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Vaccinations and Vaccine Protocol at Cat Hospital of Chicago

Rabies Vaccine
Feline Leukemia Virus Vaccine
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Vaccine (FIV)
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
Feline Kennel Cough (Bordetella) Vaccine
Micosporum Canis (ringworm) Vaccine


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At Cat Hospital of Chicago, our vaccination protocol is in accordance with the recommendations of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. We recommend that all cats, if healthy enough, be kept current on their "core" vaccines. The core vaccines are the FVR-CP combination vaccine (see below) and the rabies vaccine. Because the viruses against which the FVR-CP protects your cat are airborne, even indoor cats may be at potential risk. Rabies is required for all cats in Cook and all surrounding counties. "Non-core" vaccines (feline leukemia virus vaccine, FIV vaccine, FIP vaccine, Bordetella vaccine, Microsporum canis vaccine, etc.) are only recommended for those cats at risk for contracting these diseases, and only after thorough discussion with the owner of vaccine risks vs. disease risks, vaccine efficacy, etc.
All vaccines at Cat Hospital of Chicago are given in conjunction with a thorough physical examination. There are two important reasons for this:

Reason #1
We want to assure that your cat is healthy enough to mount an effective immune response to the vaccine and thus be adequately protected, and

Reason #2
Because there may be potential risks associated with vaccine administration, we want to make sure your cat does not have risk factors that might warrant not vaccinating. Our philosophy at Cat Hospital of Chicago is to tailor the vaccines given based on the individual needs of each patient.

A brief synopsis of available feline vaccines is as follows:
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1) FVR-CP:
there are two formulations of this vaccine available now: injectable and intranasal (nose drops). This vaccine protects against feline panleukopenia (feline distemper virus), feline rhinotracheitis virus and feline calici virus (the latter two are respiratory viruses). These viruses can be spread by direct contact with infected cats or with the secretions of infected cats (ocular or nasal discharge, sneezing). They are not aerosolized (airborne) like many of the agents that cause disease in dogs or people. One of the most common ways in which this virus is transmitted to cats is actually through humans who have touched an infected cat and then unknowingly spread those germs to healthy cats on their hands or clothing. The incubation period after exposure is usually about 2-6 days.

a. Injectable FVRCP: Administered subcutaneously (under the skin) low on the right front leg starting at approximately eight weeks of age and then every three to four weeks until the kitten is 16-20 weeks of age. The vaccine is then boostered one year later, followed by every three years thereafter. If the vaccine is first given to a cat 12 weeks of age or older, two vaccines are given at three to four week intervals initially, then boostered one year later, then boostered every three years thereafter. Our vaccine policy regarding this particular combination vaccine is based on the recommendations of the American Association of Feline Practitioners.
Because vaccine administration has been linked to the formation of malignant tumors at the injection site (specifically, a type of tumor called a "fibrosarcoma" ), and these tumors may in some cases have been caused (investigations ongoing) by the "adjuvant" in the vaccine (the "part" of the vaccine that "boosts" its effectiveness), Cat Hospital of Chicago uses a non-adjuvanted FVR-CP vaccine that is equally as effective. Vaccines are administered as low as possible on the cat's leg so that if a tumor should develop, amputation would be curative. (If amputation is not possible because the tumor is too high on the leg, or not on the leg - i.e., in the area between the shoulder blades where vaccines used to be administered - then these tumors are uniformly fatal). It should be noted that the incidence of fibrosarcoma formation in cats is extremely low. Our incidence at Cat Hospital of Chicago is close to zero in cats that we have vaccinated at our hospital(and may very well be "zero" as we have yet to see a fibrosarcoma in a cat definitely associated with a vaccine that we administered.) - We feel that this is due to our conservative vaccine policy and our prudent use of only the safest vaccines. Because of this, we feel that the benefits of vaccinating far outweigh the potential risks.
It should also be noted that there are still many unknowns as far as fibrosarcoma tumor development in cats is concerned. Although vaccines historically have been implicated as the 'culprits' in those rare cases of fibrosarcoma development, other injectable medications have been linked with these tumors as well. The current thinking is that the tumors may be linked to a genetic predisposition in rare individual cats, along with an injection that somehow triggers the tumor to form in those cats.

b. Intranasal FVRCP: Administered by instilling a few drops of the vaccine into each nostril - there is no needle injection. If this is the vaccine given to a kitten under 12 weeks of age, the booster schedule is the same as is with the injectable FVRCP. If the vaccine is first given to a cat 16 weeks or older, no booster is needed for one year, and then every three years after that. Because this vaccine is not injected, there is no risk of vaccine associated tumor formation. The only significant difference we have seen with this vaccine is occasional sneezing after administration, sometimes for a few days. These cats are not sick, but just responding to the immune response activity in their nasal passages. These few cats that develop post-vaccinal sneezing rarely require any treatment.

