Should You Vaccinate Your Adult Cat for Distemper?

feline_distemper_vaccine

There is no question that vaccines protect against disease – but they also present considerable risk. Sadly, far too many cats are still being over-vaccinated because too many veterinarians, and cat guardians, still think annual “shots” are necessary. Vaccines are implicated in triggering various immune-mediated and other chronic disorders (vaccinosis). Vaccines are also implicated in the high incidence of vaccine-induced sarcomas in cats. The incidence of these tumors ranges from 1 in 1000 to 1 in 10,000 cats. They can develop as quickly as 4 weeks or as late as 10 years post vaccination.

There is some compelling evidence coming from a study conducted at The Center for Companion Animal Studies at Colorado State University that shows that the common FVRCP (feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and paneleukopenia) vaccine may cause long-term damage to cats’ kidneys that increases with every booster.

Holistic veterinarian Dr. Jean Hofve reported on her blog, Little Big Cat, that the study showed that cats vaccinated with FVRCP vaccines grown on Crandell-Rees Feline Kidney (CRFK) cell lines can develop antibodies to renal proteins, and that cats hypersensitized to CRFK cell lysates can develop interstitial nephritis, a kidney disorder in which the spaces between the kidney tubules become inflamed. If this type of inflammation remains chronic, it can eventually lead to kidney failure.

Interestingly, the study showed a difference depending on whether the vaccine was delivered by injection, or intranasal. Cats who received the FVRCP vaccines by injection had higher levels of circulating antibodies to these antigens than cats who were administered the intranasal FVRCP vaccine.

Similar antibodies have been implicated in the development of renal disease in humans. Chronic renal failure (CRF), also called chronic kidney disease (CKD) in cats, is known to be caused by chronic interstitial nephritis, or inflammation of kidney tissue.

This information should give cat guardians pause before agreeing to have their cats’ distemper vaccines boosted. The American Association of Feline Practitioners currently recommends FVRCP boosters every three years in their Feline Vaccination Guidelines. However, immunity studies, such as the research done by Ronald Schultz, professor and chair of pathological sciences at the University of Wisconsin Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, have shown that immunity for some vaccines lasts even longer than that, anywhere from 7 to 15 years.

Dr. Hofve recommends not vaccinating your adult cat for distemper, and many holistic veterinarians agree with her.  “A kitten that receives its initial vaccine series, or any kitten or cat vaccinated just once after 16 weeks of age, is protected for life,” writes Dr. Hofve on Little Big Cat. “There is no benefit, and substantial risk, to repeated distemper vaccines in adult cats.”

If your cat is still receiving her FVRCP booster every three years, or worse, every year, I urge you to discuss this issue with your veterinarian, or to find one who practices individualized feline medicine rather than taking a one size fits all approach.

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19 Comments on Should You Vaccinate Your Adult Cat for Distemper?

  1. Gabby
    July 26, 2018 at 7:07 pm (11 months ago)

    Hi! I have a adopted a 2 year old cat, without the FVCRP Vaccine since birth. Can my cat still have the FVCRP Vaccine at 2 years or more of age?

    Thank you from SouthEast Asia.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 27, 2018 at 4:37 pm (11 months ago)

      If she’s never had the vaccine, she should be able to get the initial series. I would discuss this with your vet.

      Reply
  2. Marjorie Mickle
    November 25, 2017 at 11:57 am (2 years ago)

    Although this posting is years old, it cannot hurt to post new information!

    If your vet makes statements like “for the safety of their other animals”, they are more likely to balk at any discussion about skipping or delaying the vaccination. It is a ridiculous excuse – if your cat(s) already have any of the three conditions, getting a shot that day will NOT protect their other animals!!! Stand your ground or find another vet! I’ve heard the “you can bring it in on your shoes” excuse as well. I’m not really buying that. Even when still working, none of my cats caught anything from me coming and going.

    Too often the Rx foods and shots either contribute to the vet income or more likely just keep you coming in more often! Checkups are good, people should do them yearly just to keep tabs on things, but those shots? Over and Over? No. Rabies is required, so for anyone who has a cat that does not go out and infrequently visits the vet, hold off! IF you have to make that trip to the vet, THEN they are required by law to give the shot. I’m not sure how good the titer testing is for the FVRCP , but it can also be used for the rabies (also unclear if this really proves anything – Dr. Pierson says that if a cat has had all these shots for years and show no antibodies, they are not likely to ever and therefore the shots are useless!)

