How safe is the rabies vaccine for cats?

How safe is the rabies vaccine for cats? The answer is complicated but I will try and reduce it to a simple, sad story today. You have to be a bit cynical about cat vaccinations these days because the more you read about them the more you see the inherent dangers in them. The big issue is over-vaccinating cats and how that can damage their health. Remember, vaccinations are about risk and reward.

Vaccination Necessary?
Vaccination Necessary?
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Before I start, I will remind myself that in the USA, state and city statutes establish the requirements for rabies vaccinations. In other words rabies is such a serious illness that the law requires that cats are vaccinated against it. At the base of this page I set out briefly the recommendations for rabies vaccinations in the US.

Tigger’s Story

This is a story about Tigger. He was two years old at the time. He is a rescue cat. It is presumed that he may have received a rabies vaccination at the rescue centre from which he was adopted but this is unclear in the story.

Tigger’s owner, Ms L, is unsure whether he was vaccinated when very young at the rescue centre but he certainly was vaccinated by a veterinarian when he was placed in a veterinarian run boarding cattery. It is unclear why the vet carried out the vaccination without checking whether Tigger had had one earlier. In short this lax approach may have resulted in Tigger being over-vaccinated.

The consequences of the rabies vaccination were catastrophic. It almost killed Tigger. He was ill, highly anaemic, for a year and he almost died on two occasions.

What had happened was the rabies vaccination had prompted an autoimmune response in which Tigger’s white blood cells attacked his red blood cells causing him to be catastrophically anaemic – the white cells were killing the red ones until the red blood cell count was horrendously low. For a year, Tigger suffered from severe anaemia.

Other symptoms were thirst, jaundice, a craving for indigestible objects (pica) and an eruption of red blisters on his skin between the eyes and ears.. [note: vaccinations can also cause cancer at the site].

He saw three vets and the third, as I understand it, administered a cure which was a single dose of sulphur 30C (you can buy it on Amazon!). This completely cured him and he was back to normal to a state that his owner had not seen in him in for a year. He was jumping around again as normal. A blood transfusion was unnecessary.

cat vaccinations
The balance of risk

The story really is about the dangers of the rabies vaccine. It is also about whether a cat needs a booster rabies vaccination because it is argued that one vaccination will last a lifetime. There might be different rules regarding boosters between humans and cats. Not infrequently there are different standards between humans and cats on similar health issues.

This leads us to discuss, very briefly, the law and veterinarians’ recommendations. People should check the law themselves in the state or county where they live. However, there are three types of rabies vaccines. And the way they are used varies depending on the type of vaccine. There is a recombinant, nonadjuvanted canary pox vectored, and killed adjuvanted. All three are injectable.

The recommendation is that kittens receive a single dose of killed or recombinant rabies vaccine at eight or 12 weeks of age depending on the vaccine. Adult cats with an unknown vaccination history should also receive a single dose of killed or recombinant rabies vaccine. For the recombinant vaccines, boosters are recommended annually. For the killed rabies vaccines, a booster is required at one year and thereafter three years using a vaccine approved for three-year administration. I have quoted directly in parts from a renowned book on feline health care for the sake of clarity and certainty.

As I read the recommendations, it would seem that they could if followed have caused the severe illness suffered by Tigger in the story above. Therefore, there may be an issue concerning the law regarding rabies vaccinations and whether they should be amended and whether veterinarians should be more amenable to vaccinating less often provided they stay within the law.

The source for recommendations: Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook.

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

17 thoughts on “How safe is the rabies vaccine for cats?”

  1. I disagree there is no evidence of autoimmune disease associated with vaccines in animals. Adverse effects for vaccines are usually only reported as an event that happens within the first 24 hours. While the vaccine itself does not remain in the body the ones that use an adjuvant leave a lifetime residue. Your puppy or kitten is not vaccinated with their long term health considered. Rabies is by law in the US. It should be illegal therefore to use vaccines that contain known harmful substances.
    If veterinarians were truthful about the possible side effects and the LONG TERM side effects pet owners would refuse to vaccinate.
    The slimy vet that lied about what vaccine she gave Kitten an 11 year old cat after a half hour phone consult before bringing her in I believed then as now is the reason Kitten ended up with her first and only URI. Which led to the same vet overdosing her with enrofloxacin which in my opinion the combination led to her liver failure. And ultimately to her being euthanized.

    • So horrible, ME.
      What a nightmare.
      I’m so sorry that happened to Kitten. I presume that she was named Kitten because you first had her as a kit.
      That breaks my heart.
      Sadly, most vets are in the business of money making. Just like the medical profession, they’ve lost sight of their pledges.

