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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

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One of the many benefits of having an indoor only cat is fewer visits to the veterinarian. Unfortunately, some owners take this too far and think, if my cat stays indoors, I never have to see the vet unless she seems ill.

Preventative care is still very important, even if cats have limited or no exposure to other cats and the great outdoors. Today, let’s look at one aspect of preventative care — vaccination against rabies.

All cats should be current on their rabies vaccines. The only time I modify this recommendation is if a particular individual is so ill that vaccination in general makes no sense or she has had a severe allergic reaction to rabies vaccination in the past. I’m not talking about a little swelling and discomfort at the injection site here, but anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening condition. Even then, I only recommend against rabies vaccination if a cat’s risk is extremely low.

For outdoor cats, I would switch to a different type of rabies vaccine, pretreat with medications that reduce the risk of anaphylaxis, and keep the cat in the hospital for a few hours to closely monitor for adverse reactions.

Rabies is simply too serious of a disease to lightly recommend against vaccination. In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) received three times more reports of rabid cats than rabid dogs, and indoor cats can be exposed to the virus. Rabid animals behave bizarrely and do enter homes, or, more likely, an indoor cat can escape through an open door or window, bolt out of her owner’s arms or an improperly secured cat carrier, or slip out of a harness and leash.

The consequences for cats are severe even if you ignore the threat from the disease itself. If an unvaccinated pet has potentially come into contact with a rabid animal, the recommendation from the public health authorities will be euthanasia. The only way to avoid this is to agree to a strict quarantine that may last six months, or even longer. If an unvaccinated cat bites a person, a ten day quarantine will be mandated. The specifics of post-exposure rabies control are mandated by local jurisdictions and can vary depending on the prevalence of the disease in the area.

Some types of older rabies vaccines have been associated with an increased risk of a cat developing a deadly type of cancer at the injection site. In the past, this made recommending rabies vaccinations for extremely low risk cats (e.g., those living on the 45th floor of an apartment building) a more thorny call. Newer vaccines are much safer, however, and I believe that the benefits of vaccination now outweigh the risks even for these individuals.

Of course there are reasons other than rabies for healthy indoor cats to be seen by a veterinarian — physical exams, health screens, FVRCP vaccination, dental care and heartworm prevention to name a few. We’ll talk about some of these in future posts, I’m sure.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Pic of the day: Cat in the window by Ernst Vikne

 indoor cat, cat in window, vaccines for indoor cats, rabies risk for indoor cats, cat in wondow

Comments  14

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  • Bats
    08/01/2011 07:14am

    For me, bats are the biggest reason to vaccinate indoor cats. Bats frequently get inside buildings, can carry rabies, and can easily bite or be eaten by a cat without the owner knowing. One of my vet school classmates found her cat eating a bat in her apartment. Luckily the head was still present so she could have it tested... positive for rabies. Scary stuff. Boosters for all of her cats (they were all vaccinated, but got the booster to be safe) and for herself. Just think if the cat hadn't been vaccinated... your indoor cat doesn't always need to get out to get exposed, and a rabid animal in your home isn't always a raccoon or fox.

  • Indoor Kitties
    08/01/2011 07:15am

    If you saw my vet bills, you'd know that some indoor-only kitties have constant (overabundant?) vet visits. :-)

    I live in a older neighborhood and there is at least one news article a year about a rabid bat getting into someone's basement within a 5 mile radius.

    Luckily, none of my critters have ever had a vax reaction (knock on wood) and I'd never leave one in danger.

  • 08/01/2011 07:26am

    I only wish I could go back in time and stop my vet from overvaccinating my indoor only cats. They were given a 3 year rabies vaccine EVERY YEAR for 10 years. One of my kitties developed vaccine associated sarcoma and is fighting for her life. Her name is Chicken and this is her story:

    http://chickenthecat.wordpress.com

  • 08/01/2011 09:03am

    My mom just got done with a round of rabies shot because she didn't keep the bat that got into the bedroom (it was one of four that got in... or one really determined one).

    I live in an apartment with two cats and I also remind folks that it's just good to be neighborly and to not give your landlord any ammunition to be anti-feline. So mine are vaccinated. Rules tend to be different for apartment and condo dwellers than those in detached homes.

  • Rabies Vaccinations
    08/01/2011 01:07pm

    <>

    Can you be more specific in re exactly what "newer" rabies vaccines are safer, i.e., what should we be asking our vets to use.

    VAS, the deadly cancer you obliquely refer to, has a horrible prognosis, and while the incidence of VAS is relatively rare, it certainly isn't rare if your cat is the one who gets it.