    Starting with Dr. Pierson’s write-ups for a specific non-vaccine issue, I have read and researched a lot of the information she provides (catinfo.org, and Dr. Mark Peterson’s blogs – he is an endocrinologist), most recently regarding the vaccines.

    The distemper part of this vaccine (the original as the others were added to the shot later) IS necessary for kittens or cats of unknown background as this can be/often is VERY serious, even deadly. It is, I believe, one of the conditions that leads to hyperplasia in kittens if the mom has/had it while pregnant. However, in my research I found that the shots were originally specified as no SOONER than three years has morphed into GET it every three years. I have pushed back on this because I really do not think my cats need any more of these. My vet is still learning after 20+ years and is starting to lean this way. She probably was not happy to comply, but she did honor my request to NOT give these boosters to everyone this year.

    The rhinotracheitis (feline herpes) – one cat I adopted still has the mostly minor nasal/eye issues from having had this before I came along. In reading up on in to see how I could help her after adopting, I find that this is highly contagious, flares up/sheds in those cats who have visible issues after infection when stressed (think moving and vet visits!), but they go on to say most cats have already been exposed and either have no residual effects or like this girl, have some issues and “shed” the virus. Well, so much for “most” cats being exposed – pretty much every other cat in the house at the time of adoption except her sister got sick (hmmm, despite the shots????). All resolved on their own except one who had to be treated for serious conjunctivitus. He did fine and has no residual effects. So if all my cats have been exposed to this one and have now built immunity naturally, I see no need for this vaccine.

    Calicivirus – my research on this says that the vaccine is iffy for this, as in it might provide some protection, but it might not and the virus mutates frequently (think flu shots – the strains is/are not always predicted correctly, so you may still get the flu and the shot you got *might* reduce the infection, but might not.) While it can be a serious condition (varies, just like the herpes, as in some get it and get over it without a lot of complication, some do not), prevalence of this virus, especially for indoor only cats, is not high enough to convince me that indoor only cats need these additional shots. A combination of this with lack of proof that it is very, if at all, effective, but the side effects (in particular sarcoma at injection site) can be serious, leads me to decline these shots altogether.

    Regular checkups, dental checks/cleaning as needed (have them show you the cats teeth and gums during checkup – you can tell if there is need to do the cleaning!) and treatment for obvious issues is the best you can do. Vaccines and Rx foods? Do your own research on these – read everything you can from reputable sites.

    Reply
  3. VetChangesWorld
    January 14, 2014 at 7:36 am (5 years ago)

    The frustrating thing about the 7-15 year number is we don’t know in any specific cat exactly how long that protection will last.

    Given 1) the number of feral cats in many neighborhoods who are commonly infected with and can spread panleukopenia, 2) it’s resistance to killing by freezing, heat, or pretty much any disinfectant except for bleach 3) its tendency to stick to things (like our shoes), 4) how deadly it can be (decimating the body’s immune system and causing severe neurologic disease), and 5) there is no treatment for this viral disease – we at least like to find out when that immunity declines.

    Our holistic veterinarian in our practice focuses on using panleukopenia titers for our patients. These blood tests give us some idea of whether or not pets have adequate antibody production to the most dangerous and contagious component of the FVRCP vaccine – panleukopenia (the “P”).

    If a pet has a good number of antibodies against this virus, protection is reliable.

    If titers are low, some cats may still be protected, but the risk of infection is higher. Vaccination at that point depends on the pet’s health. If titers are low there may be more extreme, cautious measures owners can take to protect their cats, or we may vaccinate them.

    Reply
  4. toni / rctees
    January 13, 2014 at 5:44 pm (5 years ago)

    Wonderful information Ingrid, especially having a Sr. girl!!
    Thank you!

    Reply
  5. Sue Brandes
    January 13, 2014 at 4:52 pm (5 years ago)

    Thank you for this interesting post. I will be asking my vet too.

    Reply
  6. The Island Cats
    January 13, 2014 at 3:49 pm (5 years ago)

    This is so timely. Ernie goes to the vet next week for his annual “shots.” I switched all the cats to a 3 year on the distemper…and my vet is okay with that. But it’s been 3 years now for Ernie with the distemper. I’ve been reading so many different things about vaccinations lately. I think I’m going to hold off on the distemper again this year. Of course, my vet may not agree. Ernie will be getting the rabies, since that’s required by law in my state.

    Thanks for this info!

