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  • Writer's pictureAdy

Canine Nomograph: What Is It and Why We Use It

Nomographs are simple blood tests that estimate the amount of antibodies passed from mom to her pups via colostrum during the first 24 ours after birth. The information obtained through the blood test is then drawn in the form of a graph that allows us to see the moment when the maternal antibodies will stop protecting her pups. That moment is crucial because it is only after the maternal antibodies fade away that the pups' immune systems will be able to respond to vaccines.

Delivered through colostrum, the maternal antibodies are absorbed by the pups through their intestinal tract and directed into the bloodstream. These are passive antibodies that protect the puppies from all the diseases that the mother is already immune to. As the puppies grow up, these antibodies break down in approximately two-week “half-lives” until they are no longer present in their system.

The high levels of maternal antibodies do a great job protecting the puppies from diseases but, they also neutralize vaccines. If a vaccine is given while the mom's antibodies are hard at work the vaccine will fail and your puppy will not be immunized.

The reason your pup receives multiple vaccines is because, without a nomograph, the vaccine is a shot in the dark hoping to catch that moment when the maternal antibodies are no longer effective. Vaccinations are repeated because we do not want to allow puppies to spend too much time in the "danger zone", which is the period of time between the vanishing of maternal antibodies and their first effective vaccine.

Maternal antibodies against distemper and parvo are typically unrelated to each other and mom will pass on to the pups different levels of immunity against different diseases. The nomograph displayed in the picture above was done on Mia's 2021 spring litter. As you can clearly see, the maternal antibodies for Parvo that she passed to her puppies start to wear off at 7 weeks of age while the distemper antibodies begin fading much later, around 10 weeks of age.

The nomograph protects the puppies from over vaccination by pointing out the optimal time to administer the vaccine but it also allows us to see when the pups will be most at risk so we can limit their exposure to pathogens during this time.

How well does the nomograph work? Results of a recent study of 506 puppies showed rates of immunity similar to a group of more than 5,000 vaccinated adults. A different group of slightly older vaccinated dogs under one year of age which had not had a nomograph completed were significantly less likely to be protected against distemper and parvovirus than the adult group.

Overvaccination has contributed to many health issues in dogs but, if we follow the recommended protocol of the nomograph, we can limit the number of vaccines administered at a very young age. Once that protocol is completed we can test our dog's titer levels (the concentration of antibodies), stop future unnecessary vaccinations and safely expose our pups to all kinds of social interactions without worry.

Upon pick-up or delivery of your puppy, you will receive a folder containing, among other things, the litter's nomograph and a submission form for a subsequent titer test. Once the last vaccine recommended is administered, wait two weeks, have your vet draw some blood from your pup and spin serum. Take the vial that your vet will hand you, fill in the form, put everything in a padded envelope together with a $45 check and send it to CAVIDS Titer Testing at University of Wisconsin. Soon you will receive the lab results for your pup's titer in your inbox.

You can repeat the titer test every year to avoid overvaccination. In our experience an effective immunity obtained through a successful vaccination protocol will last for 3 or more years.

To better understand vaccines and immunity check out one of our older posts:

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