  • 08/01/2011 02:50pm

    The "safer" rabies vaccine is a non-adjuvanted one such as Merial's Purevax. Unfortunately, though, there are cases of cats developing VAS from Purevax as well.

  • 08/01/2011 08:52pm

    Where have you seen statistics about sarcomas secondary to the administration of non-adjuvanted vaccines?

  • 08/02/2011 07:07am

    Right here from the AVMA VAS task force:
    http://www.avma.org/vafstf/apprstdys4.asp

  • 08/02/2011 07:24am

    Is that what you are asking or are you asking how I know cats have developed VAS from Merial's Purevax? If that is the question, Yahoo has a VAS group of which I am a part and there are owners on there who have cats who have developed cancer after Purevax. As I'm sure you know, reporting isn't mandatory.

  • 08/02/2011 09:56am

    I was hoping you had seen a study about VAS after the use of non-adjuvanted vaccines in cats. Anecdotal reports are hard to interpret.

  • 08/02/2011 02:02pm

    Who would do the study? Certainly not the vaccine companies. Vaccines are big business and are a great way to get pet owners to make yearly visits.

  • 08/02/2011 12:52pm

    Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I don't think PureVax would be considered "new". It's been around for some time, I think.

    I've been hearing about non-adjuvanted rabies vaccines for years. Is there something newer than PureVax?

    What I really don't understand is the apparent paucity of studies on the relationship between rabies vaccinations (all kinds, adjuvanted & non-adjuvanted) and VAS.

    It seems to me that fewer cat people would be reluctant to have their cats rabies-vaccinated if one or more real research studies indicated a significant reduction in VAS afflictions in cats who had received non-adjuvanted vaccines.

    So why is there such a scarcity of information on the subject? Who stands to gain by keeping this kind of research/information suppressed?

    (Color me "paranoid")

  • Self Serving Article
    08/02/2011 04:53pm

    You seem to be using scare tactics to make sure people vaccinate indoor cats. Profit for you and the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture these vaccines.
    Pet owners need to be properly educated on why to vaccinate and the possible reactions to vaccination. That there is a protocol for cat vaccines. FVRCP in the right shoulder, rabies in the right rear leg, and leukemia in the left rear leg. That they should NEVER allow their vet to vaccinate in the scruff. How about include what vaccination reactions look like, or the fact that these reactions can take days, months, and even years to occur. Maybe include the fact that the United States Federal Government protects pharmaceutical companies that manufacture these vaccines from any litigation, liability, or responsibility from harm caused by their vaccines.
    Sorry no disrespect intended just make sure you keep getting those consent forms signed and you will be ok!

  • darned if you do...
    08/02/2011 08:37pm

    I am really on the fence about what to suggest to people for vaccines. on one hand I've been fostering kittens for a local shelter for ten years and have seen kittens die of FELV and suffer pretty badly with calci and other URI that is preventable with FVRCP. Rabies is mandatory, but there is so little information about how effective and long lasting it is. My vet once told me his rabies vaccine lasted him ten years.. so why is the human vaccine so long lasting but the pet one not? Or is it but they just haven't done the studies so thus they do it annually just to be safe - and darn the consequences of VAS.. I mean rabies is a zooinotic disease, we must protect all humans.

    I too had a cat who had VAS. It killed me knowing that I did that to him. Granted my saving grace is that I could only do what I thought was best for him given the information I had on hand at the time.. and your attitude prevales with what I've come to understand out there, that VAS isn't really taken as a serious risk. How many times do you discuss what COULD happen with your patients? Have you told each and every one of them that VAS is an actual and real risk to each and every vaccine? Not only VAS, but other reactions as you referred to in your post? Do you warn the clients each time you give the vaccine? if not why not?

    There is a real feeling out there that if you forgo vaccines you are a bad pet owner. It is a shame that well educated people who have learned the risks of vaccines and the risks their pets have for the diseases these vaccines protect against are labled as kooks.

    Unfortunately I'm most likely going to be joining the land of the kooks. My cats were vaccinated annually (despite the most recent recommendation of every three years for FVRCP) because I blindly listened to my vet who said they were necessary. As a result one of my cats died and another had a severe annemic reaction that took months to fix. I'm willing to risk that maybe a bat might get into my house (it hasn't ever happened) and that maybe that bat might have rabies... considering the fact that rabies hasn't been found anywhere near me, I'm thinking the risk of them coming in contact with it is far far FAR smaller then another severe vaccine reaction.

    I wish someone would spend the money to do challenge studies, and get some serious numbers on the true rate of VAS. Dolittler recently did a post about the amount of vaccine and the rate of reaction. how smaller dogs have a problem that larger ones don't seem to. Since dog vaccines and cat vaccines are both 1cc, I would extrapolate that this is why so many cats have vaccine issues.

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