Note: My decisions about when to vaccinate my cats should not necessarily be the same as your decisions. Every option comes with its own risks, and you have to decide what’s best for your particular situation and your unique cats.
I am an irresponsible pet owner.
My cats are past due on their vaccinations, and they’ve pretty much always been behind on vaccines since I became a cat owner in 2005.
The current records show that Scout should’ve had his distemper vaccine a year ago. And both cats should’ve had their rabies vaccines 30 days ago. Most cities have laws that require all pet cats (and pet dogs) be up to date on rabies vaccinations, so that makes me a criminal. My cats are also not licensed (never have been), which is another offense.
I believe the majority of indoor cats are “behind” on vaccinations for the following reasons. These are not scientific reasons but my own opinions.
1. The cost of vaccinating a cat is a barrier.
The number one reason people do not vaccinate their pets is because they can’t afford it. It’s not because they’re irresponsible.
Luckily there are a couple ways to save money on vaccinations for your cat:
First, ask your local humane society or other shelter if it offers any vaccination clinics or if it knows of any free or discounted vaccination opportunities in your area. If there are, make an appointment and don’t be late. Most will run on a first-come, first-served basis, so get there very early and wait in line.
Second, if you have a good enough credit score, you could apply for an account through Care Credit. Care Credit is a healthcare credit card that includes financing options so you can avoid paying interest if you pay off your debt within a certain promotional period, typically six months.
Third, talk to your cat’s vet about which vaccines are truly necessary for your cat. There is no point in vaccinating an indoor cat for certain diseases if there is basically no risk that he could contact the diseases in the first place. For more info, see the post about how many vaccines dogs really need because it applies to cats too.
2. The health risks associated with vaccines.
Vaccines always come with a slight risk of a negative reaction, although for me that is not a reason not to vaccinate a cat at all.
Mild reactions to a vaccine could include a fever and a diminished appetite, according to the Cornell Feline Health Center . More serious reactions could include a life-threatening allergic reaction or the development of a tumor at the vaccine site called a sarcoma.
Ted Kerasote wrote about this issue in the book “Pukka’s Promise: The quest for longer-lived dogs.”
In 1987 Pennsylvania required all cats be vaccinated against rabies, he wrote. “Within a short time vets began to notice sarcomas growing directly at the site where the vaccine had been injected.”
These cancers were aggressive, Kerasote wrote. “And the likelihood of the tumor developing at the injection site increased with the number of vaccines that were given simultaneously at that location.”
3. Questioning whether so many vaccines are necessary.
Some indoor cats are “behind” on vaccinations because more and more cat owners realize that after the initial kitten vaccinations, cats may have immunity for life or at least for more than two or three years.
This is of course not an excuse to skip regular health exams for your cat. It’s also not a reason to avoid vaccinating your kitten at all unless you’ve done your research and fully understand the risks involved. The diseases these vaccines protect against are obviously serious and cats and kittens die from them every year.
Still, the issue of over-vaccinating is a real concern, and one option cat owners could consider is titer testing. A titer test is a blood test that measures the concentration of specific antibodies.
“Vaccines are meant to teach the body to recognize and to react to a certain antigen/infection and make antibodies against it,” wrote blogger Jana Rade in a guest post for ThatMutt.com on titer testing for dogs. Visit her blog Dawg Business for more information on dog health issues.
“Titers look at the blood to determine whether a particular army is present,” she wrote. “So as long as the army is there, there is no reason to recruit one, right?”
The cost of a titer test varies depending on where you live. The last time I checked with my cats’ vet each test would be a few hundred dollars (that’s per cat) and you should technically re-test the cat every year to make sure he’s still protected.
Frankly, most of us are not going to spend that kind of money on titer tests – especially not on an annual basis. Personally, I am more comfortable choosing not to vaccinate my indoor cats after a certain point or choosing to wait an extra year or two between boosters. My decision would be different if my cats were allowed outside.
4. Cats typically hate the vet.
My cat Scout is extremely aggressive at the vet’s office. He tries to bite and scratch out of fear, and it’s a very traumatic experience for him. It’s also scary for the vet and the vet techs who have to handle him (And not to mention, embarrassing for me!). During his most recent visit to the vet (in 2011), the vet chose to vaccinate him twice for rabies because she wasn’t sure if she administered the first vaccine properly. This was not her fault. Scout is very difficult to deal with, and the vet had needed to jump back while giving the first vaccine for her own safety.
I felt bad that Scout had most likely received a “double dose,” and I told myself I would not force my cat to be vaccinated ever again as long as I truly believed he was safe without the vaccines. I’m comfortable with this choice because I believe the chances of my pampered, indoor cat contacting rabies or distemper is literally almost zero. Plus, I believe he is likely immune for life or for at least the next five years since he has received these vaccines multiple times throughout his life.
5. The person does not feel responsible for vaccinating ownerless cats.
There are definitely some cat owners who really don’t care about their cats and therefore don’t bother with vaccinations. I believe these cat owners are rare. Others are doing a good thing by feeding and offering shelter to stray or feral cats but do not believe they are responsible for vaccinating those cats since the cats “just showed up” or are “stray” or “wild.” This is why trap/neuter/release programs are so important. Feral cats are trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated and returned to their habitats where they will be unable to reproduce or spread certain diseases.
So what should cat owners do?
I know some people will now conclude that I am a terrible cat owner, but that’s not really what this post is about. I wanted to start an open, honest discussion about vaccinating cats. If there are any vets reading this, I hope they will join the conversation as well.
These are all decisions that should be discussed with your cat’s vet, and if the vet is not open to discussions I hope you have another vet in your area. All decisions about whether or not to vaccinate cats and how often come with risks, and you have to decide what is best for your particular situation and your own cat.
I choose not to vaccinate my cats as often as recommended. I also choose not to do titer tests, and I am comfortable with these decisions. I believe it is important to take my cats to the vet if they appear sick. I believe it is important to take them in for basic health exams – annually for my older, friendly cat Beamer and every two-and-a-half years for my vet-aggressive cat Scout. This is what works for us. I love my cats very much and I value them as family members.
How about you? How often do you vaccinate your indoor cats?