Cat’s Tail Deemed Good Vaccination Spot

In a move that could improve some cat cancer treatments, University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine determined that vaccinating cats in the tail is a viable option.

Administering a vaccine in a cat’s tail instead of in a limb is just as effective and makes for less invasive treatment if cancer forms at the injection site, the University of Florida reported today.

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The alternative vaccination protocol could give cat owners more reason to treat the cancer because many choose not to when leg amputation or disfiguring tumor removal is necessary.

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The chance of soft tissue sarcoma developing at an injection site is slim — only 1 to 10 cats out of every 10,000 vaccinated, said veterinarian Julie Levy, the Maddie’s Professor of Shelter Medicine at UF’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

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“It’s still important to vaccinate because death from these infections is much more common than the cancer, but unfortunately this complication is one that does affect thousands of cats each year,” Levy said.
The alternative location was the focus of a report published online in October by the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.

Current recommendations of the American Association of Feline Practitioners are to administer a vaccination below a leg’s elbow, or knee joint. The researchers found no significant difference in a cat’s tolerance of a tail vaccination and one given in a hind leg.

The study began with a questionnaire sent to veterinary oncologists around the world. They were asked to rank 11 potential vaccination sites as well as their three preferred sites if surgical treatment of a subsequent sarcoma was needed.

The tip of a cat’s tail emerged as the favored site and one the research team pursued.

Sixty cats being spayed or neutered through UF’s Operation Catnip trap-neuter-return program were enrolled in the study. All were tame and outwardly healthy, possessed a full-length tail and had a caregiver who agreed to return the cat in one or two months for further evaluation.

Amputating a tail is much easier and less traumatic than invasive surgery on a limb, Levy said.

“Many cat owners elect not to pursue the most effective treatment — radical surgery of the tumor — because excision of tumors in the limbs and torso is often disfiguring, painful and expensive,” Levy said.

Julius Liptak, a surgery specialist and a founding fellow in surgical oncology with the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, called the study “very important for a number of reasons.”

“Firstly, it is important that vaccinations in the tail are effective in providing the necessary immunity against infectious and communicable diseases,” Liptak said. “Secondly, vaccinations in the tail are easy to perform and well tolerated by cats, which will hopefully mean that general practitioners will be willing to change their vaccination protocols and try this new location.”

Also on the research team were UF veterinary student Cleon Hendricks and serology specialists Edward Dubovi of Cornell University and Cathleen Hanlon of Kansas State University. Dubovi and Hanlon tested blood samples for antibodies before and after the cats were vaccinated.

The study was supported by grants from Maddie’s Fund, the Merial Veterinary Scholars Program and the Harold H. Morris Trust Fund for Research in Diseases of Small Animals.

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