The importance of rabies vaccines for all cats

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a disease that affects all warm blooded mammals. Humans, being mammals, are at risk if bitten by a rabid animal. Worldwide 55,000 people die of rabies each year which is one case every 10 minutes! For this reason, rabies vaccines are required in dogs.

Why is the Rabies Vaccine Not Required for Cats?

In San Diego, Rabies is a vaccine that is required for dogs to be licensed. However, because cats can jump fences and a person can claim a cat in their backyard is not theirs, the county has chosen to consider cats feral animals and does not demand their vaccination.

Additionally, a number of cat vaccines came under scrutiny when a relationship between vaccination and certain types of tumors called sarcomas were linked. Since that time, great strides have been made in developing vaccines that cause less reaction and are less likely to incite the immune response to form tumors. Unfortunately, even with the new vaccinations and the revised vaccination recommendations by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) there are many indoor and outdoor cats that are not vaccinated because the owners are afraid or feel that their cat will never be exposed to a rabid animal.

Is My Cat at Risk?

The biggest question is how a pet cat may be exposed to rabies if it is kept indoors? The main reservoir of rabies in the United States is in wildlife such as foxes, skunks, raccoons and bats. In San Diego our most critical reservoir is bats. A bat that is rabid does not behave normally. If a rabid bat came in through an open window or down a chimney and was flopping around on the floor, it would look like an interesting play thing to your cat. A small bite is all that is needed to transmit the rabies virus in the saliva of the infected animal into your pet. The teeth of bats are so small that you may not even see a mark on your pet. Cats can also slip outside even though you try to keep them in. Just last month in the Midwest 20 cats were euthanized because one of the cats in the house tested positive for rabies and the others in the house either had lapsed vaccines or no vaccines.

How Can I Protect My Cat from Rabies?

The best way to protect your cat is to make sure they are up to date on their rabies vaccines as well as their upper respiratory and distemper vaccines. The vaccines that are free of adjuvants are the safest for cats and less likely to incite any immune response that would result in the formation of tumors later. The vaccines currently available are also more effective in stimulating longer lasting antibodies in the system. The current recommendation by the AMVA is that all cats and kittens 3 months of age or older be vaccinated with a killed vaccine and then boostered one year later. The first booster vaccine is good for three years and any additional vaccines in a cat’s life would be every 3 years to stay current.

Categories: Pet Health Tips from the Helen Woodward Animal Center