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.
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.
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.
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.