  2. My cats are indoor only and are ferals, strays or giveaways. Since I don’t know their history, they are given 1 rabies shot and then 1 set of FVRCP. They are NOT given any more. The furkids live into old are and beyond. I have seen what vaccinations can do to both cats and dogs and I think there must be a lot more investigation into these shots. Tawnnie is now 16 years old, and the rest are mere youngsters at 4-10 years. Biggie was in her 20’s and Avalanche 15 when he passed, but he had asthma, valley fever and thyroid problems. They are all healthy and mostly happy (except for a few growls and hisses when one will take
    another’s spot)

  3. If animal control comes into your home and demands to see the rabies records and you can’t prove your animal has been vaccinated there’s a $500 fine per animal in SC.

    • Wow. I can see the advantage of strict enforcement though. It has controlled rabies in the USA. It is just that the vaccination maybe more dangerous than vets etc. tell us.

    • Exactly, Elisa. Thank you.
      Those AC idiots have the right to ask for vaccination records at any time. They can even knock on your door and be very demanding.
      The fines are hefty indeed.
      All that is needed is a neighbor complaint of any kind about your cat. You’ll be doomed if you have no records. Your fine will be assessed as far back as when they had a last vaccine. If none, it’s “goodbye pocketbook”.
      I agree that a 3 year rabies vaccine is far too risky as far as cat cancer is concerned. All cats in my world are vaccinated yearly. That means a whole lot of work for me to trap and take in nearly 100 cats from colonies to get their yearly vaccines. It’s exhausting and takes me months.
      But, that is the law and we have no choice but to comply.

    • There’s a way to cover ourselves, so we have the proper records to show. It means thinking out of the box. But I can’t advise on the specifics. Also, you can ask your vet to excuse your cat because of vulnerabilities. My cat’s immune system is down because of receiving so many antibiotics during this past year for various things. I would never allow her to be vaccinated. I’ll take my chances that she’ll get bit by a bat.

  4. Recombinant and canary pox vectored vaccine is one and the same – Merial Purevax Rabies. Canary Pox non-adjuvanted vaccine is produced using recombinant technology.

    However, one thing worth mentioning is there are 3- and 1- year varieties of Rabies vaccines. Adjuvanted vaccine is valid for 3-years, there used to be a version licensed for one year, but it’s the same vaccine.

    Merial Purevax (non-adjuvanted, recombinant, canary pox vectored) exists in 1- and 3- year versions, but as 3-year old vaccine was approved only 2 years ago and is expensive, very few vets are carrying it.

    Incidentally, there is no evidence that vaccines cause auto-immune diseases, but there is a risk of Feline Injection Site Sarcoma, which is something that you should’ve mentioned probably.

      • Thanks. I am neither, just an informed cat owner. Reading vet websites, blogs, etc. skeptvet is one blog I used to read, this is where I found out about the 3-year Purevax, when he replied to one of my comments. I asked why hasn’t it been approved yet, and he or she replied that it was and referenced Merial press release, also said that (s)he is using it. There was pretty interesting discussion there at the time with some vets commenting, it was a couple of years ago. You can learn a lot by reading vets’ discussions. E.g. that the cost of 3-year Purevax is a major issue as it’s priced at over 3 times the regular one, and sold in batches of either 12 or 24 (I don’t remember) so many vet practices don’t buy it because they don’t think enough people will be interested. Then some vets don’t like 3-year vaccines because they think people wouldn’t come every year for checkup. I commented then that it’s unethical. One vet had a major issue with it too.

        I also read some other websites e.g. AAFP, Cornell, some websites vet use such as vet handbook or something like it. Research papers as well if I find them when looking for something – sometimes they are difficult to read, but often just reading abstract and conclusion is enough, also scanning the rest of it. I ignore all websites when someone sells something; sometimes I prefer articles that vet write for other vets. This one is a good description of FISS though it was published before 3-year Purevax became available — notice that he says other injections e.g. steroids and antibiotics can also cause FISS. In another article, someone even mentioned that unless there is a real need why antibiotic injection is needed as opposed to pills, choose pills:

        I do the same with human medicine by the way. I also never confuse being informed which is what I am with being an expert which is what vets and doctors are. But it always helps to know more.

  5. I have always believed that animals exposed to certain diseases should be properly vaccinated. My indoor Main Coons are not given unnecessary shots. Just my way.

    Eva-Note: this is one opinion only based on the circumstances my cats live under as they are watched and well cared for. Also-all of them are over ten years in age, and have autoimmune issues from early vacs [ without my permission] by a veterinarian clinic.

    • While I agree with not giving unnecessary shots, you don’t know if your cats’ autoimmune diseases had anything to do with vaccinations. As it’s been years since they were given vaccinations, it’s unlikely. There are no studies that linked vaccinations in cats with auto-immune problems. I’d be more worried about FISS – Feline Injection Site Sarcoma.


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