In Loving Memory of our cat, Seven

What you can do to protect your pet:

- Notify your vet if your pet has ever had a reaction to a vaccine in the past (such a vomiting).

- Question the vaccines and vaccine laws. Does your indoor cat really need a rabies vaccination every year?

- If you are concerned about vaccinations, ask your vet to titer the animal's blood instead. This will determine if a vaccine is really necessary.

- Bring your animal to the vet immediately if you see any symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, or sudden lethargy. My cat's ears also became very red.

What your vet can do:

- Vets need to ask pet owners if their animal has ever had any sort of reaction to any vaccination in the past (this can be an indicator as to whether the pet could possibly experience anaphylaxis). Although the animal can be fine with previous vaccinations, and only react to one.

- Vets need to inform pet owners that these risks do exist. A vet should suggest that after a vaccination, the owner should remain with the animal, or make sure the animal can be watched in case symptoms do occur.

Our little Seven died due to a severe reaction to a routine annual rabies vaccination. This is known as anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. We lost her because her body reacted to an ingredient in the vaccination (perhaps one of the adjuvants which are ingredients added to a vaccination booster to increase its effectivess).

From my research, and what I've been told, this sort of reaction (anaphylactic shock) is quite rare, and often if a reaction does occur, the vet can administer epinephrine and take other necessary measures (such as an antihistamine; atropin, to raise the heart rate; oxygen; and other IV fluids) to save the life of the animal. Seven was given all of the previous mentioned, but it couldn't save her.

I have learned from the vaccine manufacturerer that the risk of anaphylactic shock from one of their vaccinations is 1 in 10,000 administrations. A different vaccine manufacturer had an even higher number of 7 in 10,000. Although I have also been told that the occurance of anaphylactic shock is extremely rare, these numbers say differently. Assuming these estimates are correct, the risk is way too high. Cats live an average of 15-20 years. So if a cat gets 15 vaccinations in his/her lifetime it means that every cat has a 1 in 670 risk over the course of his/her life. Or looking at the second number (7 in 10,000) the risk could even be as high as 1 in 95 over the lifetime of the animal!

It takes three deaths from a batch of a vaccination in order for the manufacturer to administer a recall. I was told no other rabies vaccines in this batch of vaccinations had caused problems for another animal. As far as I'm concerned though, one death is one death too many.

I also question the ingredients in these vaccinations that cause reactions in animals. Adjuvants help stabilize the vaccination and also help "carry" the vaccination through the body of the animal. However, they can be the culprits that cause a reaction in an animal. Killed vaccinations (almost all rabies vaccinations these days) are formulated with adjuvants. In earlier years, live vaccinations were more commonly given to animals, but they too come with their own risks (most common reactions to live vaccines included facial swelling and other unpleasant side effects). In my quest to learn what ingredient(s) exactly can cause such a reaction, I have been told that the answer is still uncertain. A representative from the vaccine manufacturerer said that the exact cause of what and why anaphylactic shock occurs is unknown. Any vaccine can cause it - in either animals or humans.

As you may have guessed, I'm seriously questioning the risk of getting any future pets vaccinated... especially if they are indoor animals like our cat was. Each state in the US sets their own laws on whether or not to require animals to be vaccinated or not (the state where we lived requies it by law). Also travelling abroad to other countries often requires up-to-date vaccinations (which is the main reason we had to vaccinate our cat since we are temporarily living in Europe).

It is my hope that owners take careful consideration of the risks associated with vaccinating their pets. I have been told that the benefits outweigh the risks, but I think that really depends on the living conditions of an animal, their age, and whether they are in general good health or not. It is a common myth that the risks are only associated with older animals. Anaphylactic shock can occur in any animal at any age.



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