March 2009 Issue

When to Vaccinate Your Cat

Some inoculations are vitally necessary, but for most cats they should be kept to a minimum. Here's why.

During the past half-century, no fewer than 10 vaccines have been developed that, according to their manufacturers, can protect your cat against a wide variety of lethal feline diseases. In general, these claims of efficacy have been justified. According to Fred Scott, DVM, PhD, professor emeritus of virology at Cornell Universityís College of Veterinary Medicine and the founding director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, the vaccines have been responsible for "a tremendous improvement in feline health." He cites as a prime example the vaccine created to protect against the feline panleukopenia virus (FPV). "Prior to the late 1960s and early 1970s," says Dr. Scott, "half of all cats that passed through a shelter developed panleukopenia within a few days ó and as many as 90 percent of them died from it. Today, the FPV vaccine has totally controlled the disease in properly vaccinated cats. The only time you see it now is in unvaccinated feral or farm cats or those that are in shelters, but that is rare." However, he points out, there are several reasons why owners should refrain from having their cats inoculated annually with every available vaccine. For example, it is remotely possible for a vaccine to damage a developing fetus or stimulate an allergic reaction. And of growing concern is the development of vaccine-associated sarcoma ó a type of cancer that, for unknown reasons, emerges at the site on a catís body where a vaccine has been injected. Furthermore, research has brought into question the need for all cats to be routinely revaccinated with all available vaccines every year throughout their lives. Certain laboratory tests may reveal that, as the result of a previous vaccination or natural exposure to an infectious agent, the antibody levels in a catís blood remain high enough to protect it against a specific virus or bacterium. In that case, the animal would be protected against disease associated with that infectious agent and a booster shot would be unnecessary.

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