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New Vaccine Site for Cats Could Save Lives

Reviewed by Missy Beall, DVM, PhD on Friday, February 7, 2014
Posted November 04, 2013 in A Vet's Life

Dr. Ernie Ward is the author of Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter – A Vet’s Plan to Save Their Lives (2010 HCI) and Founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Visit Dr. Ernie at or on Facebook.

Cat getting a vaccine

Perhaps nothing has saved more lives than vaccines. Today in the US we rarely encounter once-common maladies such as smallpox, polio and measles that took innumerable lives less than a hundred years ago. Pet parents have little reason to fear devastating diseases such as canine distemper, feline leukemia, and rabies that stole countless companions only fifty years ago. But that doesn’t mean modern vaccines don’t carry some risk, especially for cats.

It’s estimated that about 1 to 10 out of every 10,000 cats vaccinated will develop cancer at the injection site. While that’s a truly tiny number, it still adds up. And all those statistics don’t mean a thing if your cat happens to be the “one.” A new vaccine site proposal could lessen the risk of losing your cat to vaccine-associated cancer.

For my entire career I’ve vaccinated cats in a very specific pattern. Feline respiratory vaccine was first given in the right shoulder region; later I would give that vaccine as far down the right leg as possible, even the paws when permitted. Feline leukemia was administered in a similar fashion on the left side and rabies followed suit starting on the right hip and ending up as far down the right rear leg as possible today.

The reason we chose these locations were simple: easy access, plenty of skin, cats appeared to tolerate it reasonably well, and we could easily determine which vaccine caused any problems. The vaccines were tested in these sites and we found they worked. If cancer occurred, we could amputate the affected limb in most cases, thereby saving or prolonging life. Imperfect but much better than sticking everything in the “scruff.” Until now.

A new study evaluated giving cat vaccines in the tail. If cancer did develop, the tail could be easily amputated and have minimal impact on quality of life. Everyone agreed that, in theory, the tail would be the preferred place to vaccinate cats. The question was would cats allow a vaccination in their tail? Even more important, would the vaccines work if given in the tail?

University of Florida veterinarians studied 60 cats. The first question they

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Ernie has more than 20 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a well-known veterinarian, media personality and author. He is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.

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The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author's and do not necessarily represent the beliefs, policies or positions of all veterinarians, Pet Health Network, IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. or its affiliates and partner companies.