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Most of us don’t hesitate to take our cats to the vet to get the assorted recommended shots. After all, it is our goal to see that they are healthy and happy. So, as per the schedule, we load up our fur babies and head to the vet – rarely giving any thought to potential side effects of the shots.

However, in some cases (studies vary from 1 in 1,000 to I in 30,000) a cancer known as fibrosarcoma can occur as a result of the feline rabies vaccine. This cancer is a quick moving strain that first appears at the injection site (usually near the right rear leg) in the way of excessive swelling or lump that forms along the soft or connective tissues.

While some swelling is considered common, it should go down within a month’s time. However, if the swelling or lump does not disappear in this time, then it is important to seek veterinary attention. Swelling is not the only indicator that the rabies shot has been administered; other symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, and mild fever.

How Can You Protect Your Cat Against Cancer as a Result of a Vaccination?

If you are not supportive of the traditional approach to vaccines, but want to protect your cat, know that there are often recombinant vaccination options – for instance, some vaccines can be administered via the nasal passage or topically – that can be used to ensure your cat stays healthy but without the need for a shot. Some of the considerations a vet might take when determining if a traditional approach is necessary include identifying your cat’s specific needs, considering local epidemiological factors and updating you on any manufacturer’s instructions (it should be noted that there have been no studies done that have connected genetics of the cat are a factor).  If you are considering an alternative to traditional vaccines, then consider talking to your vet to learn about the choices available.

One other factor to consider, is how frequently the shot is given in a specific body location. Studies have found these connections between the rabies vaccine and fibrosarcoma:

  • Risk of sarcoma formation following a single injectable vaccination in the neck-shoulder region is 50% higher than for cats not receiving a vaccination.
  • The more frequently the injection is given, the higher the risk of cancer.
  • In one study, cats given two injections at the same site were 127% likely to develop cancer; cats given the injection at the same spot 3 to 4 times were 175% more likely to do so.

The biggest thing you can do to minimize risks is to talk to your vet about the location and frequency of the shots, then pay attention to how your cat behaves after the shot. If you feel that there might be a concern, you can request tests such as a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel. Should these tests reveal that is cancer, or potential sickness, the sooner treatment (surgery, radiation, chemo, etc.) is began, the better your cat’s chances to have a normal life will be.

The fact that a rabies vaccination can potentially cause a disease, is not reason enough to avoid pet shots altogether. Rather, having the shots needs to be approached with the knowledge that risk is a part of living. Before deciding not to have your cat receive the vaccination, you need to talk to your vet and discuss the specific risks as well as the benefits for your cat.

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