The Complete Guide to the Titer Test for Cats and Dogs

08 Apr The Complete Guide to the Titer Test for Cats and Dogs

What is the titer test?

A titer test (spelt “titre” in the UK) is a diagnostic lab test. It measures the level of antibodies circulating in the blood. These antibodies are produced when antigens (like a virus or bacteria) produce a response from the immune system.

How is the titer test done?

It’s a simple procedure where a small sample of blood is drawn from the animal. The sample is diluted, and the antibodies are measured. The titer level is expressed as a ratio – revealing how many times the blood can be diluted before no antibodies are detected.

What does a titer test show?

The titer test results reveal the level of antibodies circulating in the animal’s blood. The response is either from exposure directly to the antigen or from a vaccination. Antibodies that are produced defend the pet’s body against the disease.

What can the titer test show?

One titer test can reveal antibodies for:

  • Rabies
  • Lyme decease
  • Babesia Gibsoni
  • Leishmaniosis
  • Parvo virus
  • Distemper
  • Feline Leukemia

Is the FAVN test the same as the RNAT test?

Yes, the RNATT (Rabies Neutralizing Antibody Titre Test) is the same as the FAVN test. FAVN stands for Fluorescent Antibody Viral Neutralization. RNATT is a generic term which encompasses the FAVN method.

How long does a rabies titer last?

Two well-known researchers in veterinary science found that dogs can maintain immunity for up to seven years after vaccination. The rabies titer test is one that’s considered quite accurate. Studies done in France and in the U.S. indicate that immunity for rabies may last much longer than traditionally thought but different countries have different validity of the titer test.

If that’s true, pet owners may be able to extend the period between shots. For veterinarians, since they work with animals constantly and are considered at risk for exposure to rabies should have their personal titers checked every two years.

How much does a rabies titer test cost?

They’re not cheap, but you should be able to get a rabies titer test done for around $1250 AED ($340 USD). The cost of doing this test varies from location to location. Some vets can test in-house but others have to send the test to an outside lab.

On the positive side, titers don’t need to be done frequently, while vaccinations are given on a regular schedule. If your pet has a high level of antibodies present in their blood and can skip vaccines, titer testing may be worth every penny. For people thinking of moving to Australia, we recommend every 18 months to keep validity overlapping.

How long does it take to get a titer test result?

They’re fairly quick – Most titer test results come back within 3-4 days.

What is a titer value?

Titer value, or titer ratio, indicates the last dilution in which the antibody was still detected.

For example, if the sample of blood were diluted 1000 times and still shows antibodies, the titer ratio would be 1:1000. This is a “strong” titer. A titer of 1:2 would be very weak.

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Vaccines provide protection against a specific disease, and the titer test measures the level of circulating antibodies in the blood of your pet. The titer test itself doesn’t provide immunity.

What titers are available for dogs?

The most useful titer for dogs is the one for parvovirus and distemper. This test can help determine if your pet requires additional booster vaccines, or if they already have sufficient immunity to prevent getting unnecessary shots. Some studies are showing that parvo vaccines may give immunity for at least 7 years, and distemper vaccines at least 5 to 7 years. Rabies is also titer tested and considered reliable and mandatory for some destinations.

Are titers also available for cats?

The AAFP Feline Vaccination Advisory Panel recommends defined revaccination intervals rather than measuring antibody titers to assure protection. In other words, when it comes to cats, vaccinations are recommended over titer tests but if you need to travel with your cat a rabies titer test is sometimes mandatory depending on destination.

What’s the Science behind vaccines?

Vaccines were developed to help prevent catching and spreading communicable diseases. Just like humans, pets are given vaccines for diseases they’re susceptible to. They may sometimes need a booster to keep those vaccinations effective. Veterinarians typically have a routine schedule of the shots they recommend.

The National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control explain that vaccines teach the immune system by mimicking a natural infection. When invaders like bacteria or viruses (known as antigens) enter the body, immune cells called T-lymphocytes respond by producing antibodies to protect against further infection.

Vaccines are like a training course – they prep the body to fight disease without exposing it directly to disease symptoms. Vaccines are created by using the nucleic acids and proteins of the actual virus or bacteria itself. These proteins of the virus or bacteria are either inactive or too weak to cause an actual disease.

