The vaccination protocol is flawed

DEAR DR. FOX: I enjoy your articles in my local newspaper, and one in particular caught my attention.

I will try to make this as brief as possible:

I owned two cats, both indoor-only. One cat was domesticated when I got her; the other was a feral kitten someone found and gave to me. She was still young enough to tame, but even after age 4, she was still not very trusting.

Both cats got their yearly exam and shots, including one for feline leukemia. A few months after Lovely got her annual shots, I noticed that she was limping. I examined her right leg and found a large mass on her upper shoulder — she has long fur, so it wasn't noticeable except by feeling. I took her to my vet, who did a needle biopsy and gave me some pain meds for her. The next day, after giving her the meds, her whole personality changed — she hid all day and came out only at night.

The lump was cancerous, and her leg would have to be amputated. Trying to get her to the surgeon that morning was terrible — she fought and tried to bite me. Finally, we were able to get her there. The surgeon told us that her personality change may be permanent and the stress of losing the leg would possibly make it worse. He also mentioned that the leukemia shot may have caused the cancer and that it may have spread to other organs. We made the painful decision to put her down.

After asking another vet and my own vet, they admitted that the leukemia shot would, in some cases, cause cancer at the site of the injection in the upper shoulder.

Please advise other owners of indoor cats that this shot is not necessary. When my other cat, Lady, was due for her shots, my vet, after all we went through, was still going to give her that shot; I said, "No!" — A.M., Naples, Fla.

DEAR A.M.: According to veterinary literature, cancer (specifically fibrosarcoma) developing at the vaccination site is extremely rare, but it does occur. As a precaution, until nasal or oral vaccines are developed, the proper vaccination protocol for cats is to inject the vaccine as low down as possible on a hind leg. Amputation is then more feasible and less crippling than having to remove the cat's entire shoulder area and foreleg, as was the case with your poor cat.

I am surprised that your cat was vaccinated in the shoulder region. Certainly, the pain would have changed her personality. Also, the pain medication could have made her more fearful, as could the traumatic trip to see the veterinarian.

Send this reply to the veterinarian to change the vaccination protocol: inject a lower hind leg; do not prescribe feline leukemia vaccinations for indoor cats; separate giving rabies vaccinations from other vaccines for which blood titers can be conducted to determine if they are really needed.

A new protocol, which was suggested several years ago, of vaccinating in the tip of the cat's tail has been confirmed as being effective and safe by Dr. Julie Levy and her team at the University of Florida School of Veterinary Medicine.

DEAR DR. FOX: Why does our cat, Amos, get up every morning at exactly 4:20 a.m. without fail?

Daylight saving time does not seem to throw him off. He starts to meow up and down the hallway, then jumps on our bed to complete his mission. My husband, like any dedicated pet owner would do, gets up and plays with him, feeds him and then he promptly takes a good old-fashioned "cat nap." We have tried everything, such as closing the bedroom door, playing with him late at night, making sure he has kibble and water, but he is relentless until we get up. — F. & P.S., Winchester, Va.

DEAR F. & P.S.: There's a time clock in your cat's brain that you clearly cannot reset. When his brain says it's early to rise, it is telling him to go out to hunt and interact with other cats on their predawn roaming in the wild.

Adopting a younger cat may be the best solution. Providing your cat with a substitute for your husband to play with and race through the house while you both enjoy a less interrupted sleep could help all parites. Check my website,, for the important steps you are advised to take when introducing a new cat into your home.

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