Have you ever heard a breeder talking about a nomograph and thought, “nomowhat?” Here is a quick run down on the canine nomograph: what they are, how they they work, and why we use them.

Nomographs measure the decrease of maternal antibodies over time.  We do our testing through the CAVIDS Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin. Our awesome vet draws the blood (they give them popsicle sticks slathered in peanut butter – lucky pups!) and then after it clots, they spin it down into serum which we then send to CAVIDS. The lab tests the serum for the level of Parvo and Distemper antibodies present. They then provide us with the nomograph, which charts the level of maternal antibodies present, by week, for both diseases over the course of 19 weeks.

For the dam of a litter, blood is drawn either two weeks before whelping, or at least two weeks after in order to give the most accurate results. If we’re under two weeks on either side of whelping, the antibody numbers will be way too high, because that’s the time of the richest conveyance to puppies.

You can see Bonnie’s numbers at the time of her blood draw, and how those numbers decreased over time. Using these numbers, the CAVIDS lab recommends the best time to vaccinate our pups. Doing it this way allows our puppies to minimize the danger period so that we can maximize protection and socialization.

Bonnie's nomograph from the CAVIDS Titer Test Lab at the University of Wisconsin
Bonnie’s nomograph from the CAVIDS Titer Test Lab at the University of Wisconsin

After the pups have received their shots, we then run their titers through CAVIDS, and they’ll each get their own nomograph. The purpose of this follow up is critical: it tells us with absolute certainty if they are protected, and to what level. The rare puppy will be a “non-responder”, meaning that for whatever reason, they didn’t respond to their vaccinations and are not protected. If they titer close to zero after one shot, we’ll re-vaccinate, wait, and titer again; if those results are also low, we’ll wait a few more weeks and repeat the vaccination/titer. If they still don’t respond, then we know that we have a non-responder, and know that with such a dog, we’ll enjoy every day that we have with them, but that they will probably eventually succumb to one of those diseases. It’s a very sad thing, but thankfully extremely rare.

Most puppies will be well-protected on the CAVIDS protocol which allows us to maximize protection and socialization, while minimizing unnecessary exposure to the heavy metals in vaccines.

For example, most breeders don’t run nomographs because they simply don’t know they exist, and most vets aren’t accustomed to working with breeders in this way. The usual practice is for the breeder to give a pup their first “set” of shots, to be followed by two more sets “in the series” once the puppy is home. The purpose of this isn’t for vets to make money off of new puppy owners, but to protect the puppy. Without a nomograph, vaccinating in a series is the best you can do for your pup because you have no idea how long the dam’s antibodies will protect the puppy.

But here’s an interesting plot twist: maternal antibodies nullify the protective qualities of a vaccine. In other words, mama wins. Unfortunately, because injected vaccine depends on an adjuvant to stimulate the immune system (the adjuvant usually being mercury or aluminum), they’re not without risk. So you could be in the situation where you’re giving your puppy a vaccination that the body must deal with, without receiving the protection that you’d hoped for. THIS is the power of the nomograph: you can forgo the guessing game and know for certain that your pup is protected.

There are some breeders who practice this vaccination protocol. We encourage everyone to ask about nomographs when interviewing potential breeders. This simple test costs just $40 per dog through CAVIDS, plus the vet visit and shipping; all in all, it’s very affordable.

We just did the titer draws for Glinny Rose, Dixie, Mac, and Sydney, which will be run tomorrow (CAVIDS tests each week on Friday), and we’ll expect their reports within a couple of weeks. It does take more effort and patience on the part of owners, but the payoff is the chance for optimal health and happiness for our dogs.

And isn’t that the goal?