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2) Rabies vaccine:
Rabies continues to be a threat to domestic pets worldwide, and the incidence of rabies in the United States is rising. The rabies vaccine is most often administered subcutaneously (under the skin) low on the right rear leg at 12 weeks of age or older, then again a year later, followed by either annually (1-year vaccine) or every 3 years (3-year vaccine). The rabies vaccine that we use most commonly is a "new technology" vaccine called a "canary pox vaccine" . It is non-adjuvanted, and is thought to be the safest rabies vaccine in feline medicine. It is a feline-specific vaccine. Research has raised suspicion, that fibrosarcoma (malignant tumor) formation has been associated with "adjuvanted" vaccines that may lead to inflammation at the vaccine site. The Canary Pox rabies vaccine is non-adjuvanted, and is known to be less likely to cause inflammation at the injection site. Therefore, it is believed that it is also less likely for it to be associated with tumor formation. Although more expensive than "conventional" rabies vaccines, we feel that the "safety benefit" far outweighs the added expense. The Canary Pox vaccine is licensed as a 1-year vaccine, with a new 3-year vaccine launched in July of 2014. Rabies vaccination is required by law for cats in Cook and surrounding counties.
The FVRCP and Rabies vaccines are considered the CORE vaccines. "Core" vaccines are recommended for all cats - whether or not they spend anytime outdoors. These are the two vaccines that need to be current on all in-hospital cats, assuming their physical condition deems them healthy enough for vaccination.

A small study performed in 2013 showed that vaccinations given in the tail (as close to the tip of the tail as possible) resulted in effective immunity and seemed to be well tolerated by most patients. In the unlikely event that a fibrosarcoma develops post-vaccination in the tail, amputation of some or all of the tail could be curative and result in much less disfigurement to the patient versus amputation of a limb (see above). Additionally, because of the shift in weight bearing following limb amputation, cats with three legs are more likely to develop arthritis long-term. This would be avoided with tail amputation as well. Although additional research is needed in this area, we are already giving many of our rabies vaccines in the tail.

Non-core vaccines, which are recommended only for cats at risk of exposure (i.e., they are not required by law, and they are not air-borne) include the following:
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a) Feline leukemia virus vaccine -
given subcutaneously low on left rear leg. The vaccine is initially administered twice at three to four week intervals, then annually thereafter. Feline leukemia virus is transmitted from cat-to-cat through direct contact with an infected cat's urine or saliva (i.e., biting, mutual grooming, sharing of food and water bowls, sharing of litter boxes, etc.). All cats that go outdoors (and especially if unsupervised outside), that live with a cat that goes outside, or that live with a feline leukemia virus positive cat (whether indoors or outdoors) should be vaccinated for feline leukemia virus. Because no vaccine is 100%, as well as other dangers associated with outdoor life, we encourage owners to keep cats inside, except with supervision if outdoors, rather than letting them outside and vaccinating them.

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b) Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Vaccine (FIV):
This is a relatively new vaccine that is being used by some veterinary practitioners. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) opinion of this vaccine, however, is "guarded" - and we agree with AAFP. The vaccine does not protect against all strains of the virus. Additionally, its effectiveness at protecting against the strains for which it does provide protection is unknown. Third, vaccinating a cat for FIV causes the cat to "test positive" on all currently available FIV blood tests. These tests, look for antibody to the virus (not the virus itself). Therefore, there is no way to differentiate a "non-infected vaccinated FIV positive cat" (who has made antibodies from having been vaccinated) from a truly FIV viral infected cat (who has made antibodies because of infection with the virus). Therefore, should a vaccinated (but not infected) cat end up at a shelter, or at another veterinary facility, the cat may be at risk for being euthanized because of his or her positive FIV test results. For all of these reasons, we rarely use this vaccine. Any use of the FIV vaccine is preceded by a thorough discussion with the owner and performed only after micro-chipping the cat (if not already done). Micro-chipping may aid in identifying a cat's owner if the cat is picked up by a stranger. This could save the life of an FIV positive cat that might otherwise be euthanized due to his or her FIV positive status determined at a shelter or veterinarian not already familiar with the cat.

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c) Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP):
This is an intra-nasal vaccine that has been out for several years. For a variety of different reasons, we do not routinely use or recommend it (its efficacy is unknown/questionable, no accurate way of testing cats prior to its administration to assure that they are not already infected, etc.)

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d) Feline Kennel Cough (Bordetella) vaccine:
We do not routinely recommend this vaccine because the condition is not seen commonly in our population of patient cats, and the disease is relatively easy to treat if it does occur. In other words, risk of vaccination is higher than the risk of exposure.

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e) Microsporum Canis (ringworm) vaccine:
We do not recommend this vaccine because it has not been shown to prevent or treat infection with ringworm. It has been shown to be of some help in reducing clinical signs associated with ringworm infection - but at least for our patient population, this is not enough to warrant routine - or even non-routine - use of the vaccine.

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