Free Teleseminar June 24 – Inspired and Inspiring – The Rewards and Challenges of Living with Disabled Pets

*** NEW DATE – Thursday, June 24, 8:00pm Eastern***

Join us for our free teleseminar
Inspired and Inspiring – The Rewards and Challenges
of Living with Disabled Pets
on Thursday, June 24 at 8:00pm Eastern

On Thursday, June 24, at 8pm Eastern Daylight Time, we will host authors Barbara Techel and Mary Shafer for a free teleseminar titled Inspired and Inspiring – The Rewards and Challenges of Living with Disabled Pets.

Barbara Techel is the author of the multi-award-winning book Frankie, the Walk ‘N Roll Dog. When her dachshund, Frankie, suffered a spinal injury, Techel had her custom-fitted for a wheelchair. Frankie’s strong spirit had her back into the swing of life very soon, and Techel realized the beautiful opportunity she had to share Frankie’s story. Together, they give others who may be struggling with obstacles the hope and inspiration to be the best they can be. Techel’s newest book, Frankie, the Walk ’N Roll Therapy Dog Visits Libby’s House, chronicles the twosome’s work as a therapy dog team at local hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice centers, spreading joy wherever they go.

Mary Shafer is a freelance writer, author and publisher of Word Forge Books, a small, independent publisher located near Philadelphia. She’s a member of the Cat Writers Association and is co-mom to four special needs cats. One of those cats, Idgie, is the subject of Shafer’s story in the company’s latest book, Almost Perfect: Disabled Pets and the People Who Love Them.

Join us for what is sure to be an inspirational hour of discussing the challenges and rewards of living with disabled pets.  You’ll also get a chance to ask questions.

The seminar is free, but long distance phone charges may apply.  To participate in the conference, dial 1-712-432-3100.  When prompted, enter conference code 674470.  Registration is not required, but if you’d like to be entered in the drawing of an autographed copy of Barbara and Mary’s books, you’ll need to pre-register by clicking here.

What to Do When Your Cat Is Not Using the Litter Box

Guest Post by Daniela Caride

Your cat may not be using the litter box for many reasons. If you have ruled out diseases by taking your cat to the vet, you should go over this list I came up with. Your cat might be unhappy with one or some of those issues.


Too few boxes

The ideal number of litter boxes in a home is at least the number of cats + 1. If you have two cats, you should have at least 3 litter boxes.

With four cats at home, I keep five litter boxes in the house. I have one in each floor, and two in the basement, the biggest room. It works well for us, even though I would like to have one more. I just can’t seem to find the right place for it (handy for the cats and hidden from visitors).

Box is in the wrong place

The litter box should be in a quiet place — away from the furnace and any other machines that emit noises. Cats don’t like to be surprised while in the bathroom. The box should also be in a place easily accessible for your cat. If it’s too difficult to reach the box, he may not make it there on time, especially if your cat is older and arthritic.

If you have several cats, a lower-ranking cat may have trouble accessing the litter boxes. If he’s trapped by other cats on his way to the loo, he may choose to pee somewhere else, given the circumstances.

Box is hooded

Most cats don’t enjoy hooded litter boxes. They trap the pee and poop odor inside, make it darker and much more difficult or even impossible to escape if another cat blocks the door.

Photo by Daniela Caride

My litter boxes are tall, clear plastic storage containers without the lid. I bought them at Target and drilled a hole in the side of each box (This one might do the trick). This way, my cats can easily access it from a door, see if any other cat approaches and escape from the top if necessary. Since the walls are clear, my cats can see better inside (more light). The fact I don’t cover them help ventilate any scents from a previous visit to the bathroom, so the cats don’t get overwhelmed.

Box is too dirty

If you buy clumping litter, scoop the litter box at least once a day and change the whole content every couple of months. Some people rotate litter boxes every six months so one box can “breathe” (they let the pee scents dissipate) while the cat uses the other one.

If the litter you use does not clump, change to clumping litter. If you can’t, scoop at least once a day and change the litter at least every week.

