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Should You Be Concerned About Vaccinating Your Cat?

Smart cat owners should learn how to vaccinate their cats as safely as possible.

June 21, 2024 4 min read
Should You Be Concerned About Vaccinating Your Cat?

If you own a cat, your main concerns about vaccinations may focus on making sure your cat gets the disease protection it needs on a regular schedule. But while vaccinations can certainly play a major role in feline preventative care, they can occasionally create problems even as they deliver those benefits. While such problems don't occur frequently, as a loving pet owner you'll want to understand their nature, respond to potential trouble signs, and look for ways to minimize any risks. Let's tackle these important questions and answers.

The Upside of Feline Vaccinations

There's not much doubt about the powerful benefits of vaccinations, not just for cats but for other animals as well. The substances in these shots basically fool the immune system into thinking it's under attack from an unfamiliar germ, prompting it to create antibodies designed to kill the intruder. Once the immune system has accomplished this task, it "remembers” how to manufacture these antibodies for as long as the vaccine remains active in the body.

As effective as vaccinations can prove, they eventually wear off and need to be supplemented with booster shots. Failure to maintain the right booster schedule can leave your cat vulnerable to that particular disease again. But vaccines can also display another downside: the possibility of mild to serious side effects and reactions.

Common, Mild Side Effects to Cat Vaccinations

Cats commonly have a few mild, non-threatening reactions to vaccinations. In the first 24 hours following a vaccination, you may notice:

  • Swelling and/or redness at the site of the injection
  • Loss of appetite
  • General malaise or fatigue
  • Less interest in food than usual
  • Cold-like symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, and a runny nose
  • Mildly elevated temperature

These symptoms shouldn't concern you unless your cat really seems to be struggling with them or they persist for more than 24 hours. If you have concerns, take your cat to the vet for evaluation.

Allergic Reactions to Cat Vaccinations

Sometimes a cat has an allergy to specific ingredients in a vaccine. This is especially true for vaccines containing substances known as adjuvants. Examples of adjuvants include metals such as mercury or aluminum, and even formaldehyde. But even natural substances such as foreign proteins can trigger an allergic reaction in vulnerable cats.

Unlike normal vaccination side effects, allergic reactions to a vaccine can pose serious dangers. If your cat has an allergic reaction, it may develop hives, display severe facial swelling, cough persistently, struggle to breathe, faint, collapse, or suffer from vomiting and diarrhea. Treat these symptoms as a medical emergency and rush your cat to the nearest animal hospital.

Tumor Development from Cat Vaccinations

A cat vaccination can trigger tumor development, with a lump forming at the vaccination site. Unlike the local swelling that typically disappears shortly after vaccination, this lump persists and may grow. An aggressive tumor can even turn into a kind of connective tissue cancer called a sarcoma, at which point it may spread to other parts of the body and threaten the cat's life.

As frightening as this scenario sounds, rest assured that it counts as a worst-case scenario. As few as 1 in 30,000 feline vaccinations result in a sarcoma. Even if your cat develops a sarcoma, timely surgery can often remove the cancerous tissue.

How to Minimize Cat Vaccination Issues

It's important to remember that the immense benefits of vaccinations far outweigh any risk associated with them. Better yet, you and your veterinarian can reduce those risks to a bare minimum by employing some smart strategies. Take a look at some of the available options.

  • Titer testing - With this technique, the vet takes a blood sample and examines it to determine your cat's current immunity level to a specific disease. If your cat still has plenty of antibodies ready to fight an infection, it may not need a vaccination or booster shot at present.
  • Allergy countermeasures - If you know your cat is allergic to a specific vaccine, your vet can administer antihistamines or other drugs before giving the injection. This should minimize any allergic symptoms, although your vet will want to keep your cat in the office for up to an hour to watch for any reactions that require an immediate response. Your vet may also be able to offer an alternative vaccine that gets the job done without triggering an allergic reaction.
  • Non-adjuvanted vaccines - Many of the older, adjuvant cat vaccines have been replaced by non-adjuvanted alternatives. Ask your veterinarian about the availability of these vaccines for your cat.
  • Other smart strategies - Some vaccinations can be delivered as nose drops instead of injections, eliminating worries about pain or tumor development at the injection site. Your cat may skip "non-core" vaccinations if it has a low risk for those diseases.

Your Feline Veterinarian Has the Answers

As you can see, your veterinarian plays a crucial role in helping you vaccinate your cat as safely and effectively as possible. While most veterinarians know how to work with both cats and dogs, you may want to seek out a feline veterinarian. These practitioners have special training, skills, and experience when it comes caring for cats, and they can answer any questions you may have about proper vaccination protocols. The main thing is to make sure your kitty has the best chance for a healthy life!

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