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The Vaccination Conundrum
Vaccines Not Normally Recommended
 More of this Feature
• Part 1: How Do Vaccines Work?
 Join the Discussion
"Texas veterinarian is frustrated by over-vaccination of cats."
 Related Resources
• Vaccinations Concerns Resources
• Cancer in Cats
 From Other Guides
• Rabies Q&A (Vet Medicine)
 Elsewhere on the Web
• Feline Leukemia Virus
• Vaccine Site Recommendations
• Feline Vaccines: Benefits and Risks

The following vaccinations are only recommended in certain instances by the AAFP:

  • Chlamydiosis
    Because adverse reactions to the Chlamydia vaccine happen more frequently than adverse reactions to the disease, and because the vaccine does not prevent clinical infection, but just from severe symptoms, this vaccine is not routinely recommended. Households with multiple cats, catteries, or other environments where infections associated with Chlamydiosis have been confirmed, may consider this vaccine after consultation with a veterinarian. If deemed appropriate, annual revaccination is recommended.
  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
    The use of this vaccine has been controversial. The AAFP Guidelines indicate that, currently lacking sufficient proof that the vaccine induces clinically relevant protection, its use is not recommended.
  • Bordetella
    More commonly found in dogs, Bordetella (kennel cough) is found in shelters and other multiple-cat environments. The recently-approved vaccine has not yet been thoroughly tested as to the duration of its protection, and it it not recommended for routine use, although exceptions may be made for multiple-cat environments.
  • Gardiasis
    Another recently approved vaccine is not yet recommended for routine use by the AAFP, except where exposure is clinically significant, e.g. multiple-cat environments.

Other Vaccination Exceptions

  • Sick cats, cats with chronic disease and/or weakened immune systems should probably not be vaccinated.
  • Consult with your veterinarian before vaccinating a cat receiving cortisone therapy.
  • Geriatric cats (10 years +) generally do not need booster vaccinations.
  • Vaccinations are not recommended for kittens under six weeks, except in extreme situations (orphaned kittens, or kittens in a high-risk environment.
  • Some vaccines are believed to cause stillbirths in pregnant queens.

What About Vaccine-Related Sarcoma?
Much has been published about vaccine-related sarcoma recently, particularly on the Internet. This anomaly usually occurs resultant from the rabies or more often the FeLV vaccines given. Dr.Greg Ogilvie of Colorado State University, in a lecture on vaccine induced fibrosarcomas in cats, explained a possible link with the use of aluminum in certain vaccines. Dr Ogilvie also mentioned that there is some evidence that a cat must have a genetic predisposition to develop a tumor, which may account for the rarity of the incidence (3 in 10,000 to 1 in 1,000 cats). Because of the difficulty in establishing a clear relationship, the in 1996, the AVMA created the Vaccine-Associated Feline Sarcoma Task Force to study the true scope of the problem, the exact cause, and most effective treatment of vaccine-related sarcomas. Their findings have now been posted, and can be read in the last two links in the sidebar.

FeLV Vaccine  Because of the seriousness of this always fatal disease, and because the FeLV vaccine also carries risks of VAS, special guidelines have been issued for this vaccine. The disease is transmitted through saliva and nasal secretions, by biting, sharing food dishes, and other close contact. All cats should be tested for this disease at least once during their lives, and at any other time when they might have had contact with an infected cat. New cats to a household must always be tested prior to introduction to the environment. All cats with a positive ELISA screening test should be segregated from other cats.

The vaccine is not recommended routinely, but is recommended for all indoor-outdoor cats, and any other cats deemed "at risk." In those cases, it should be given annually, according to the AAFP guidelines. In addition, because of the risk of vaccine-related sarcoma, special vaccination site guidelines have been issued for all recommended vaccines:
Rabies:  In the right rear leg
FeLV:  Left rear leg
Panleukopenia, feline herpesvirus I, feline calicivirus (or 3-way):   Right fore region (shoulder)
The reasoning behind this, unpleasant as it may sound, is that a VAS tumor on the leg can be treated by amputation, allowing cats can survive. Cats are wonderfully adaptive, and usually adjust quite quickly to navigating on three legs.

Fears about the possibility of vaccine-induced tumors have led many cat owners, particularly breeders, to refuse the FeLV vaccine for their cats. Presently there is no USDA standard for FeLV vaccines, therefore rating the effectiveness of the vaccines is difficult. Many veterinarians estimate the effectiveness to be between 75-85%, which lends some cat owners a reason to deny the vaccine. Personally, I'd rather risk the one in 1,000 chances of vaccine-related sarcoma against the 25% risk that the FeLV vaccination would not work. FeLV is such a deadly disease, so easily transmissable, that I would not want to put my cats' lives up against a statistical roulette wheel.

However, since my cats are considered "at risk," because the oldest one is still an indoors-outdoors kitty, the decision was an easy one for me and my veterinarian. People with entirely indoors cats may want to strongly consider eliminating this vaccination, after discussing the pros and cons with their own veterinarian, but testing should be done any time their cats come in contact with other "suspect" cats.

Multivalent Vaccines

Traditionally, kittens have been given a "3-way vaccine," which contains agents against feline calicivirus, herpesvirus and feline panleukopenia (FRCP), all given in one "shot." These are considered "core" vaccines, and are essential for all cats. A 4-way vaccine, adding Chlamydia is also available, for cats at risk of contracting the latter (primarily show cats.) However, the latest guidelines from the American Association of Feline Practitioners approves only the 3-way vaccine multivalent vaccination, since it is believed by many that combining too many agents in one injection can stress the immune system.

Indeed, controversy over multivalent vaccines is often almost as heated as the discussions over whether in fact to vaccinate or not. The VAFSTF encourages the use of vaccines packaged in single-dose vials. On the other hand, a veterinarian with 28 years practice with small animals offers,

"Not a single person I queried would offer any irrefutable evidence that the multivalent vaccines actually harmed pets. There are stories, there are opinions, there are theories, there is conjecture ... even suggestions that veterinarians are knowingly using all those vaccines to further their financial gains! (On this point, you should know that giving a pet a single dose of a single vaccine, then giving subsequent single dose vaccines for different diseases spread out over a period of time could be more expensive for the pet owner and more revenue for the veterinarian than giving a multivalent vaccine.)"
Dr. T.J.Dunne, Jr., Vaccinations...Too Many, Too Often?
Since even the medical experts disagree, it is difficult for a lay person to seize upon the right answers for his or her own cat. Indeed, the summation of the VAFSTF mentions, "Vaccination should be viewed as a medical, rather than a routine, procedure. However, the profession lacks sufficient data to accurately assess the relative risk of administering a particular vaccine or antigen to an individual cat."

Decision Time
Before making any decision regarding the withholding of recommended vaccinations, it is suggested you do your homework. Don't use this article or any other single article as the basis for a decision, but read as many varying opinions as you can find. This article is not intended to definitively answer any questions, but to stimulate the reader into doing his or her own research. There is much more to be learned about vaccination pros and cons and I have only touched the tip of the iceberg.

The bottom line, as alway, is that these are issues you should discuss with your own veterinarian in deciding which vaccinations your cat needs and how often. Every household varies, and the decision is a very personal one, to be made in an informed manner rather than as a result of rumors and panic. In any case, if you and your veterinarian agree to forgo the annual vaccination scheme, make sure you still take your cat in at least once a year for a well-cat check-up and for needed dental cleaning, along with titer-checking, if that's in the plan.

Resources and Recommended Reading

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