So if your pet is exposed to a specific disease, their immune system remembers what it learned to protect them against that disease. The T-lymphocytes, called memory cells, go into action quickly if the body encounters the same germ again.

This is known as cell-mediated immunity. Pets are vaccinated, often annually, against various kinds of viruses and infections. These booster vaccines provide cell-mediated immunity.

Vaccinations for pets fall into two categories: core pet vaccines and non-core vaccines. The ASPCA emphasizes that core vaccines are considered vital to all pets based on their risk of exposure, the severity of disease, or the fact that they could be passed on to humans.

Core pet vaccinations are recommended for every pet.

Non-core vaccines can be prescribed based on your particular pet’s situation. For example, non-core vaccinations may not be necessary for a cat that’s kept only indoors. A dog that is frequently boarded in a kennel will need shots that another dog, who is never boarded, doesn’t need to receive.

Many vaccines are given to pets as young as 8 weeks old. It takes at least 14 days after vaccination to get a genuine immune response. You and your vet should discuss setting up the best vaccination schedule for a kitten or puppy, as well as which shots are to be given in the future.

Why Titer testing instead of vaccinating?

Some are pushing for titer testing instead of, or in addition to vaccination, viewing it as a more “natural” approach or less invasive form of medical treatment. Titer tests could indicate that your pet’s immunity levels are sufficient, and no vaccinations are currently needed.

Proof of immunity to rabies may be required prior to international travel.

Are there further considerations regarding titer testing?

One difficulty with titers is that interpreting the results of titer tests is more complex than it might sound at first. Even veterinarians and immunologists have a challenge understanding exactly how the immune system works. There can be disagreement on the level of antibodies needed to guarantee immunity.

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When is titer testing most valuable?

Despite the uncertainties, there are times when titer testing is definitely useful:

  • The most common reason is for pet travel.
  • Sometimes a decision needs to be made about vaccinating an animal with an unknown vaccination history. For those animals brought to a shelter or rescue organisation, where there’s no way of knowing whether they’ve already had vaccinations, they can be protected from over-vaccinating if titer tests are administered first.
  • Determining if puppies or kittens have received immunity from the first course of shots. Titer testing can verify that pups have developed sufficient immune response after finishing the full course of recommended vaccinations. American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Canine Vaccine Task Force Report says “Such titer testing is the only way to ensure that a puppy has developed an immune response after vaccinating.”
  • If your pet has health problems or has had an adverse reaction to vaccines, a vet may be able to provide documentation for an exemption from a rabies vaccine. You may or may not need to provide results from a rabies titer test, but this could help if you’re denied an exemption and try to reapply.

What’s the Takeaway?

That for some countries rabies and other titer tests are mandatory. For certain destinations there will be a 3 or a 6 month period before pets can enter, and also the validity time of the test varies.

So if you are planning to travel internationally with your cat or dog, keep them up to date with their rabies vaccinations to avoid any waiting period.

If you know that a country in your future travel plans also requires a rabies titer test, do keep up to date with a valid rabies titer test as well.

— Update: 10-02-2023 — found an additional article Titer Tests: Alternatives to Annual Jabs? from the website for the keyword rabies titer test for dogs.

By now you know the importance of vaccines (for pets and humans!): They protect your dog from diseases like canine parvovirus, canine distemper virus, rabies, and more. That’s why you mindfully take your new dog in for their puppy shots and routinely bring them back to the vet for a booster when that reminder postcard arrives.

Most experts agree that vaccines are critical for the overall health and wellness of dogs (and cats). But many also agree that giving a vaccine when it is not needed exposes animals to unnecessary hazards. That’s where titer testing comes in. Titer testing pets can ensure protection from infectious diseases while minimizing over-vaccination side effects. Keep reading to learn what exactly titer testing for dogs is— and whether or not it’s right for your dog. 

What Are Titer Tests for Dogs?

Titer tests are among the tools that can be used to help minimize the risks of both infectious diseases unnecessary vaccinations. A titer test is an antibody blood test that can tell you if a previous vaccine is still protecting your dog’s immune system. If it’s still working by producing antibodies, you don’t have to revaccinate your pet yet.

