Ask Alice

Dear Alice,
    I just recently acquired 3 kittens and they will be due for their first vaccinations soon. I've been reading about vaccinations versus nosodes. I want the best for my kittens and the things I'm reading about vaccinations are enough to stand your hair straight up! My older cats (15 and 17) were raised with the usual vaccinations and they obviously survived, but maybe they were lucky. All my cats are strictly indoor cats except when I take them out (supervised) to nibble catmint in the garden. What are your feelings on the subject of traditional vaccinations versus homeopathic nosodes?
--Worried Cat Mom

Dear Worried Cat Mom,
    Lots of us are interested in what alternatives to traditional health care can offer us, so your question is timely. And with the things you hear about vaccinations these days, the subject really needs to be addressed. I've never been one to shy away from hard questions and this has proved to be just that.
    For starters, I think you should know that my training has been in traditional science and medicine. After all, I did spend some time (nearly 2 weeks!) at Kansas State University Veterinary School and even taught the profs there a few things. Still, I don't think we should reject other paradigms, just because we don't have the training. So, I try to keep an open mind and evaluate all the evidence I can dig up. That's what took me so long to answer your question. I've been doing some research between cat naps.

    For readers that have not looked into homeopathy, lets explain what nosodes are. Nosodes are homeopathic medicines that are made from diluting the secretions from an animal that is sick with a specific viral disease. This diluted preparation is given orally or nasally to healthy animals to help prepare them to fight off infection should they ever be exposed to that virus. Nosodes should never be given to animals that are not completely healthy. Sounds a lot like vaccinations, doesn't it?
    Should you use nosodes? I recommend against it.
    First, I have not been able to find any evidence, other than anecdotal reports, that nosodes work. Just because I can't find it does not mean it does not exist. But the references I have found say there are NO well designed studies that show nosodes prevent disease. In addition, it has been shown that nosodes do not produce measurable titers to the diseases they are supposed to protect against. While a specific titer level is no guarantee you cannot get the disease, titer levels have been linked to immunity. So, in general, having a reasonable titer level is a good indication that you are protected from contracting the disease.
    Even if nosodes cannot be shown to work, it would be fine to use them if they are at least safe. I cannot verify their safety either! Some proponents say nosodes have no side effects while others warn to discontinue their use if disease signs are noticed. One thing we know is that while nosodes are highly diluted, they are made from possibly infectious materials. That, taken with the warnings from homeopathic practitioners to watch for disease signs, suggests some possibility they are not completely safe. Again, it would be nice if there were some evidence that would help out here.
    Should you use vaccinations? I agree that some of the things you read about vaccinations are enough to put you off them forever! And, the facts do show that there are RISKS to vaccinating our people and ourselves. Some of the risks are very scary and others are just being discovered! But, there is also evidence that vaccinations can help keep us and our human friends from getting some pretty nasty illnesses.
    So what do you do? As with everything that is risky, you evaluate the potential benefit. I mean, it is pretty risky driving a car or flying in an airplane! But if you don't do it, you have to walk or do something even riskier and slower!. So, we attempt to limit the risks (drivers and pilots are licensed, cars and planes are inspected) and then accept the risk that remains in order to get the benefit.
    That is my recommendation with vaccines. Determine what benefits are essential, attempt to limit the risk involved in vaccinating and then accept the remaining risk as the cost of getting some protection against some pretty nasty diseases.
    So, which benefits are essential?
    First, let's look at what vaccines are available for us felines. Of course, you know there is a rabies vaccine. Now, the other vaccine traditionally given to us kitties is the FVRCP for: viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, (both upper respiratory illnesses), and panleukopenia (feline distemper). An occasional addition to the traditional FVRCP is chlamydia, another upper respiratory illness. Another vaccine that is often given is the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) vaccine. And there are even more vaccines available though not given as often: feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), ringworm and bordatella.
