Your veterinarian has just completed his or her physical examination and declared your newly adopted feline family member to be in good health. The conversation about vaccination guidelines is now sure to follow. If you, like many cat owners, are concerned about the potential for a cancer that has been associated with vaccination, be prepared to have this conversation with your veterinarian. Familiarize yourself with which vaccines are necessary for your cat to limit the number of vaccines to which she is exposed, and find out what changes in vaccination protocols veterinarians are following to reduce this cancer risk.
Sarcomas Spark Concern
During the late 1980s, veterinarians observed a surge in diagnosed vaccine site sarcomas, which are highly aggressive, malignant tumors that claimed the lives of numerous cats. These cases cast vaccination apprehension into the spotlight for many concerned cat owners, who may now be inclined to forgo their cat's protection against infectious diseases altogether. The number of cats that developed vaccine site sarcomas was, at the highest, one out of every 10,000 cats that received vaccines. While this figure is low, the prognosis for cats that are affected is devastating for owners. Since that time, research has been conducted and steps have been taken to reduce the incidence of vaccine site sarcomas. Be sure that your veterinarian follows these precautionary measures.
Individual Patient Assessment
One way of decreasing the risk for sarcoma is to avoid administering more vaccines than your cat's disease risks warrant. Gone are the days of administering all available vaccines to every feline patient that enters every veterinarian's clinic. In accordance with the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), all cats should be current on certain core vaccines, including the following:
- FVRCP, which protects cats against panleukopenia, calicivirus and feline herpes virus, all of which are life-threatening diseases
- Rabies, which is a fatal and zoonotic disease
FeLV, which offers protection against feline leukemia, and other vaccines are considered noncore vaccines and are only administered to cats based upon their risks for exposure to the diseases. At each annual wellness examination, your veterinarian will review your cat's medical history and ask you questions about your cat's lifestyle. Once your cat's level of risk for exposure to disease is assessed, your veterinarian will tailor a vaccination protocol to provide your cat with the protection that she needs and keep her risk of sarcoma development as low as possible. Fewer vaccines mean fewer injected substances into your cat's body to cause potential problems, including sarcoma.
Triennial Vaccination Schedules
Also gone are the days when all vaccine boosters were administered every year. This means that over her lifetime, your cat will receive fewer vaccine injections that could potentially result in sarcomas. Once your kitten completes her vaccination series that provides an optimal level of immunity, she will require boosters one year later. The AAFP recommends that future FVRCP boosters should be administered triennially in light of the fact that immunity endures for at least three years. While the AAFP recommends the same schedule for the rabies vaccine booster, veterinarians are bound to follow state laws regarding rabies vaccination protocols. In some states, rabies vaccines must be administered on an annual basis. In states where a three-year protocol is on the books, veterinarians can now administer all core vaccines to their feline patients less frequently than they did years ago, thus lessening the number of vaccines that can incite a potential sarcoma development in your cat.
Risk a Limb, Spare a Cat's Life
Another change in vaccination protocols rests in where each vaccine is administered. Vaccines were once all injected into the area between the shoulder blades. Once concerns about vaccine site sarcomas came to light, each vaccine thereafter was injected into specified areas on the cat's body to better track which vaccine led to these sarcomas. Today, many veterinarians are opting to administer vaccines in these designated quadrants on the cat's body, but they are injecting the vaccines into legs and even tails. The thought process is that if a sarcoma develops, an affected limb can be amputated, sparing the cat's life and eliminating growth recurrence of the aggressive tumor.
Adjuvants are chemical additives that are included in many vaccines to enhance their efficacy. These adjuvants are being scrutinized as a possible link to the development of vaccine site sarcomas in cats. In response, a couple of pharmaceutical companies have introduced product lines of nonadjuvant vaccines for cats. Ask your veterinarian if he or she uses these vaccines in his or her feline patients.
Are pet vaccines now free of risk? All vaccines, and most injections and medications, have the potential for side effects and allergic reactions. However, when it comes to reducing the risks for vaccine site sarcomas, vaccinating your cat is safer now than ever, and the benefits that core vaccines provide outweigh the risks of opting out of vaccination.