Box is too clean

If you clean your cat box with harsh-smelling chemicals such as bleach, your cat may avoid the place. Cats are very sensitive to smells.

Unwanted liners

Some cats hate the feel or the crackling sounds of plastic liners — or both.

Wrong litter

Cats can be fussy about litter. Some types of pine litter don’t absorb the smell of pee, which may disgust your cat and make him look for another bathroom. Some clay litters have a strong perfume smell to please humans. But they might displease your cat. I use World’s Best Extra Strength made out of corn, and we’re all very happy (cats and humans).

Litter is not deep enough or too deep

Figure out how much litter your cat wants in the litter box. My cats hate it when I don’t pour enough litter, and they find themselves scratching the bottom of the box to cover their poop. They leave the thing uncovered and vanish. I have to put up with the perfume.

Animosity between cats in the house

If you have cats who don’t like each other, increase the number of litter boxes in your house. Again, make sure they are uncovered and made of clear plastic, so they can see when another cat approaches and can escape safely and quickly. If your cat feels unsafe in the box, he will look for another place to relieve himself.

Daniela Caride is the publisher of The Daily Tail (http://www.TheDailyTail.com), a participatory blog about pets with stories, tips, and reviews. She lives with three cats, Crosby, Gaijin and Phoenix, three dogs, Frieda, Geppetto and Lola, and her husband, Martin, in Cambridge, MA

Book Review: The Cat, the Professor and the Poison

In The Cat, the Professor and the Poison, the second book in Leann Sweeney’s Cats in Trouble series, we once again join Jillian Hart and her beloved three cats, Merlot, Chablis and Syrah.  Jillian, busy with her cat quilt making business, is settling into the small town of Grace, South Carolina, where she moved with her husband, looking forward to a long retirement.  Within a few months of moving there, John died from a sudden heart attack and Jillian found herself alone in a strange town.  But now, she has found a new best friend in Deputy Candace Carson, and once again, she gets involved in helping solve a murder.   It all begins with a missing milk cow from a friend’s farm, which leads to the discovery of fifty stray cats and a dead body – a victim of cold-blooded murder. 

As Jillian gets involved with helping to save the stray cats, even taking one calico mother and her kittens home with her, she also gets drawn ever deeper into the murder investigation.  And if that weren’t enough, in the middle of all of this, her husband’s daughter arrives for an unannounced, and apparently open-ended, visit.  A former journalist, she becomes intrigued with the mysteries hiding in the small town of Grace, and also begins to look into clues to the murder and possible suspects – and there are plenty of those.  Even the cats get in on the act!  From academic research to dysfuctional family dynamics to cat food, the investigation takes Jillian on a wild ride as she comes ever closer to helping solve the mystery.

This book will delight readers of amateur sleuth stories and cat lovers alike.  Interspersed with plenty of fascinating facts about cats, this book is a fun and entertaining read and is very hard to put down.    It’s the purrfect book for curling up with your favorite feline for an afternoon of suspense, cat trivia and small town charm.

The Cat, the Professor and the Poison will be released on May 4.

Leann Sweeney was born and raised in Niagara Falls and educated at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Lemoyne College in Syracuse, NY. She also has a degree from the University of Houston in behavioral science and worked for many years in psychiatry. Currently a school nurse, she began writing about fifteen years ago, fulfilling her lifelong dream. After perfecting her writing skills with classes and a small fortune in writing books, she joined MWA and Sisters in Crime. Her short fiction won many awards and several mysteries were published in small market mystery magazines. One novel and another mystery novella went straight to audio. Leann is married with two fabulous grown children, a wonderful son-in-law and a beautiful daughter-in-law. She has lived in Texas for almost thirty years and resides in Friendswood, Texas with husband Mike and her three cats.  You can learn more about Leann and her books at http://www.leannsweeney.com.

FTC full disclosure:  I received an ARC copy of this book from the author.

Giveaway – FURminator Deshedding Tool for Cats

Tomorrow is National Hairball Awareness Day, and we’ve teamed up with Romeo the Cat and FURminator, Inc. to shed some light on this issue that plagues so many cats.

