Monday, September 19, 2011

On the Other Hand: Cat Vaccines

While I'm all in favor of vaccinating humans out the wazoo for the flu and other contagious diseases, I feel differently about cats. I first encountered vaccine-associated sarcoma (VAS) in one of my aunt's cats 10 years ago, which made me wary of vaccinating my own. A tiny percentage of cats — and dogs, too — get cancerous tumors at injection sites for reasons unknown. (My aunt's cat survived and lived to be at least 20, even its though its tumor was huge — thanks to a gifted surgeon in a small-town Pennsylvania vet practice.)

The problem is, you can't not vaccinate your indoor cats and keep up any kind of decent relationship with your vet. And we cat people also know how quick-spreading and devastating certain infectious diseases (panleukopenia, the horror) can be. So, in most cases, the risks of those not-so-rare viruses outweigh the immunization risks. The sad thing is that my indoor cats are probably most at risk for contracting contagious diseases when they are at the vet for check-ups, shots, and kidney-function tests.

We are on a three-year vaccine cycle for everyone now, which I'll discuss yet again with my vet when Wendy and Possum turn 3 next year and are due for adult shots. They'd had most of their kitten shots before we adopted them, and we completed the series, knowing they hadn't suffered any of the serious reactions some kittens have after getting a lot of vaccines at once.

I keep wishing my vet used nasal-spray vaccines, which are available as an alternative for certain injections. But she has convictions against them. Still, we discuss it every time. I hesitate every time a cat needs a shot. I have to ask why, and I have to be persuaded and reassured each time. She understands; she's seen VAS, too.

She also knows I'll inevitably agree. I remember how terribly ill Snalbert became from calicivirus two years ago, after Possum arrived with it as a kitten; he got sick, too. I guess I fear most the viruses even more than I fear VAS.

I have my most serious reservations about the rabies shot, which seems unnecessary for indoor cats, although my vet's staff always mention that bats can get into apartments, and so forth. Massachusetts requires cats to have rabies shots so, best-case scenario, a cat gets a three-year vaccine in the leg — because amputating a leg is easier if sarcoma develops than massive surgery in the shoulder area. Seriously. It turns my stomach every time a cat needs a rabies shot; I hate it. Nevertheless, I vaccinate them just enough to stay legal and protect them from the worst viruses for which we have vaccines (if there were a good vaccine for FIP, I'd be first in line with my four). And my vet and I remain on good terms, with relatively clear consciences.

1 comment:

  1. Hi PB: We (all indoor) are on the 3-yr vaccine plan too. The cat we buried on the morning of 9/11 had a fibrosarcoma, likely vaccine-induced. The tumor went from walnut- to grapefruit-sized in a matter of weeks - really bad. But we have had URIs too, also brought in with new kittens, even after a 3-wk quarantine. The kittens didn't get sick, just carried it in, but my beloved (and vaccinated) Siamese did. Rabies is less of an issue for me - I'd never want to see any creature contract and die from such a horrible disease. The AAFP ( is a good site to keep up with re: new developments in cat vaccines. But I understand your angst - I hate bringing any of them to the vet anymore, because everyone (me most of all) gets so stressed.


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