Monday, January 6, 2014

Monday Medical: Tail vaccine followup

Back in November we shared with you a breaking news story about a potential new vaccine protocol for cats.

This study examined the pros and cons of a vaccine administered toward the end of a cat's tail.

It was a novel approach and I really liked the general concept, since as many as 1 in 1,000 cats vaccinated will develop a cancerous tumor known as a fibrosarcoma.

(You can read more about fibrosarcomas and the tail vaccine study here.)

Should a vaccine-associated sarcoma (VAS) develop, a tail amputation might give a cat a much greater chance of survival than if it were delivered behind the shoulder blades or in a lower limb.

Dr. Sara Huber with one
of her 4-legged patients
But I wanted to know what animal practitioners thought of this idea. So I asked Dr. Sara Huber, one of the veterinarians at Leawood Plaza Animal Hospital, what her opinion was of the study's results.

Dr. Huber: "I think that the research is definitely promising. However, one study does not a protocol make.

"I base my vaccination protocols on the recommendations put in place by the AAFP. They base their recommendations on a large body of research and come to a consensus based on this research and what is best for the welfare of the pet.

"In theory, vaccination at the caudal third of the tail makes perfect sense. If a tumor were to develop, a tail amputation can be done quickly, easily, and with relatively little pain to the pet."

It does sound promising. But is it too soon to jump on the bandwagon? Knowledgeable friends and bloggers have expressed concern that misdelivered vaccine injections might end up in the nerve branch of the tail's spine.

I would imagine that would be painful for your pet. Plus, what kind of danger might that pose to a cat? 

We love the elegant curve of Maxwell's tail.
Still, we'd amputate in a heartbeat if it meant we could keep him alive.

As of now, these questions - as well as long term side effects of tail vaccines - have yet to be addressed.

Sara does find it promising that they seemed to get less of a reaction to vaccination in the tail than the distal hind limb. But she also finds it somewhat hard to believe.

Faraday agrees: vets are
SCARY. (But Dr. H is NICE)
"The study included 'only cats that were tame'," she told me, "which truthfully is not really representative of the average cat at the vet. They are frightened and stressed out and many of them do not just agree to sit quietly and accept a physical and vaccines.

"And I can't say I blame them! Its scary being put in a box and thrown in a vehicle and poked and prodded!

"I imagine that there will be a lot of vaccines going through the skin and ending up on the table. I personally would like to see more evidence based research on this topic prior to completely changing my protocol."

Sara also reminded me that "a discussion on sarcomas has to involve adjuvanted vs. non-adjuvanted vaccine." An adjuvant is a chemical added to a vaccine, oftentimes in an attempt to either stabilize the vaccine, increase its shelf-life, or increase the immune response in the one being vaccinated. Adjuvants have been identified as cancer-causing in cats. And they're not limited to vaccine injections, either. Some recently developed injectible flea repellents with adjuvants have been associated with cancer as well.

Sara argues that "with the greater options of non-adjuvanted vaccines available to us, we are able to reduce the risk of a chronic inflammatory reaction from the adjuvant and hopefully lower the chance of developing an injection site sarcoma while still adequately protecting our patients from disease."

Still, she concluded, "vaccine associated sarcomas are horrible. It is a topic that I think is very important to discuss with clients when designing a vaccine protocol for their specific pet."

We agree - and pray that research will continue until VAS becomes a topic found only in veterinary history books.

Monday Medical Disclaimer: 
I am not a veterinarian, and the information provided here is not intended in any way as a substitute for professional veterinary care. Nor should it be used to self-diagnose for your pet. This information is for educational purposes and to provide you with reputable documentation you can use to pose informed questions of your own to the veterinarian of your choice.


  1. That is very interesting and we think you are right as it might be painful and dangerous. Have a marvellous Monday.
    Best wishes Molly

  2. Thank you for the great article we always enjoy reading your posts!

  3. I asked our vet about tail vaccines and he said he can do it if I insist but cautioned that it may be quite painful due to the many nerves in there.

  4. I am looking forward to seeing more research in this area. I think there is more than one way to approach making vaccines safer for cats.

    1. We do too, and sure hope they manage to solve the VAS issue, very soon!

  5. That is very interesting to have different perspectives... and important too.
    Thanks for the article!

  6. Great update on the topic! I think I mentioned to you that my vet and I had a long conversation about this. She had in fact tested it out on her own cat. But after studying the research available at this time, she concluded, as your vet did, that it was too early to change up their protocol. More research would be needed, but it was looking very promising.

    Not sure where she found this, but there was one case in which a cat did not get the full vaccination. I can't remember how it was they discovered this, but she was concerned that could pose a health risk as well.

    I agree...I hope that VAS soon becomes something that used to happen.

    : ) GG

    1. Yow, not getting full vaccine is going to eliminate its use, we fear, in many places. More study is needed, for sure!

    2. (eliminate tall vaccine's use, we mean)

  7. Like you, Mom says she would remove any of our tails in a heartbeat if it meant saving our life. Having dealt with cancer in three different cats, it sure is something she'd want to avoid for any of us. We will follow this topic with interest. Thanks for sharing! Purrs and hugs, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista Jo

  8. I love that you did a follow up on this (and hate that I can't comment on my kindle for some reason)

    I too am very interested to see where this goes over the years. Wouldn't it be nice if there were not bad reactions and we had this safer option..

  9. Thanks for this update! It's making the Staff think alot!!

  10. Great followup. We haven't had a chance to talk to our vet about this yet, so it's interesting to hear a vet's perspective.

    1. We really appreciate Dr. Huber taking the time to share her insight with us!

  11. Thank you for this really thought-provoking follow-up post. VAS is scary, and we hope that someday it is a thing of the past.

  12. TBT says he is sticking to the standard vaccines, and trusting the odds. The benefits seem better than the threats. And WE trust him.

  13. I used to get skeered when I went to the v-e-t too. :)

  14. This is a really thought-provoking post for sure, thanks for sharing this.


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