As we learned from Dr. Crist’s article Some Startling New Thoughts on Cats and Hairballs yesterday, hairballs actually have very little do with the fur that cats naturally ingest when grooming, but there are still numerous benefits from grooming your cat on a regular basis:

  • A grooming session can be a relaxing bonding time for you and your cat.   If your cat is not immediately receptive to grooming, start slow, and gradually increase the time you spend grooming.  Eventually, the calming, repetitive motion of brushing will have a relaxing effect on your cat (and you!).
  • More grooming means less shedding, and less cat hair around the house.
  • Grooming increases circulation – it’s like a mini-massage with some of the same health benefits as a massage.
  • A grooming session is an ideal time for you to run your hands and eyes over every inch of your cat’s body.  This may help with early detection of diseases such as lumps and bumps, skin issues, or parasites.

I’m giving away one FURminator Deshedding Tool for Cats.  If you’d like to win, leave a comment on this post and let me know why you would like one for your cat(s).  For an extra chance to win, tweet about the giveaway or share on Facebook and post the link in a separate comment.  This giveway is open until Sunday, May 16.

Some Startling New Thoughts on Cats and Hairballs

Guest post by Fern Slack, DVM

It is always the case that we vets deal with the same problems at home that we counsel our clients about.  And not always terribly well.  I’m certainly no exception.  Years ago, I had a long-haired cat who threw up hairballs frequently, but unlike most hairball-barfing cats, she did not just hack up the offending wad and then go about her business as though nothing had happened.  Nope, she would obviously feel ill for minutes to hours afterward.  And probably beforehand, too, had I had the vision to see it.

I tried all the time-honored remedies that I prescribed every day for my patients.  I dosed her with various brands of flavored petroleum jelly.  I fed her diets purporting to help with hairballs by the inclusion of extra fiber.  I brushed her constantly, which fortunately she loved.  None of these things helped.  Eventually I shaved her, leaving the adorable puffs on her legs and tail that made her look like a fat little old lady in tight leotard and legwarmers.  As long as I did this three or four times a year, there were no more hairballs.  Oddly enough, however, she continued to have vomiting episodes, albeit less frequently, and minus the hair.  Diagnostics revealed inflammatory bowel disease, and eventually my poor sweet girl succumbed to intestinal lymphoma.

While rooming with a brilliant feline practitioner at a medical conference shortly after, still grieving, I confessed my frustration with the seemingly insignificant problem of hairballs.  Her answer blew me away.  There is no such thing as “just a hairball,” she says to me.  Think about it.  Cats developed stringent grooming behaviors in the course of evolution because grooming is a positive survival factor, probably through  controlling parasitism  and other diseases.  So they are going to ingest a lot of hair.  Does vomiting as a daily method for expelling this hair seem evolutionarily sound?  Stomach acid hurts the esophagus and teeth, and frequent vomiting upsets the electrolyte balance.    While vomiting as an emergency mechanism to rid oneself of the occasional nastiness seems reasonable, it seems unlikely that the daily vomiting of hairballs is the “normal” thing that the medical community has assumed it to be.

I’m hooked.  Go on, I say.  She continues.

Why would we think that “lubrication” of the gut with petroleum products would help?  A cat is not a car.  And in no way could a cat have naturally evolved to require the dosing with “lubricants” to survive or to thrive.  Likewise, cats in the wild would never eat a “high-fiber” diet, and so would seem unlikely to benefit from one.  On the contrary, it would appear logical that a cat would thrive better on what a cat has been evolved to eat – namely a mouse or a reasonable facsimile thereof – and that feeding a cat something wildly different from the diet it has evolved on is more likely to result in harm than in good.

No, she says, I think it likely that a “hairball,” far from normal, is probably a common early symptom of Inflammatory Bowel Disease.  Impaired motility of the gut would account for the balling up of hair that should pass right through, if stomach-emptying time is the 0.2 – 2 hours it is reported to be in a normal cat.  A cat shouldn’t be able to swallow enough hair fast enough to outrace normal stomach emptying time.

This is making sense to me.  Particularly as I just lost my own cat to this.  And as I think back, I realize that “hairballs” have been in the histories of a disproportionate number of the patients I’ve treated with IBD and lymphoma.