    Sue
    The Island Cats’ mom

    Reply
  7. Debi
    January 13, 2014 at 12:46 pm (5 years ago)

    My vet agrees that my 14 year old kitty should never need or have another FVRCP injection again, but insists he legally has to give her a rabies shot because NYS requires it. She never goes out so I don’t want her to have it.

    Ingrid, I wonder if you know if vets are required by law to give it, even to exclusively indoor cats in NYS?

    Reply
    • Viki Worden
      January 13, 2014 at 2:57 pm (5 years ago)

      Hi Debi,

      I live in NYS and I am totally sure about the rabies shot, but I think NYS does require it. However, I have an overly aggressive cat who gets extreme anxiety and attacks viciously when I take him to the vet. So he has not been to the vet in a couple of years. The vet works with me over the phone when he requires medication, etc. that isn’t life threatening. The vet said that since he doesn’t go outside that he didn’t want to put my kitty through all the anxiety, etc. I don’t know what would happen if an authority figure ever questioned it. I can’t believe it would come to that unless he actually contracted rabies and bit someone. He is almost 11 and I have had him since he was 7 weeks old and he has never been out of the house or anything. He has a lot of health issues so I have learned to study him and keep track of everything with him since I have to treat him myself. Although I would have to take him in if he ever required a shot or anything like that. The only shots my 3 other kitties get is the rabies. I don’t get them the other ones.

      Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 13, 2014 at 3:41 pm (5 years ago)

      Debi, most if not all jurisdictions in the United States require rabies vaccines. Some states will accept a letter from your veterinarian stating that your cat can’t be vaccinated due to health issues, but only a very few states accept this. The Rabies Challenge Fund website is a good one to watch for possible changes to laws, they’re trying to change requirements across the country: http://www.rabieschallengefund.org/

      Reply
  8. Niki
    January 13, 2014 at 10:44 am (5 years ago)

    This really made me think. When I had my first cat, Squeakers, I gave her “the works” as far as shots almost every year, I think. I just trusted my vet to do the right thing, that that was before I knew that much about cats. Now I’ve been through three cats, read many books, articles and blogs and have been through a Veterinary Assistant course, so I’m much more skeptical and cautious. My cat Squeakers died at a very young age. She had many conditions such as bad teeth, dandruff, ear infections, but she died of kidney disease at five years old. I now know it could have been because I had her get the distemper every year? Possibly. There could have been other reasons too. Now, my cat, Sandy, whom I adopted as a senior was allergic to the distemper. Her former owner told me she almost died from the shot, so I always told my vet NOT to give her the shot. She died 2 years ago at age 16. Now, Mojo has been my cat for over a year and he’s only three and I have had “the works” again, but now, this spring when he goes in, I think I may have a little chat with my vet staff. Thanks for making me more aware!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 13, 2014 at 3:39 pm (5 years ago)

      Unfortunately, sometimes, we’ll never know why some cats are healthy and others die young. However, given what we know about vaccines, and immunity, I believe a conservative vaccination protocol is in the best interest of most, if not all cats.

      Reply
  9. Vickster
    January 13, 2014 at 10:06 am (5 years ago)

    I have an appointment with our veterinarian tomorrow, and will discuss all imunization shots with her. My two cats have gotten the nasal form of the FVRCP (because I administered it) and it’s because the vet’s office tells me I need to do it, for the safety of their other animals. I know new immunization guidelines were released; I’ll have a copy of that in hand at my visit tomorrow. Wish me luck: both cats going to the vet at once! Am I crazy…lol! They are nine-and-a-half years old now, and we didn’t have them vaccinated for the first seven years of their lives (except for whatever they received as kittens). But we now have ferals/strays living in the backyard, and although they usually don’t come into contact with each other, there is a possibility. Another item to discuss with the vet.

    Reply
    • Marjorie Mickle
      November 25, 2017 at 11:54 am (2 years ago)

      If your vet makes statements like “for the safety of their other animals”, they are more likely to balk at any discussion about skipping or delaying the vaccination. It is a ridiculous excuse – if your cat(s) already have any of the three conditions, getting a shot that day will NOT protect their other animals!!! Stand your ground or find another vet! I’ve heard the “you can bring it in on your shoes” excuse as well. I’m not really buying that. Even when still working, none of my cats caught anything from me coming and going.

