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Feline Vaccinations - what's the real Truth?
By: Jane Bicks D.V.M.

What's the story with vaccinations in cats? How many vaccinations do cats really need? Every time I cat sit and think about the relative isolation of most cats I question the use of vaccinations. I have heard that they can cause problems.

Great question and very timely. While many pet owners question the need of yearly vaccinations, the medical community has also begun to question it as well! You may have heard about reactions from some of the vaccinations, so let's set the record straight with correct timely information. In the next issue, I will address canine vaccinations.

#1. Feline Panleukopenia (distemper) is a deadly disease. Just because we don't see much of it, that doesn't mean it is non-existent or there is no need to vaccinate. Vaccination is the ONLY thing that has kept this diarrhea, respiratory, and nervous system virus at bay! There really is no cure, only support therapy. In the early 1900's any cat that had nasal discharge, runny eyes, cough, and diarrhea was diagnosed as having distemper and put to sleep -- then and there!. Waiting rooms would be filled with these cats.

The disease is spread by the air, so indoor cats are not isolated and safe. Currently, veterinarians are recommending yearly vaccinations; however, the yearly vaccination protocol is being re-visited. Perhaps the titer stays high enough so that yearly vaccinations are not required?

Re-vaccination, if not necessary, is something to think long and hard about. While some people feel that yearly and or multiple vaccinations harm the immune system (to be discussed next article) there has been an increased incidence of vaccination site sarcomas. Investigators are still studying the causes of these but are pretty sure that they are caused by certain vaccine adjuvants (the substance the viral particles are mixed with). So far it is thought that the vaccinations that are causing the problems are the "killed " ones, rather than the "modified live" ones.

The distemper vaccine is modified live, and thus not known to cause tumors. The American Association of Feline Practitioners and the Academy of Feline Medicine has suggested that vaccines be given ONLY in specific regions of the body -- and NEVER given all in one place. The recommended location for the distemper vaccine is in the shoulder area.

#2. Feline Herpesvirus and calicivirus and Chlamydia virus vaccines are generally thought of as necessary. Again, these virus particles can be spread by the air and the disease caused by these agents can easily kill a cat-- especially young or old ones! These too are recommended yearly, but investigators are looking at the probability of less frequent vaccinations.

Since these vaccinations are generally modified live, researchers don't feel cats are at risk for sarcomas at the vaccine site. These respiratory viruses (causing runny nose, eyes, ulcers in the mouth, bronchitis and pneumonia) are generally combined with the distemper one-- all given at the shoulder area.

#3. Feline Leukemia is a deadly virus and contagious. However, there has to be cat to cat contact, and not just a smell! I question the need to vaccinate indoor cats, who don't board, and are not likely to be with other strange cats. First introduced in 1985, and corresponding to the time frame with the increased incidence of firbrosarcoma development, I recommend these vaccinations be given only to cats at risk: catteries, outdoor cats, show cats, and those that are boarded.

Most of the Feline Leukemia vaccinations are killed, and therefore may have an adjuvant that does in fact create sarcomas. Since the adjuvant is proprietary information, it has been difficult to determine which vaccine manufacturers have the safest vaccines. Recommendation for vaccination site is the left rear region (subcutaneous), yearly.

#4. Feline Rabies is devastating and deadly. The reason I worry about this disease in indoor cats is because in most counties throughout the U.S.A., rabies vaccinations are required by law! Even if your cat never goes outside, never comes in contact with a rabid animal. If your cat should bite or scratch someone and that person reports the incident, your cat is suspect if it has not been recently vaccinated! That can mean quarantine or death.

Rabies vaccinations probably are responsible for sarcomas. As a matter of fact a study done at the University of California confirmed the increased incidence of sarcomas due to rabies (killed vaccine) vaccinations! The suggested site of vaccination is the right rear region.

While there are vaccinations available that will give three years protection, many counties require that cats be vaccinated yearly! If the law does not require a yearly rabies vaccination, then ask the veterinarian for one that lasts three years. I am afraid that the chance of rabies and or the problems associated with bites makes yearly rabies vaccinations mandatory. Let me tell you a story that happened a few years ago in NYC.

A couple moved into a high rise with their two cats. Never to leave the apartment, they were taken to the veterinarian who was told to give the cats every thing they needed. The veterinarian didn't want to give the rabies and thought that being high rise cats, there was no risk. A few months later a bat flies onto the terrace, and the cats were on the terrace. The board of health demanded that the cats be quarantined at a shelter. Unfortunately, the shelter made a mistake and killed the cats!

While there are alternatives to vaccinations called Nosodes, experts don't seem to agree upon their efficacy. I for one am afraid to leave a cat without the protection of a true vaccine, because nursing a cat with one of these diseases back to health is very difficult, if possible at all. Rabies has no cure! I am confident that the medical community will come up with a new vaccinations regime that will be safe and effective. In the meanwhile, discuss your concerns with your family veterinarian.

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