Cat rabies vaccination risks and how to minimize them

Because there are dangers associated with vaccinations and particularly so with respect to the rabies vaccine (it appears), cat caretakers in association with their veterinarian have an obligation to minimize the risks.  This page discusses the risks and how to minimize them.

Cat injured by rabies vaccine
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Photo and words: Dr Lisa Pierson DVM

No vaccine, and it doesn’t matter whether the vaccine contains an adjuvant or not, is to be given in the conventional site namely between the shoulder blades (the scruff of the neck). Vaccination should be given on the hind limb as low as possible (Dr Pierson DVM of That may be an extreme view borne out of bad experiences. What are your experiences? In the UK, vets routinely vaccinate in the scruff of the neck but rabies vaccinations are nor t required.

USA: State-by-state Rules

We know that in America, it is obligatory under the law to vaccinate cats for rabies in some areas of the country.  Many states insist that only veterinarians administer the vaccine.  In other states technicians can do it but under supervision.  The interval between vaccinations varies from state to state. Intervals are important in risk reduction.

If you click on this link, you’ll be taken to a list which sets out, on a state-by-state basis, who may administer the vaccination, the specified exemptions and the frequency of rabies vaccinations. It comes from the AVMA. Thank you.

Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important


Importantly, in some states, administrations are beginning to allow exemptions to rabies vaccination requirements if it is deemed necessary, as advised by a vet.

A veterinarian may deem it necessary to avoid the rabies vaccination if a cat has “significant health issues”. Only healthy cats should receive vaccines and I presume that applies to all vaccines. Vaccinations can stress the cat and bring on low-level illnesses and make them worse. However, waivers to the rabies vaccination are rarely issued.

If a cat is not rabies vaccinated, he needs to be indoors at all times and the cat’s guardian should ensure that there is no possibility of a bat entering the home. Bats are the primary rabies carrier.

In my opinion, the most valued advice on this topic comes from Dr Lisa A Pierson, DVM.  This is because she is knowledgeable, sensible, intelligent and, importantly, I believe, objective in her advice.

Adjuvants and Intervals between rabies vaccinations

The first important point that she makes is that, for any vaccination, she would not allow her cats to be injected with a vaccine that contains an adjuvant.  Adjuvants are added to the vaccine with the specific intention of causing inflammation at the site of the vaccine.  In this way, the immune system of the patient is alerted to the presence of the vaccine.

Injection site sarcoma (cancer) is very aggressive and usually fatal. It is suggested that the advent of adjuvants in vaccines has increased the incidence of cancer at the site of a vaccination. Don’t assume that your vet uses vaccines which to not contain adjuvants. Ask questions. It is almost impossible to remove an entire tumour caused by a vaccine because they are very aggressive with “tentacles” which run into the cat’s tissues.

Dr Pierson makes it clear that there is a line of non-adjuvanted rabies vaccines now available.  This is her recommendation (for the USA).  It is the Merial’s PureVax rabies vaccines. These vaccines don’t eliminate the possibility of sarcomas arising but another factor associated with this product could help to minimize the risk, namely, the frequency of administration of the vaccine. Vaccine-associated sarcomas, although uncommon, occur between 1 to 10 cats per 10,000 cats vaccinated (

Three Yearly Vaccine

Until July 2014, in America, there was only one type of rabies vaccine from this company which had to be administered annually. Today there is a choice. There is a one-year vaccine and a three-year alternative. This veterinarian recommends the three-year product.

She makes the point that many veterinarians, colleagues of hers, refuse to stock the three-year product and continue to use the one-year product. The reason behind this is that the three-year product is more expensive. This is a false argument because it lasts for 3 years and therefore when the annual cost is calculated, it is not, as I understand it, more expensive. Another reason why veterinarians don’t stock this product is because they are worried that their patients will not be brought to the surgery on an annual basis. Clearly the annual rabies vaccination is a good opportunity to carry out other checks and services, the most important of which concerns dental care.

Sadly, many cat caretakers fail to check their cat’s teeth and gums on a regular basis which leads to poor dental health and when veterinarians are called upon to deal with this, the health problem has become severe.

Dr Pierson’s recommendations regarding the rabies vaccination is that you more or less insist upon your veterinarian administering the three-year product. If he does not stock the product or does not wish to use it, she suggest that you go elsewhere.

Not Vaccinated

She mentions that her cats are not vaccinated for rabies. They are full-time indoor cats. That does not necessarily eliminate the risk of getting rabies but no doubt she has assessed the risk.

In October of 2009, it was said that the feline vaccine against rabies was one of two that had been most commonly implicated in the development of cancer at the site of the vaccination.

Site of Vaccination

The Vaccine Associated Feline Sarcoma Task Force published recommendations in 1996 with respect to the place on the body where vaccination should take place.  Rabies vaccines should take place in the right hind leg.  The obvious reason is that if cancer develops around the site then the leg can be amputated thereby saving the life of the cat.

It is interesting to note that after vets began to administer the rabies vaccination in the rear hind leg there was an increase in the occurrence of injection-site sarcomas (VAS – Vaccine Associated Sarcoma) on the “lateral abdomen”.  This is a particularly difficult area to treat for cancer.  It was suggested that because a cat’s skin is loose, veterinarians were inadvertently vaccinating the cat in the abdomen when the cat was in a crouched position.


I feel I should mention dogs in this post as well. There’s a website, , which paints a rather bleak picture about the rabies vaccination in respect of dogs. The author created a video which is worthwhile watching and which summarizes her opinions. The only problem I have with it, is that we don’t know the date it was presented. Well, I can’t find the date.

Medicine evolves and we hope it improves. Advice which is given 2 or 3 years ago may be outdated and may paint an incorrect picture of the current state of play. That’s just a word of warning which may or may not be applicable to this video.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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