Over-vaccination is a real risk, yet there is still a push for yearly boosters. Learn which vaccines are really necessary, and when, and how to protect your companion from their side effects.

While it’s necessary to protect cats from infectious diseases, which unchecked can spread rapidly and with devastating effects through animal populations, mainstream veterinary medicine has gone too far the other way in controlling these illnesses. Millions of animals are given vaccines for a multitude of diseases they’d probably never contract anyhow, but are also re-vaccinated far too often. The result is a host of health problems that are sometimes even worse than the disease the animal is being protected from in the first place. Reactions to over-vaccination can range from fever, stiffness and sore joints to seizures and nervous system disorders, liver and kidney problems, vaccine site sarcomas, and a variety of autoimmune issues.

Finding a happy medium

So what’s the solution? How do you protect your animal from infectious diseases while minimizing the risk of vaccine reactions?

Here’s the best plan of action:
1. Only give your cat the core vaccines (see below); in other words, those that protect against diseases with a high mortality rate and wide distribution area.
2. Avoid annual boosters. Most vaccines have duration of immunity ranging seven to nine years, which means your animal’s initial shots are enough to protect him for most of his life! Only have your animal revaccinated when titer tests indicate it’s necessary.

The core vaccines

Feline panleukopenia or parvovirus (FPV) — Attacks and destroys growing cells in intestine, blood and nervous system; can be fatal in kittens up to six months

Feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1) — Most common URI in cats; very contagious, spread by direct contact, sneezing and contaminated surfaces; kittens often die from the disease

Feline calicivirus (FCV) — Another common URI in felines; spread by direct and indirect contact; the younger the cat, the more severe the disease; can cause chronic gingivitis

Rabies (RV) — Infects central nervous system, causing encephalitis and death

When should core vaccines be administered?

“The core vaccines should be given three to four weeks apart, starting kittens ideally at eight weeks of age,” says veterinarian Dr. Jean Dodds. “There are two doses. If the vaccines are given a week earlier to start, then three doses may be needed to overcome interference of residual maternal immunity.” Either way, this is followed by a booster at one year of age.

Dr. Dodds suggests the following vaccine protocol for puppies.

Minimal vaccine use protocol

Age of kitten — 8 weeks — Panleukopenia, calicivirus, herpesvirus, trivalent killed or Recombinant MLV

Age of kitten — 12 weeks — Panleukopenia, calicivirus, herpesvirus, trivalent killed vaccine or Recombinant MLV

Age of kitten — 20 weeks or older, if allowable by law — Rabies, killed 3-year product, give 3-4 weeks apart from any other vaccine

Age of kitten — 1 year — Panleukopenia, calicivirus, herpesvirus, trivalent killed vaccine or Recombinant MLV

Age of kitten — 1 year — Rabies, as above

Homeopathic support

Homeopathy can help minimize or prevent potential side effects when giving core vaccines to young animals. “You can use Thuja for general vaccines, Lyssin for the rabies vaccine, and Ledum, given at the time of the rabies vaccination,” says Dr. Dodds.

Duration of immunity and titers

Because core vaccines have been demonstrated to have a much longer duration of immunity than conventionally thought, annual boosters are unnecessary. The best way to determine if your animal needs his vaccines updated is by antibody titers, which are available for all the core vaccines. “Any veterinarian can do titers today, because all major reference labs now offer them,” says Dr. Dodds. “It’s too costly to titer for all diseases, however, so it is only necessary to run them for the clinically significant, more common diseases such as panleukopenia, to assess immune competence of the animal.” It’s recommended that these titers be performed every three years.

The rabies issue

Unlike the other core vaccines, rabies is required by law throughout most of North America, primarily because rabies is a fatal disease that can be transmitted to humans. Like it or not, your cat must get a rabies booster either every one or three years, depending on the type of vaccine your vet uses.

The good news is that a new study has recently got underway to challenge this legislation. Spear-headed by Dr. Dodds, Kris Christine, and Dr. Ron Schultz of the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, the Rabies Challenge Fund aims to demonstrate that the duration of immunity of rabies vaccines is five to seven years, and that more frequent vaccinations are unnecessary. Find out more at www.rabieschallengefund.org.