Last updated December 2015
There is no question that vaccines save lives, but there is also compelling evidence that implicates vaccines in not just triggering various immune-mediated and other chronic disorders, known as vaccinosis, but also injection site sarcomas. Thankfully, new vaccine guidelines have reduced the recommended frequency of vaccinations for cats, and many cat guardians are choosing to forego even the recommended three-year intervals for most vaccines by choosing titer testing instead.
Rabies vaccine: it’s the law
Almost all municipalities in the United States require rabies vaccinations for all cats, regardless of whether they’re indoor or outdoor cats. I’m not aware of any municipalities that accept rabies titers in lieu of a vaccine.
The required frequency of rabies vaccines is set by local jurisdictions, and doesn’t appear to have much to do with the actual immunity duration of the vaccine. The Rabies Challenge Fund is hoping to change this by determining the true duration of immunity conveyed by rabies vaccines. The fund’s goal is to extend the required interval for rabies boosters to 5 and then to 7 years. The fund’s testing is currently only performed for dogs, but hopefully, they will also cover cats in the future.
Always demand that your vet use a non-adjuvanted vaccine
In the meantime, the only thing cat guardians can do while still complying with local laws is to minimize the risk that comes with each rabies vaccine by making sure that their veterinarian only uses the non-adjuvanted Purevax vaccine manufactured by Merial.
Adjuvants are substances that are added to vaccines to alert the immune system that an antigen is present. They increase the immune response. Unfortunately, these adjuvants can also cause aggressive tumors at the injection site. Do not assume that your vet is using non-adjuvanted vaccines – ask before you allow any vaccine to be given to your cat.
Previously, Merial’s Purevax Rabies vaccine was only approved for one year, but the drug maker just released a three-year version of this product. Since the antigen load of this new vaccine is higher than that of the one-year version, some veterinarians are proceeding with caution. “While Merial is an excellent company, and their Purevax 1-year vaccine has proven to be an indispensable part of feline practice, I will personally be holding off on using the 3-year Purevax product for now, except in specific cases such as TNR programs,” says feline veterinarian Fern Crist, DVM, a former board member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. “After two or three years, if the safety record is good, I will feel much more comfortable with it. We’ve seen so many vaccine-related problems in cats over the years – the lesson learned is that caution is both wise and prudent.”
December 2015 update: The 3-year-vaccine has been available for more than a year now, and the consensus among veterinarians who have used it appears to be that while there seems to be a slightly higher risk of a systemic reaction than with the 1-year product due to the higher antigen load, the amount of reactivity at the injection site does not appear to be any different. Some vets report a slightly higher incidence of injection site soreness and malaise for 24-48 hours following the injection as compared to the 1-year product. Given this new information, Dr. Crist is using the 3-year product. “At this juncture, I’m thinking that both the science and the anecdotal reports favor the 3-year vaccine.”
For, Dr. Lisa Pierson, the founder of Catinfo.org, a website featuring a wealth of information on feline health and nutrition, the choice is clear: “I will be using/recommending the PureVax 3-year product going forward.” Click here to read Dr. Pierson’s detailed explanation as to why she believes this is the right choice.
Educate yourself about the benefits and risks of vaccines, and discuss your cat’s vaccination needs with your veterinarian. All vaccination protocols should be tailored to each cat’s individual health and lifestyle needs. Less frequent vaccinations do not reduce the need for annual or bi-annual physical exams for all cats.