vaccine reactions

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.Continue Reading

Tail Vaccinations May Facilitate Cancer Treatment in Cats

tail_vaccinations

When administering vaccinations to cats, most veterinarians give the injections below the elbow or knee joint in the leg, as recommended by the American Association of Feline Practitioners most recent guidelines. However, a recent study suggests that the tip of a cat’s tail appears to be as effective as vaccines at traditional sites.

Why inject vaccines into the tail?

The study was motivated by 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.

Typical treatment of these tumors is aggressive surgery. Since these tumors often infiltrate surrounding tissue, surgeons need to excise the tumor with a wide margin. This frequently means that the leg will need to be amputated. As a result, many cat guardians don’t pursue treatment, since this kind of extensive surgery is disfiguring, painful, and often very expensive. Injection into the tip of the tail would reduce the trauma of live saving surgery for cats who develop vaccine-induced cancers.

The study

Sixty cats were enrolled in the study. Thirty-one received vaccines in a hind leg below the knee and 20 received the same vaccines toward the back end of the tail. The researchers used a six-point scale (1 = no reaction, 6 = injection not possible) to assess the way in which the cats reacted to being vaccinated. They found “no significant differences” in the cats’ reactions to receiving injections in the tail versus the leg.

The researchers also collected blood samples from the cats to ensure that tail vaccination stimulated a good immune response.

What does it mean for your cat?

While some vets may begin tail vaccinations, it is doubtful that the veterinary community as a whole will jump on this bandwagon immediately. The study was only a pilot study and not a new recommendation for vaccine sites, as much of the media coverage would suggest.

The best vaccine plan for your cat will result from a thorough discussion with your veterinarian, taking your cat’s lifestyle and history into account, and assessing the the risks and benefits of vaccination, so you can make an informed choice for your cat.

The bigger picture

Veterinarians should be far more concerned about the high incidence of these cancers, than about the injection site itself. While vaccinations protect against disease, the emphasis should be put on avoiding adjuvanted vaccines. Adjuvants are substances added to a vaccine to enhance the immune system’s reaction, and studies suggest that they are responsible for the formation of tumors.

Reducing the frequency of vaccinations, and recommending titer testing as an alternative, should also be considered. Studies conducted at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine have shown that immunity for some vaccines last seven years or longer, which suggests that even the more conservative vaccine protocols recommended by major veterinary organizations are still too frequent.

At this point, there are a lot of unanswered questions. Not enough cats have been vaccinated in the tail to really know whether this will truly reduce the incidence of injection-site sarcomas, and additionally, these cancers can take years to develop. But if your cat’s veterinarian starts vaccinating your cat in her tail, you will know why.

This article was previously published on Answers.com and is republished with permission.

Injection-site Sarcomas in Cats

feline_injection_site_sarcomas

An injection-site sarcoma is a tumor of the connective tissues in the cat. These tumors are often called fibrosarcomas, and are most frequently located between the shoulder blades, in the hip region, and in the back legs. They are most often associated with inactive killed rabies or feline leukemia vaccines, or with multiple vaccines given at the same time, but they can also be caused by other injections such as steroids. They have even been associated with microchips. 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.

Diagnosis

The first step toward diagnosis is a fine needle aspirate of the lump. Your cat’s veterinarian will insert a small needle directly into the tumor and extract cells. This is an inexpensive and minimally invasive test, but unfortunately, it is also not very accurate and can lead to a high rate of false negative results. In most cases, a surgical biopsy will be necessaryContinue Reading

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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