      Too often the Rx foods and shots either contribute to the vet income or more likely just keep you coming in more often! Checkups are good, people should do them yearly just to keep tabs on things, but those shots? Over and Over? No. Rabies is required, so for anyone who has a cat that does not go out and infrequently visits the vet, hold off! IF you have to make that trip to the vet, THEN they are required by law to give the shot. I’m not sure how good the titer testing is for the FVRCP , but it can also be used for the rabies (also unclear if this really proves anything – Dr. Pierson says that if a cat has had all these shots for years and show no antibodies, they are not likely to ever and therefore the shots are useless!)

      Starting with Dr. Pierson’s write-ups for a specific non-vaccine issue, I have read and researched a lot of the information she provides (catinfo.org, and Dr. Mark Peterson’s blogs – he is an endocrinologist), most recently regarding the vaccines.

      The distemper part of this vaccine (the original as the others were added to the shot later) IS necessary for kittens or cats of unknown background as this can be/often is VERY serious, even deadly. It is, I believe, one of the conditions that leads to hyperplasia in kittens if the mom has/had it while pregnant. However, in my research I found that the shots were originally specified as no SOONER than three years has morphed into GET it every three years. I have pushed back on this because I really do not think my cats need any more of these. My vet is still learning after 20+ years and is starting to lean this way. She probably was not happy to comply, but she did honor my request to NOT give these boosters to everyone this year.

      The rhinotracheitis (feline herpes) – one cat I adopted still has the mostly minor nasal/eye issues from having had this before I came along. In reading up on in to see how I could help her after adopting, I find that this is highly contagious, flares up/sheds in those cats who have visible issues after infection when stressed (think moving and vet visits!), but they go on to say most cats have already been exposed and either have no residual effects or like this girl, have some issues and “shed” the virus. Well, so much for “most” cats being exposed – pretty much every other cat in the house at the time of adoption except her sister got sick (hmmm, despite the shots????). All resolved on their own except one who had to be treated for serious conjunctivitus. He did fine and has no residual effects. So if all my cats have been exposed to this one and have now built immunity naturally, I see no need for this vaccine.

      Calicivirus – my research on this says that the vaccine is iffy for this, as in it might provide some protection, but it might not and the virus mutates frequently (think flu shots – the strains is/are not always predicted correctly, so you may still get the flu and the shot you got *might* reduce the infection, but might not.) While it can be a serious condition (varies, just like the herpes, as in some get it and get over it without a lot of complication, some do not), prevalence of this virus, especially for indoor only cats, is not high enough to convince me that indoor only cats need these additional shots. A combination of this with lack of proof that it is very, if at all, effective, but the side effects (in particular sarcoma at injection site) can be serious, leads me to decline these shots altogether.

      Regular checkups, dental checks/cleaning as needed (have them show you the cats teeth and gums during checkup – you can tell if there is need to do the cleaning!) and treatment for obvious issues is the best you can do. Vaccines and Rx foods? Do your own research on these – read everything you can from reputable sites.

      Reply
  10. Viki Worden
    January 13, 2014 at 10:59 am (5 years ago)

    I have had two cats pass away due to kidney disease. I do not know however if it was due to the vaccine. After I had read about the possibility of injections causing physical problems I have not had my cats vaccinated for anything other than rabies. I never let my cats out of the house. In the summer they come out on the porch, which is fully inclosed. They will sit in the windows and look out through the screens. I lost a kitten to being hit by a car years ago and since then I have always kept my babies in the house. There are too many risks for them to be outside. I do know feral cats are outdoors and I understand the situation. I am a volunteer for Ally Cat Allies and take calls for my area if people have questions about TNR. My dream though is for all kitties to have homes and be safe.

    Reply
  11. Pat Wolesky
    January 13, 2014 at 6:44 am (5 years ago)

    I bookmarked this article to talk to my vet about it. My vet uses the three year schedule and Coco would be due in a couple of months, but between this article and her age (15) I’ve been questioning whether to have her get the vaccine.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 13, 2014 at 3:37 pm (5 years ago)

      I’ll be interested to hear what you decide after talking to your vet, Pat.

      Reply
  12. Rudolph.A.Furtado
    January 13, 2014 at 1:18 am (5 years ago)

    Both my “Traditional Persian cats” are always in the house and never interact with other cats and hence i have never inoculated them since “KITTENHOOD”. It was as kittens that i got my cats inoculated and today the female cat ” Matahari” is 7 years old and her kitten “Matata” is now 4 years of age, a ultra tomcat. In-between i have got my female cat treated and inoculated for injuries but never for the yearly “Distemper Injections”.

    Reply

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