Let's Talk: Where Do You Stand in the Great Vaccine Debate?

I just got The Postcard from my vet. You know the one: Your cat is due for her vaccinations. In my case, it was a...

 |  Jan 11th 2012  |   202 Contributions


I just got The Postcard from my vet. You know the one: Your cat is due for her vaccinations. In my case, it was a reminder that my sweet baby girl, Dahlia, is due for her viral respiratory infection (FVRCP) booster. Dahlia enjoys trips to the vet about as much as I enjoy a "girly exam," which is to say not at all, but I'll take her in just the same.

Why?About eight years ago, I started reading books from reputable veterinarians in which they discussed the tragic consequences of overvaccination, including cancers at the injection site and other horrific outcomes. But I didn't take that knowledge and say, "I'm never, ever going to get my cats vaccinated again!" Instead, I talked with my vet and discussed my concerns about whether my cats really needed their shots every year. She agreed with me that the risks of overvaccination outweigh the benefits of protection against disease, and we worked together to design a lifestyle-appropriate vaccination schedule for my cats.

This was long before the American Association of Feline Practitioners developed its vaccination protocol, which was designed to provide maximum disease protection and minimize the risks of side effects.

Chicken the cat, shortly after surgery to remove a vaccine-associated sarcoma.

I've read well-researched articles saying that vaccines confer much better, and longer-lasting, protection than we're told, and that it's pointless to vaccinate cats even every three years. Besides, the risk of vaccine-associated sarcomas (VAS) and their grim consequences can't be overstated. Chicken, the cat you see in this photo, had surgery in 2010 to remove a massive VAS, and she still had to undergo chemo and radiation treatments to get the rest of the cancer. Read her story here.

Some vets argue that the vaccination reminder is the only way they'll get their clients to bring their cats in for a checkup. To some extent, this is probably true: a recent study concluded that cats' wellness care is sadly neglected in comparison to that of dogs.

My cats get annual checkups even when they're not due for shots. And honestly, I wish I could feel okay about not giving my cats any more vaccinations. On the one hand, I agree with veterinarian Dr. Lisa Pierson that cats' immune systems are not any stupider than ours, and if we don't need to get measles shots and tetanus shots every year, why do our cats need to get boosters every year for conditions that affect their health?

My oldest cat, Siouxsie, is 15 now, and I'm concerned about the potential dangers of stressing her immune system with vaccinations. I don't want her to get sick from something designed to keep her healthy. This is actually a subject I'm going to discuss with my vet the next time I visit.

On the other hand, I know that rabies is a very real threat where I live, and that even indoor-only cats can be exposed. I've certainly had more than my fair share of bats flying through my windows in the wee hours. I know that respiratory viruses can kill cats: my Thomas almost died from a URI while he was in the shelter. I know that probably 5 percent of the outdoor cats in my area are FeLV-positive, and I've seen cats dying from FeLV: it's gruesome, and it's nothing I want to risk for my cats.

What we all need to understand is that, as Pierson wrote, "It's very important to understand that no vaccine is 100 percent safe. However, it's also very important to understand that vaccines save lives, and there can be no debating that fact."

After all was said and done, my vet and I agreed that it was appropriate for my cats to receive rabies vaccinations (required by state law) and FVRCP boosters every three years. When I lived on the farm and they went outdoors, they also got FeLV vaccinations because feline leukemia is a problem in the area where I lived, but now that they're indoor-only kitties, that's no longer necessary.

Now I want to hear from you. How often do you vaccinate your cats, and what for? Have you talked with your vet about a vaccine schedule tailored for your cat's lifestyle? Have you been able to argue a case for nonvaccination, and what do you do to ensure that your cats remain immune from viral diseases? What else do you want to say on the subject? Write a comment and sound off!

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