She tells me that she’s been changing her patients over to low-fiber diets (grain-free and low carbohydrate) for a while now, and she’s seeing a precipitous drop in the whole “hairball” thing.  I can see the long-term implications of this line of reasoning:  if cat food containing an unnaturally high level of fiber and carbohydrates is associated with an increased incidence of  impaired GI motility and vomiting, and if cats fed this way are at higher risk to develop IBD and lymphoma, then a drop in hairball vomiting might mean that a cat has a lower risk of these two nasty diseases.  Sounds as though a grain-free diet might be a better way to go.

This all made sense to me.  No science to it back then, but neither was there any to support the idea that hairballs are normal.  No one had at that time asked if a carbohydrate-based diet could possibly have long-term negative consequences for cats.

Well, they have now.   Every day, there’s more scientific evidence that these “mere” hairballs we see so often may respond, not to grease and not to fiber, not to brushing and not to shaving, but to feeding a diet that looks like what a cat was evolved to eat.

In the intervening years, I’ve changed my own cats over to grain-free, low-carb canned foods, and I’ve seen nary a hairball from anyone for a very long time.   In my esteemed colleague’s footsteps, I’ve been changing my patients over to these same diets.   I hear about fewer hairballs, and my patients  are slimmer, fitter, and healthier in many ways.  Is this a panacea?  Of course not.  There’s no one cure for everything.  But I now have serious trouble believing that a feline diet in which the calories are derived primarily from carbohydrates, which are much cheaper than proteins, is beneficial to anything other than the manufacturer’s bottom line.

So next time someone tells you that malt-flavored grease, fiber additives, brushing or shaving are the only ways to help with those annoying hairballs, think again.  Hairballs may be more than just a stinky mess for you to clean up.  They might well be a sign that your cat has a real health problem, and should see the veterinarian.  And your cat might be telling you that her gut would be happier with “mouse” than with breakfast cereal.

Dr. Slack graduated from the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia, and has been working exclusively with cats since 1993. She is the owner of Uniquely Cats Veterinary Center in Boulder, CO.

How to Care for Your Older Cat

Peaches and Peonies by B.E. Kazmarski

In honor of Peaches, animal artist Bernadette Kazmarski’s cat who is turning 20 years old on May 1, a number of blogs are participating in the birthday celebration by posting articles about living with and caring for older cats.

Cats are living longer and healthier lives, thanks to improved veterinary care, better nutrition, and the fact that most pet cats are indoor cats; but even at that, not many live to the ripe old age of 20.   The definition of an older cat is usually preceded by the term “senior” or “geriatric.”  Cats are considered senior between the ages of 11 and 14, and geriatric over the age of 15.  The following provides some pointers to help you keep your older cat happy and healthy.

Regular veterinary care

This is important at any age, but becomes particularly important as cats age.   Typically, veterinarians recommend annual visits for healthy cats up to age 6 or 7, and bi-annual visits after that.  I explained in a previous post  what a senior cat wellness visit entails and why it’s so important.

Behavior and environment

Environmental needs may change as cats age.  Cats often loose some mobility as osteoarthritis, a common ailment in older cats, begins to set in.  It becomes important to make sure that they have easy access to the litter box.  Some litter boxes may be too high for older cats to get in and out of comfortably.  Make sure that beds are easy to access – if kitty can no longer jump up on beds or other favorite sleeping spots, consider getting a ramp or steps to make it easier for her.

Watch for subtle behavior changes such as increased vocalization, problems with elimination, or changes in routine.  They may be indicators of medical problems and may require veterinary attention.

Diet

As cats become older, they’re typically less playful and less mobile, and weight gain can become a problem.   Don’t turn to senior diets – while they are marketed as “light” and lower in calories, they are high in carbohydrates and contraindicated for cats, who are obligate carnivores.   I previously wrote about weight management for senior cats.  There is no reason to change a cat’s diet as she gets older.  If you feed a healthy raw or grain-free canned diet, only minor adjustments in quantity should be required to keep your cat healthy through her senior and geriatric years.