    Well, this is just my OPINION, but here goes. I think we all need to be protected against rabies! And all kittens need to be protected against panleukopenia! As for the other stuff, there is some difference in opinion about whether the protection from viral rhinotracheitis and calicivirus is all that good in today's vaccines. But, since most vaccines for panleukopenia include the rhino and calici, you will probably end up giving all three to get the protection against panleukopenia. Although FeLV is a deadly disease, we indoor kitties have very little chance of coming into contact with the virus that causes it, so that is another optional vaccination. There is a great deal of contradictory evidence about the FIP vaccine and so, in my opinion, it is to be avoided. Ringworm is not usually life-threatening, and should your kitty get it, there is a pretty safe treatment, so I would avoid it too. Chlamydia is another one where the scientific evidence is hard to interpret, so unless you have a good reason, just don't use it. The vaccine for bordatella is very new. I have to tell you that I know nothing about it, but generally I like to wait a few years before using any new vaccine. And then, we would have to evaluate what benefit the vaccination would provide.
    So for your new babies, what we have is rabies, panleukopenia, rhino and calici. (Now if your kitties went outside or they were sharing the household with an FeLV positive friend, we would want an FeLV vaccination, too, but not in the situation you describe.)
    How can you minimize the risk from doing these vaccines?
    One of the big risks is a reaction to the vaccination. This can be as mild as lethargy the next day. Or the vaccinated cat can run a fever for a day or more. The worst immediate reaction would be anaphylaxis -- a serious allergic reaction. Your veterinarian SHOULD be keeping track of how often there is any reaction and reporting it to the manufacturer. They should also be checking the recent literature to see which vaccine has the fewest reported reactions. With some digging, you can find out which is the safest vaccine.
    Another risk is vaccination site sarcoma. The cause of this cancer is still under research. But you can eliminate this risk by using intranasal vaccines rather than injected ones. Now, don't forget, there is RISK with everything and there may be risks we don't know about with the intranasal vaccines. An intranasal vaccine is available for panleukopenia, rhino and calici.
    Here are a couple of other practices that are risk reducing. Vaccinate against the smallest number of viruses at one time as you can. What I mean, is don't give ALL the vaccines you are planning to give on one day. Space them out. Do the rabies vaccine one day and do the panleukopenia, rhino, and calici vaccine in a few weeks or months. And, do the vaccines only when necessary to booster immunity. You can follow the manufacturer's guidelines (i.e.: give a rabies vaccine that is good for three years ONLY every three years,) or you can ask your vet to test your cat's immunity to a specific organism by doing a post-vaccinal titer test.
    The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has come out with new recommendations for vaccinating us cats. Their recommendations include info on type of vaccine and where to inject it. How often the vaccinations need to be done is under research and there have been some recommendations published. Here is a web site that gives some of the recommendations: I'll post other info on AAFP, AVMA or vet schools vaccination recommendations as I can and as I find them.
    Finally, this is what I have instructed my people to do for me and the other kitties who share in their ownership. For kittens, I want them to vaccinate every three weeks after they leave their mother with intranasal FVRCP until the kitten is about 16 weeks old. About that time, I want them to vaccinate the kitten against rabies with a three year shot given in one of the back legs as far from the body as possible. For mature cats between kittenhood and 9 or 10 years of age, I want them to give FVRCP and rabies every three years. I want them to space these out. Since they are under STRICT instructions to be sure all felines visit the vet for a physical exam EVERY year, I expect them to give rabies one year and FVRCP the next. If anyone has a vaccination reaction, they are to reevaluate the vaccination plan with my assistance and input from the vet. Now, for us mature kitties (over 10 years old), I will allow a rabies vaccination every three years unless there is chronic disease or other circumstance (i.e.: previous vaccine reaction.) that contraindicates vaccination. And my final instruction for them is to be sure we are healthy BEFORE any vaccination is given.
    Hope this helps. Keep those babies happy and healthy!
--- Alice

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