Cats are susceptible to a number of infectious diseases, ranging from upper respiratory disease to Feline Leukemia (FeLV0, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), panleukopenia, toxoplasmosis and rabies. Some of these are preventable, and most veterinarians, boarding and grooming facilities require cats to be current on vaccinations. However, no vaccine is 100% effective, and regardless of a cat’s vaccination status, scrupulously clean facilities and a staff trained to understand disease transmission protocols are a must to prevent disease transmission.Continue Reading
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.Continue Reading
The information in this post is not a substitute for medical care. If you have been bitten by a cat, see your doctor or visit an urgent care facility. We cannot answer questions about whether your bite needs medical attention in the comments section.
It can happen even with the most loving, docile cat: an overexcited cat nips her guardian while playing, or accidentally bites her guardian’s finger while accepting a treat. In more extreme cases, redirected aggression can cause a cat to lash out at her guardian and cause severe damage. And of course, most of us will pet stray cats we meet along the way, but not all seemingly friendly cats remain friendly after being approached by strangers. Regardless of how a cat bite happens, it is not something to take lightly.
Why cat bites can be dangerous
Cat bites only account for 10-15% of animal bites reported by emergency rooms, but they pose a much greater risk of infection. Continue Reading
Guest post by W. Jean Dodds, DVM
Jeannie recently adopted a three-year-old cat from her local shelter. Determined to give her new friend a healthy life, she decided not to have him vaccinated every year. She’d heard that vaccine titers were a good alternative to annual boosters, so she found a veterinarian who offers this option and asked him for more information.
Compelling evidence implicates vaccines in triggering various immune-mediated and other chronic disorders (vaccinosis). In cats, for example, aggressive tumors called fibrosarcomas can occasionally arise at the site of vaccination. While some of these problems have been traced to contaminated or poorly attenuated batches of vaccine that revert to virulence, others apparently reflect a genetic predisposition in an animal to react adversely when given the single (monovalent) or multiple antigen “combo” (polyvalent) products routinely administered to animals. Certain susceptible breeds or families of animal appear to be at increased risk for severe and lingering adverse vaccine reactions.Continue Reading
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.
In this second installment in our Adventures in Veterinary Medicine series, meet Diesel. Diesel was brought into the animal hospital by a client who had found him by the side of the road, barely breathing and clearly in pain. His long black and white coat was matted, and he was covered in gasoline and motor oil. The fumes coming off of him were enough to warrant wearing a gas mask – and yes, you guessed it, that’s how he got his name. Veterinary clinic staff members sometimes have a warped sense of humor when it comes to naming strays.
When our veterinarian examined him, it turned out that he had a broken pelvis, and multiple contusions. They gave him pain medication, and then the staff went to work with a mild detergent, washing the gas and oil off of him. Diesel was patient and didn’t resist any of these treatments, he simply seemed relieved that his ordeal by the side of the road was over. He was set up in a cage with a soft blanket, plenty of food and a warming lamp. Once his fur had dried from the bath he was given, he got a gentle brushing. The cat underneath all that gasoline and motor oil was a beauty. He was a bit emaciated and had clearly been living outdoors fending for himself, but he had a loving and affectionate disposition, which made us believe that at some point, he may have been someone’s pet. His wonderful personality got him plenty of attention, petting, and being fussed over by everyone on the staff while he was recuperating. The type of pelvic fracture he had did not require surgery, he simply needed to be kept quiet to allow the bones to heal naturally, and he received supportive care during his recovery. No owner came forward to claim him during this time, so after a couple of weeks, he went to Casey’s House – coincidentally, the same private rescue group where Buckley came from. Given Diesel’s personality, we didn’t think it would take long for him to be adopted.
A few days after he went to Casey’s House, Diesel began to develop some disturbing neurological symptoms, so he was brought back to our animal hospital for observation and care. Since he initially came to the hospital covered in gasoline and motor oil, there was certainly the possibility that absorbing these toxic chemicals through his skin could have caused these symptoms. However, since his vaccine history was unknown and he had clearly been a stray, rabies could not be ruled out.
Rabies is zoonotic, which means it can be transmitted from animals to humans. The only way rabies can be diagnosed with 100% certainty is through a dFA test on the animal’s brain tissue, and for this, the animal has to be euthanized. The thought of euthanizing a beautiful cat like Diesel without being sure that he really had rabies was emotionally challenging for all of us, but we also had to think of the risk to the humans who had come into contact with him. Rabies is transmitted by the saliva of an infected animal, and contact with even a minor skin wound on a human can present a risk. Rabies, once contracted, is always fatal if prophylactic injections are not started within 24-48 hours after infection. Our hospital had a policy that only staff who was vaccinated against rabies could handle the occasional injured wildlife that was brought into our clinic, but we had not enforced this policy for stray cats, even though in hindsight, we should have. Almost everyone on our staff had at some point petted and touched Diesel, whether they had been vaccinated or not.
The thought of euthanizing this beautiful cat if there was even a chance that he could recover was devastating. Thankfully, Diesel made the decision easy for us. He declined so rapidly, and it was clear that he was suffering, so euthanasia was not only the right thing to do for the humans involved, but also for him. His rabies test came back positive. Almost twenty staff members had to undergo a series of rabies vaccinations.
This story will always stick with me not because it was a hospital manager’s worst nightmare – making sure that everyone who came into contact with Diesel was identified and appraised of the risk and the need to get the series of injections, reassuring scared and worried employees, arranging for the health department to schedule the injections for our staff, dealing with the insurance companies involved – but also, because of Diesel. Even though he had contracted this horrible disease in addition to being hit by a car, at least, thanks to the good Samaritan who brought him to our clinic, he was loved and cared for during the last few weeks of his life, even if it was at a veterinary hospital. And in the end, he did not have to die alone.