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Testing Animals' Immunity Level

By Rhonda L. Rundle

The Wall Street Journal

(Copyright (c) 2002, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)

OWNERS anxious about annual vaccinations can ask their veterinarians to check their pet's immunity to certain diseases.

 In the past, most such tests were costly and had to be sent to an outside laboratory. If they indicated that a dog or cat wasn't protected, the owner had to bring the pet back for vaccination.

But a new 15-minute blood test, called TiterChek, can help determine if a dog is protected against two of the most common, life-threatening diseases: canine parvovirus and distemper. The test, made available in May, is the first of its kind to be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which licenses animal vaccines.

The kit is made by Synbiotics Inc., a San Diego veterinary-products company. It includes five tests that detect antibodies against both diseases and is being sold to vets for $125, or $12.50 per test. Synbiotics says it plans to develop immune status tests for cats, probably for feline leukemia and rabies vaccines. Just as vaccines don't bestow 100% protection against disease, tests like TiterChek aren't 100% accurate.

 Still, Michael Dutton, a veterinarian and owner of Weare Animal Hospital in Weare, N.H., says the new TiterChek can help him and his clients determine which pets need a booster. 

"There's been a lot of discussion about whether we are over-vaccinating a certain population of pets," he says. "We really don't know how long the vaccines work."

 Dr. Dutton says he is charging clients $30 for the new in-office TiterChek test. That's less than half his $64 charge for the lab tests, which take 10 days and require mailing specimens overnight in ice packs. That's still more expensive than a $10 vaccination, so Dr. Dutton thinks demand will be small, at least initially. "Most clients have opted for the vaccine because the chances of having an adverse reaction are very, very small," he says.

 Older kinds of lab tests can also determine whether pets need a booster. (For a list of major vaccine titer tests available go to

 (See related article: "Are Annual Shots Overkill? --- For Some Pet Diseases, Yearly Boosters Are Based On Tradition, Not Science" -- WSJ July 31, 2002)

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