Oral health

Bi-annual vet exams should include a thorough examination of your cat’s teeth and mouth.  Good dental health is one of the most important health issues for cats, especially as they get older.  Dental disease not only causes pain and decreases quality of life, but it can result in damage to other organs such as kidneys and heart.

Parasites

Depending on your cat’s lifestyle (indoor vs. outdoor), regular fecal examinations are recommended.  Discuss parasite control with your veterinarian, but be aware that many of the leading flea and tick control products are pesticides.  Look for natural alternatives instead.

Vaccinations

Work in partnership with your veterinarian to evaluate risk, and determine whether there is a need for continued vaccinations.   Consider blood tests in lieu of vaccinations to determine protection levels.  For a comprehensive overview of feline vaccinations, click here.

Life with an older cat is a joy that is to be savored, and following these guidelines should help you keep your feline companion happy and healthy well into her golden years.

Happy Birthday, Peaches!

Ask the Vet with Fern Crist, DVM

Did you miss last night’s Ask the Vet teleseminar with Dr. Fern Crist?  If so, you missed a fantastic hour packed with information every cat parent should know.  Dr. Crist answered questions about dental health, feline nutrition, anesthesia, and how to get your cat to loose weight.  But not to worry!  You can still listen to the interview by clicking on the link below.   You can also save the recording to disk so you can listen to it on the media player of your choice by right clicking on the link, and then selecting “save target as” (for PC’s) or “save link as” (for Mac’s).

Thanks to everyone who joined us on the call, and for asking such great questions!

Ask the Vet with Fern Crist, DVM

Book Review: Almost Perfect, Edited by Mary A. Shafer

Almost Perfect – Disabled Pets and the People Who Love Them, an anthology of eleven stories of animals with special needs edited by Mary A. Shafer, is more than just a collection of heartwarming pet stories.   I’ve always believed that animals come into our lives to teach us, and the lessons from these wonderful animals with often seemingly insurmountable challenges and their compassionate human caretakers are truly inspirational.   You will learn about courage from a blind Huskie mix who trades the horrible life of a puppy mill for living on a farm.  You will be inspired by the grace with which a paralyzed tuxedo cat finds moments of joy each and every day.  You will be amazed by a Labrador-Doberman mix with a devastating muscle wasting disease who gives new meaning to the term “roll with the punches.” 

These wonderful stories will remain with you long after you’ve read them.  They will delight and inspire you.  You will laugh, and you will cry, and you will get a better understanding of why caring for a disabled pet can be immensely rewarding.

The Conscious Cat is delighted to present  a teleseminar titled Inspired and Inspiring – The Rewards and Challenges of Living with Disabled Pets.  On Tuesday, May 11 at 8pm Eastern,  Mary Shafer will join Barbara Techel, the author of Frankie the Walk ‘n Roll Dog and Frankie the Walk ‘n Roll Therapy Dog Visits Libby’s House to share how their disabled pets have enriched their lives in ways they never could have imagined.  You will get an opportunity to ask questions or share your own stories.  The seminars are free, but long distance phone charges may apply.  To participate in the conference, simply dial 1-712-432-3100.  When prompted, enter conference code 674470

Mary and Barbara are offering autographed copies of their books to one lucky winner each.  If you’d like to be entered into the drawing for the books, you will need to register for the seminar here.

FTC full disclosure:  this book was sent to me by the publisher.

Amber’s Mewsings: Amber has a boyfriend

I know you’ve all been waiting to hear more about my new sister Allegra.  Things are going fine, I guess I’ve accepted she’s here to stay, and I’m kind of getting used to her, and that’s all I’m going to say about that today.   Because today’s post is all about me!

Today, I’m going to share a secret with you that I’ve kept close to my heart for a while, but I think it’s time to go public with it.  Some of you might have an inkling of what I’m getting ready to say if you’ve been reading some of the comments on previous Mewsings.  So – here it goes:  for the last few months, I’ve been in a long distance relationship.

