our furry companions from a shelter, which automatically vaccinates animals in their care. By the time he settles down with his forever family a two-year-old dog may have been vaccinated six or seven times. More shots doesn’t equate to more immunity. If anything, it can cause an over-stimulated immune response that can lead to seemingly unrelated ailments. After all, the purpose of a vaccination is to stimulate the body’s immune system.

The antibody titer test is the best tool we have today for determining if dog or cat is adequately protected from certain diseases. A titer test is a simple blood test that measures certain viral antibodies circulating in your dog’s blood stream. A positive titer test usually means that the dog or cat is adequately protected against diseases that he has ben vaccinated against, however you should discuss all test results and their implications with your vet. The commonly recommended protocol when the test result is positive is to not vaccinate at the present time and to re-titer test in three years, but again, discuss this with your vet.

There are so many vaccines available that you may be wondering just what are the “core” diseases and their vaccines. These are the vaccines that help protect your dog or cat from diseases that are both highly infectious and often fatal.

  • canine distemper virus
  • canine parvovirus (parvo)
  • canine adenovirus (canine hepatitis)
  • feline panleukopenia (feline distemper)
  • rabies

The exception to titer testing is rabies. The rabies vaccination is required by law in all fifty states because it’s the only core virus that poses a risk to humans. Currently no state accepts rabies titers in lieu of vaccination. However, research is being conducted by the Rabies Challenge Fund to determine the duration of immunity received from rabies vaccinations.

Non-core vaccinations such as:

  • Lyme disease
  • leptospirosis
  • bordatella (kennel cough)
  • coronavirus
  • measles
  • parainfluenza

Vaccination for these non-core diseases should be considered case by case with individual risk and geographic location taken into consideration. Be sure to research the disease and potential side effects of the vaccination before your next vet visti. That way you and your pet can benefit even more by the consultation.

Some reasons why an antibody titer result is negative: 

  1. A titer result may be negative even when a dog or cat has been vaccinated. This often happens when the initial shots are administered too early. Puppies and kittens receive antibodies from their moms. They’re called maternally derived antibodies (MDA), and they don’t live forever. Instead these antibodies fade away at varying rates: longer if mom has been vaccinated, more quickly if she hasn’t. If a youngster is vaccinated while the MDAs are still active, the vaccination won’t stimulate the puppy or kitten’s own antibody production, resulting in a negative titers.
  2. In some cases the immune system just cannot be stimulated by the vaccine, and the dog or cat will be at risk for these diseases all of their life.
  3. The last reason why an immune system doesn’t produce antibodies is that the vaccine wasn’t stored properly. If this is the case another round of vaccinations, perhaps from a different pharmaceutical company or supplier, will correct the problem.

Vaccination has its benefits and risks, and there is not a single solution. Instead there are things you can do:

Discuss options with your vet.

  • Ask your vet to administer single vaccines a few weeks apart.
  • Avoid cheap shots — they’re usually cheap for a reason.
  • Avoid combo shots, which can overwhelm the immune system.
  • Don’t vaccinate a sick dog or cat.
  • Build your dog and cat’s immune system from the inside out. This is easily accomplished by:

One final word. At first look, titer testing is often more expensive than the vaccinations themselves, but acute adverse reactions often mean an expensive and inconvenient trip to the ER. Treating any of the chronic debilitating symptoms of vaccinosis is also expensive both in dollars and quality of life.