Dog vaccines and blood antibody titres explained

Dog vaccines and blood antibody titres explained
September 28, 2018 kernow

Why vaccinate and what against?

Kernow Veterinary Group routinely vaccinates dogs against four important diseases – parvovirus, distemper, infectious canine hepatitis and leptospirosis.  To make sure you dog is protected we advise an initial dose given 4 weeks apart (for puppies from 8 weeks onward).  Then we give a booster vaccination one year later.  In some cases, we may advise an additional vaccine at 16 weeks of age but we rarely find this necessary.

The protection against leptospirosis is know to be short lived.  In order to maintain protection, we advise yearly boosters against this specific disease.  Much the same as we need annual boosters for our human flu vaccines. The other three diseases are protected for much longer.  For these we only advise boosters every 3 years are required.  By following this regime it enables us to keep your dog protected against the key diseases we see here in the South West.  It means we only boost what is necessary.  The other important part of the vaccine process is the chance for us to check your dog over thoroughly at least once a year.  Our aim is to keep your dog healthy and to spot any potential disease risks early.

What is the best way of only boosting what we need to?

The precise duration of protection provided by each vaccine varies from dog to dog.  For some dogs this will mean there may still be sufficient protection present at the time of the booster.  Owners occasionally ask us if its worth trying to find out if a booster is still required.  We may be asked if its worth finding out by taking a blood sample and checking the antibody titre.  We are happy to run such a test for you but we advise that it is not worth doing.

So why not?

  • There are blood tests for parvovirus, distemper and hepatitis that measure antibody levels.  There is no such test for leptospirosis or kennel cough. Antibodies in the blood play little part in immunity against these two diseases.  Whatever the results of any titre tests for leptospirosis you still won’t know if they are protected.  And this is a disease we see in the South West.  And it is often fatal.  Your dog will still need and annual vaccination against leptospirosis (+/- kennel cough) every year.
  • For the three viruses we can test for it is not always simple to interpret results.
  • A high titre result suggests the dog is immune
  • A low titre result is not reliable.  This is because other factors other than the antibody levels are also involved in providing protection.
  • A low titre result therefore means we should vaccinate as we cannot tell if protected or not
  • Negative titre results means we will advise vaccinating but again the dog may still be protected.  There is no way of knowing for sure.

False results cause further uncertainty

  • A percentage of the results will be false positives or false negatives as there is a degree of inaccuracy in the blood tests available.
  • False negative means we will vaccinate anyway as we wont know if true or a false result.
  • False positive result is more dangerous. It means we may assume the dog is still protected and advise no vaccination.  This would mean that your dog would no longer be protected against these potentially fatal diseases.
  • The more expensive tests available from some laboratories lowers the risk of false positives as they are more accurate. These tests though are much costlier than some of the cheaper tests available.  There are tests available that are more affordable but they do appear to be more inaccurate.  So think hard before accepting a cheaper blood test option.

So what does all this mean?

  • When testing for the three diseases, if one of them suggests the need for a booster then, because the vaccines are produced mixed together, we will boost all three diseases
  • Any of the blood tests gives a snap shot of antibody levels at that time. What it does not tell us is how much longer that cover will last.  This means we advise regular blood tests – at least annually but more frequently in some cases.  So, they will require more frequent blood tests than vaccination for these diseases.  This will potentially have more of a stressful impact on your dog and will also have a financial impact.
  • Vaccination is safe and effective; a substantial proportion of dogs that have this test prior to vaccination will have a negative result for one or more diseases indicating the need for vaccination; dogs that are not vaccinated require more frequent blood testing than vaccination for these diseases. For all these reasons we see antibody-titre testing as very poor value for money.
  • The titre tests require a blood sample to be taken. We take great care when we are taking blood sample from any animal.  On the whole most dogs prefer having a vaccination injection to having a blood sample taken!


Kernow Vets believe that vaccines are still very important for the health and welfare of your pets.  If you would like to discuss this further with any of our vets then please do not hesitate to contact us.