My boyfriend’s name is Domino, and he lives in Westchester, NY with one of Mom’s online friends, Layla Morgan Wilde, who has a blog called The Boomer Muse (hmm – she and I must be kindred spirits on some level – Amber’s Mewsings, Boomer Muse….anyway, I digress).  Computer savvy cat that I am, I met Domino online on a regular feature on the Boomer Muse called Cat Saturday.  He’s very handsome.  I now know what humans mean when they say “my heart skipped a beat,” because that’s exactly what it felt like when I first saw his picture.  As I got to know him better, I found out that he’s a bit of a danger dude, which, I’m embarassed to admit, only added to his appeal.  He doesn’t actually live with Layla, he lives in her yard and on her porch.  See, he’s a feral cat, and even though he shows up regularly for food and even takes advantage of the warm nest of blankets Layla leaves for him in the winter, he refuses to come inside, no matter how hard she tries.  His freedom loving spirit won’t allow him to let himself be confined, even though it would make his life a lot safer.  My tough guy is a roamer at heart, and he can’t be tied down.  I worry about him, though – not too long ago, he got hurt when he defended his turf against an intruder cat, and for a few days, he not only didn’t look so good, but he wasn’t doing all that great, either.  Thank goodness Layla was able to mix some medicine in with his food and he got better.

But I’m not just attracted to his handsome physique and bad boy ways – I’m not that shallow!  Domino has a big heart, and I’m sure that underneath that tough guy exterior, there’s a big softie waiting just waiting for the purrfect female to tame his wild heart.  Sigh, a girl can dream, can’t she?  He showed his softer side the other day, when an injured raccoon found its way onto “his” porch.  Some of you may be familiar with the term “holding the space” – it means creating a quiet, safe and peaceful environment for another by  being completely secure and centered in oneself and focusing healing energy on  another.  Domino did that for the raccoon, setting aside his ingrained fear of humans.  You can read the whole story here.  My hero!

So now you know.  Domino and I communicate telepathically from heart to heart.  It’s not as good as being able to be together and snuggle, but it’s pretty nice.

Photograph © Layla Morgan Wilde

Feline Vaccinations: Walking Through the Minefield

Little cat at the veterinary - getting a vaccine

Guest Post by Fern Slack, DVM

Vaccination against debilitating and fatal diseases has vastly improved the well-being of humanity.  It’s difficult now for us to imagine a world with widespread polio, kids dying daily of whooping cough, or smallpox decimating whole cities.  Without our indispensable vaccination programs, such diseases would re-emerge quickly.   It does not follow, however, that an individual will achieve better health through more frequent vaccination, nor will the population as a whole.  Neither does it follow that the best vaccine plan for a child in, say, South Africa would be the same as for a child in Canada.

Likewise, there is no single vaccine protocol that is right for all cats.  Every cat has different risk factors.  And while many mistakenly believe that vaccinations are entirely safe, and entirely effective, neither is true.  There is always a risk of adverse events associated with vaccination, which must be balanced against the benefit, if any, from a vaccine for your cat.  Yet the serious and often fatal diseases we fight with vaccines are still out there.

The Diseases Most Cats Should Be Protected Against

Panleukopenia (“Feline distemper”) used to be a common veterinary hospital visitor, highly contagious and commonly fatal. The virus is a resilient organism which can sneak into your house on your clothes or shoes.  Indoor cats must therefore be protected.

The “distemper” combination vaccine includes antigens for Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis and Calici virus.  While rarely fatal, both diseases cause much easily preventable suffering.

Indoor cats must also be protected against Rabies.  It is contagious to humans, and is nearly 100% fatal if not treated immediately.  Cats are very susceptible to it.  Vaccination laws are strong, as they should be, to protect the citizenry.  Fortunately, there is a feline vaccine available that utilizes a unique technology which delivers excellent protection with minimal inflammation.  If other, unnecessary vaccines are eliminated, the repeated administration of such a relatively innocuous one can be better tolerated.

Only these two vaccines, the Rabies and the Panleukopenia /Calicivirus / Viral Rhinotracheitis combination, are recommended by the American Association  of Feline Practitioners for all cats, including those living completely indoors.

