15 July 2013

When NOT to Vaccinate

I've had several discussions in the last week about vaccinating cats.  I've been surprised by some of the comments by people who really should know better.  (And I will ignore the "it's unethical not to vaccinate" comments until another time.)

Let's assume you are going to vaccinate your cat.  Your cat, your decision.  There are some clear and (I thought) obvious times/situations when you should not vaccinate:

  • If the cat is sick with say an URI or even UTI.  Vaccines may be ineffective when a cat is sick because the immune system is already taxed to overcome the illness.  Almost all vaccines say to vaccinate only healthy cats.
  • Right after a cat has been sick.  Yes, the cat is over the URI and shows no symptoms.  This does not mean the immune system is back to normal.  It takes 2-6 weeks for the immune system to return to normal, depending on the illness.
  • When dealing with any immune system problems.  (This will raise some eye brows.)  Vaccines stimulate the immune system.  If a cat has, for example, IBD or even severe allergies, both immune related disorders, the vaccines can trigger an increase in the immune-related problem.  
  • Cats over 12 years old.  Most older cats have a decreased immune system to begin with.  By forcing the immune system to deal with 3-4 major diseases (which is what a vaccine really does), can easily overwhelm the immune system and lead to major problems.
  • When the cat is being spayed, neutered, etc.  The cat's immune system will work at preventing a bigger problem (infection) and may not adequately respond to the vaccine.
  • After a cat has had a severe reaction.  If the cat was vomiting and listless last year with the vaccine, it's really not going to better this year.
  • Very young kittens.  The mother cat's milk has antibodies in it so the young kitten has her immunities.  Once the kitten is weaned, the antibodies fail. Depending on the kitten, the immunity from the mother can last 6-12 weeks.  Vaccinating early during this time can be ineffective at best, and according so some researchers, can impair the immune system for the life of the animal.  (The immune system is not fully developed until around 5-6 months.)  The best option would be to have titers done to assess antibodies, but few vets know how to do this.
  • When the cat was vaccinated for it last year.  Even the AVMA now recommends every 3 years on most vaccines.  Some researchers have shown vaccines can easily last 8-10 years!  So, subjecting a cat to repeated vaccines does nothing to strengthen immunity, but may instead lead to weakening and overwhelming the immune system. 
Personally, I don't vaccine my cats.  Many of my cats have been vaccinated because the shelters I adopted them from did it and would not release the cat without the vaccinations.  But I have always associated certain problems with these vaccinations.  For example, Clarissa was vaccinated with a 4-in-1 shot about 3 days after finishing her antibiotics for an URI and at the same time she was spayed.  Talk about hitting her immune system hard!!!  She did have a reaction to the internal stitches.  She has a reaction to raw meat.  She has a reaction to cooked fish.  How much of her food allergies are related to her vaccinations?  I can't prove causation, but my gut instinct says they are related.

Now, I know all this goes against what most vets say.  So why do vets not follow these guidelines?  There are many reasons.  Most vets believe the idea that vaccines are safe and effective, with little side-effects.  Selling vaccines is a major source of income in many vet practices.  Some vets have never thought about how vaccines work and their effect on the immune system since they were in vet school.

While I understand I am in the minority when it comes to vaccinations, I would just like people to take a few minutes and think before they have their cat vaccinated.