Dr. Evelyn Sharp, a veterinarian in Santa Cruz, CA, has used titer tests with her own dogs since she began practicing veterinary medicine in the ’90s. The first dog she regularly tested was her Border Collie mix, Ace. Titer tests showed that the protection provided by Ace’s initial puppy series and one-year booster lasted the rest of his life. With the recent availability of in-practice titer test kits — VacciCheck from Biogal Laboratories and TiterCHEK from Synbiotics Corporation — titer testing for dogs has become even easier to do.

Because the newer titer test kits are affordable, accurate, and can be run in-house (rather than by a lab), Dr. Sharp suggests titer testing as part of preventive care. With the information she gets from the titers, she can provide a customized vaccination protocol for each dog, keeping the dog well-protected while minimizing the risk of over-vaccination.

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What Exactly is Involved in Titer Testing?

A “titer” is a method of measuring antibodies in a blood sample for specific diseases. Your vet will draw a small amount of blood and then run that blood through the titer test. Titers are usually expressed as a ratio; if the titer number is high, it means that your dog has enough antibodies to fight off that specific disease and is considered to have immunity from infection. For many of our dogs, that immunity is the result of a previous vaccine. However, immunity can also develop because a dog had the disease in the past. Either way, a high titer means your dog is protected.

If the test shows a low titer, your dog may not have immunity. They may still have protection, but usually a low titer means that you and your veterinarian should discuss revaccinating. Just as vaccine prices vary, the price of a titer test can also vary. According to Dr. Sharp, the VacciCheck tests three diseases — parvovirus, distemper, and adenovirus (canine hepatitis) — and generally runs between $45 and $80, which is a little more than most vaccines.

Are There Any Limitations to Titer Testing for Dogs?

AAHA vaccine guidelines say that titer testing is an appropriate way to check for immunity to parvovirus, distemper, and adenovirus. However, it is not recommended for canine leptospirosis, bordetella, or Lyme disease because these vaccines only provide short-term protection.

Rabies vaccines do provide long-term protection, and the titer tests for rabies are also considered to be a very accurate measure of immunity. However, vaccination against rabies is mandated by law and unfortunately no state in the U.S. accepts titer-test results in lieu of vaccination history. So if your dog bites someone, they will still need to be quarantined, even if a titer test shows they have immunity. Specific types of rabies titer tests are used, however, when moving to rabies-free regions or countries (Hawaii, Japan, New Zealand, and Great Britain, for example). In this case, the rabies titer test will help qualify a dog for a shorter quarantine.

Is Titer Testing Right for Your Dog?

Along with using titer tests to check for immunity to parvovirus, distemper, and adenovirus in a previously vaccinated adult dog, titers are also a good option for a newly adopted dog whose vaccination or health history you may not know. 

In addition, a titer test may be used to make sure young puppies have responded to the initial vaccine series and are fully protected. If a pup did not respond, the vaccine may have been compromised, the mother’s immunity may still be active, or the pup may be a non-responder (meaning they will not have an immune reaction to vaccines). Your veterinarian can help you decide on the best course of action if your dog does not have an acceptable titer. On the flip side, titer tests are a good option for senior pets, for whom vaccinating can be unnecessary (if they were effectively vaccinated as puppies and developed an immune response) or risker, due to compromised immune systems and/or chronic diseases.

Another place titer tests are gaining momentum is in shelters, although with a much different goal than when used with individual dogs. There, titer tests are being used to help separate low-risk and high-risk dogs and cats during a disease outbreak. Shelter dogs who have a high titer to the outbreak disease — meaning they are at a low risk for infection — can be separated from the higher-risk animals, and they may be considered adoptable. (Learn more about titer testing in shelters from Maddie’s Fund, which has an excellent report on using titer testing to fight outbreaks.)

While vaccinating your dog is critical for protecting them (and the community) from infectious diseases, over-vaccinating can also be a real concern. Titer tests for dogs can eliminate some of the guesswork and help you and your vet make the best healthcare decision for your dog.


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