Other Available Vaccines

Feline Leukemia (FeLV):  The FeLV vaccine is worthwhile, but only for cats who spend time outside or have other lifestyle factors that put them at risk, such as living with another cat who has the Feline Leukemia virus.  Even then, the level of protection against a strong challenge in a vaccinated cat is far from perfect.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV):   FIV is not a significant risk for most cats, because contagion nearly always requires a bite wound.  It should be used only for cats at demonstrable risk, such as outdoor cats who fight.  This vaccination induces antibodies that can’t be differentiated from those produced by actual infection, so a vaccinated cat will always test positive, complicating identification of cats who actually have the disease.  This is not a vaccine to be used lightly.

Chlamydophila felis:   A nearly useless vaccine which is included as a fourth ingredient in many of the commercially available “distemper” vaccines.   The addition distracts the cat’s immune system from the other three, much more important antigens, while engendering nearly no effective protection itself.  Unless there is a specific, test-confirmed need for it, this should not be used.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP):  There is no measurable benefit from this vaccine for almost any pet cat, but it still poses all the risks of the “good vaccines”.  Avoid this one entirely.

Serious Risks Associated With Vaccination

Vaccine-Associated Fibrosarcomas:  Also known as injection site sarcomas, these are very malignant cancers which arise at the site of an injection.  The incidence is estimated at between 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 10,000 vaccinations.  These tumors must be treated extremely radically.  For this reason, some vets now administer feline vaccines as far down the legs as possible, and sometimes even in the tail.   Should tumors occur, amputation of a limb can save the cat’s life.

Inflammatory Insults:  Much worse and probably more common is the danger deriving from repeated inflammatory insults.  Many leading scientists now believe that vaccinations induce systemic inflammatory responses, which can lead to chronic inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, pancreatitis, and inflammatory bowel disease, as well as hyperthyroidism and numerous others.  The actual risk for a given cat is likely to be closely proportional to how many vaccines he receives over his life.

Anaphylactic Reactions:  True anaphylaxis is quite rare, but does happen.  Even with immediate treatment, death may ensue.

Vaccination can cause many lesser problems such as itching, hives, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and local hair loss, to name a few.  Most of these are transitory, and are not serious health risks.

Protection With Minimal Vaccination

Where possible, I recommend replacing annual or triannual vaccination with annual blood tests, also known as titer tests, which measure antibody levels.  If the titer is insufficient, and if there are no contraindications, I may recommend revaccination.  There are admittedly flaws in the concept of titering.  Most importantly, we don’t accurately know what level of antibody is protective.  Our evidence comes more from experience than from studies.  But that is changing, and hopefully there will be more reliable evidence to work with in the future.

Panleukopenia vaccinations induce an enduring immunity in most cats.  Many will carry a protective level of antibody for most of their adult life after only kitten shots and one adult injection.  Repeated vaccinations are usually not needed.  Some Panleukopenia vaccines are approved for 3-year intervals, but even that is more than is needed for most cats.  Titering is an excellent alternative for this disease.

There are titer tests available for Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis and Calicivirus also; single-ingredient vaccines can be given should your cat pass one titer and fail another.  Some of these can also be given as drops into the eyes and/or nose.  The lack of a “shot” reduces the risk of an injection site sarcoma.

The Best Of Both Worlds

Indisputably, every vaccination is an inflammatory event, and all inflammatory events have a systemic component, ripples from the stone thrown in the pond.  These insults may be small, but they add up, and so vaccinations should be kept as few as possible.  But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; a choice to avoid vaccines entirely leaves your cat at risk for some pretty horrible  awful diseases.  Vaccines are not all good or all bad.  They are tools to be used with good judgment for the right purposes.  The best vaccine plan for your cat will balance on the tightrope between disease risk and vaccine risk.   A good feline vet will take the time to learn about your cat’s lifestyle and history, and then help you learn about the risks and benefits of the vaccination choices to be made for your cat.

 Dr. Slack graduated from the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia, and has been working exclusively with cats since 1993. She is the owner of Uniquely Cats Veterinary Center in Boulder, CO.

 

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