For previous posts in this series, click on each title below.
- Part 1 – Why I Questioned
- Part 2 – Safe Practices
- Part 3 – Titer Tests
- Part 4 – Rabies
- Part 5A – Non-Core; Leptospirosis & Bordetella
- Part 5B – Non-Core; Lyme & Canine Influenza
Disclaimer: I want to make one thing clear: I am not against vaccinating your pets, but I am concerned about over-vaccination. I will be sharing our experiences, as well as information I have learned through research and from our own veterinarian. My intent is only to share information that might be important for pet families to know. You should always consult your own trusted vet when it comes to the care and safety of your own pets’ health.
In the first part of this series, I shared that many years ago our cat Concha died not long after receiving a rabies vaccination. Concha hadn’t been to the vet much in her life, so this had been her first vaccine in many years and she was 18 years old when she got it (there was a rabies scare in our area). It’s probably not likely the two things were related, but I’ve never been able to forget that coincidence. However, we still had all cats since her vaccinated yearly (then every 3 years) at our vets’ advice. We have never had another issue.
It wasn’t until Samantha and her sister Katie came along that all of our cats became indoor cats, and we discovered that meant less vaccinations needed, and everything became 3 years. For a while we only brought them to the vet every three years, but as they got older they had annual exams even if they didn’t need vaccinations. I realize now that annual visits are important no matter the age of your pet.
Vaccinations for cats can be concerning because they have been known to cause cancer in the form of injection site tumors. It was discovered that these tumors were most likely caused by adjuvants (substances such as aluminum added to vaccines to enhance immune response) which are found in killed (inactivated) vaccines. Vaccines that are attenuated or recombinant (live) are highly recommended to avoid this.
What vaccines are recommended for cats? Only core vaccines (recommended for all cats) are recommended for indoor cats. These are:
- Panleukopenia (feline distemper) – a life threatening illness causing vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and low white blood cell counts.
- Rhinotracheitis (herpesvirus) and Calicivirus – highly contagious but non-life threatening diseases characterized by runny eyes and nose and fever.
- Rabies – required by law at least every 3 years in most states (click here to check your states’ laws)
Dr. Ronald Schultz, a pioneer and expert in the field of vaccines, recommends that because there previously was no 3 year rabies vaccine available for cats that did not have adjuvant, that the yearly vaccine (with no adjuvants) would be safer. However, our friend Raven has let us know that there is now a 3 year vaccine with no adjuvants available from Merial. You may have to ask your vet to special order this vaccine for you, and you can follow this link for more information (thank you to Raven for sharing that link).
Core vaccines should be given starting at 6-7 weeks of age, except for rabies which should be started at 12 weeks. Like canine vaccinations, even though boosters are recommended throughout a cats’ life, these vaccinations may protect against diseases for longer than even the 3 years recommended. The AVMA advises discussing yearly boosters with your vet (in my opinion they should not be given yearly unless required by law). Immunity is believed to possibly even be lifelong, so that is something to be considered for sure.
Non-core vaccines (optional depending on lifestyle) that may be advised for outdoor cats or cats that are in stressful environments include:
- Feline leukemia – causes chronic immune suppression that can lead to cancer.
- FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) – this disease can go for years with no symptoms but can cause chronic immune suppression leading to the inability to fight off other diseases.
For a more complete list of non-core vaccines you can visit this website.
So what have we done with our cats? Our indoor cats have received the 3 year boosters of core vaccines up until now. As far as I know the combination PCR they get is non-adjuvanted but I do not know for sure so I would question that next time. My vet uses Fort Dodge for rabies every 3 years so I believe that does have adjuvants and I would definitely want to change that. Right now, with Samantha’s health issues I doubt we will get her any more vaccines anyway. She is due for them next year, but we will pass. For all future cats, I will be sure they get only non-adjuvanted vaccines, even if my vet has to special order them, like Raven’s does for her.
I would suggest that you have the same discussions with your vet for your cats as well. A good vet will be willing to answer questions, and ours will always do what we request even if he thinks we are being overly cautious.
For more information here are some of the websites where I did my research: