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Responsible Cat Owner Alert: AAFP Releases Updated Cat Vaccination Guidelines

Seven years after its earlier report suggested a more careful approach to cat vaccination, the new guidelines are even more conservative.

 |  Sep 16th 2013  |   69 Contributions


The American Association of Feline Practitioners released its latest vaccination guidelines in the September 2013 Journal of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery. Its prior report in 2006 recommended that only certain vaccines should be considered necessary for all cats and that a number of others should be given based on the cat’s lifestyle and general health.

In response to growing concerns about vaccine-associated sarcomas, it also suggested a protocol for the locations where vaccines should be given.

Dr. Lynel Tocci gives a kitten a vaccine during a veterinary screening as part of Continuing Promise 2011 in Tumaco, Colombia, June 6, 2011. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric C. Tretter. (Public domain)

Now, the AAFP’s Feline Vaccination Advisory Panel has new, and even more conservative, guidelines for cat vaccination.

The first surprise for me was that rabies has been removed from the core vaccine list, leaving only immunizations against three common feline respiratory diseases. However, the AAFP also states that rabies vaccination is essential in areas where the disease occurs frequently and must be given in places where it is required by law. I understand from conversations with veterinarians that a waiver for the rabies vaccination can be given under very specific circumstances.

The report also details specific vaccination guidelines for household pet cats, breeding cats in catteries, shelter cats, and cats in trap-neuter-return programs. Each of these is based on a cat’s risk of exposure to infectious diseases.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the panel has recommended a vaccine protocol for community cats in TNR programs. I didn't read the full 2006 report, so they may have done so at that time as well. Recognizing that community cats generally don’t have immunity to respiratory viruses, the panel recommends vaccinating against these illnesses and rabies (for public health reasons) at the time of surgery.

The panel has recommended some changes in the location of vaccine administration as well. In order to facilitate tumor removal if a vaccine produces a sarcoma, it suggests vaccinating even lower on the leg than in the 2006 guidelines. Respiratory virus vaccines should be given below the right elbow, rabies vaccines should be given below the knee of the right rear leg, and the FeLV vaccination should be given below the knee of the left rear leg. On the other hand, the panel says that vaccinations should absolutely not be given between the shoulders or on the upper legs and hips.

New vaccination areas are highlighted in green and areas not to vaccinate are highlighted in red. This is a variation on the illustration in the AAFP Vaccination Advisory Panel report. Photo Chartreux cat on black background by Shutterstock

The key takeaway of the new Vaccination Advisory Panel report is that veterinarians are realizing more than ever that a cat’s lifestyle should be carefully considered when developing a vaccination protocol and deciding which type of vaccine (modified live, killed or recombinant) should be used. Research is revealing that some vaccines have a longer duration of immunity than previously understood. Every cat has a different level of risk of exposure to contagious viral diseases.

Even if you and your vet decide your cat doesn’t need yearly vaccinations, please be sure to take him in for a checkup once a year -- or twice a year if he’s a senior kitty -- to ensure that you have many happy years together.

To read the abstract, the full report, and supplemental fact sheets, visit the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery website.

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their cat advice column, Paws and Effect, since 2003. JaneA dreams of making a great living out of her love for cats.

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