Tail vaccinations in cats could save lives, researchers find

November 1, 2013

An alternative to a widely accepted vaccination protocol in cats could literally move the needle for feline cancer treatment, according to University of Florida researchers.

"One to 10 cats out of every 10,000 vaccinated against develop at the vaccine injection site," said Julie Levy, the Maddie's Professor of Shelter Medicine at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. "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."

When administering vaccinations, veterinarians typically follow the current recommendations of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, giving the injections below the elbow or the knee joint in the leg. That protocol is based on the understanding that the most effective treatment for cancer that occurs near injection sites is radical surgery—amputation of a limb.

"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.

But in a report published online this month by the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, Levy and a national team of experts in infectious disease and vaccinology report that administering vaccinations in the tip of the cat's appears to be as effective as vaccines at traditional sites. The researchers say tail vaccination would make surgical treatment of any cancer occurring near the site much easier, less invasive and less disfiguring for the animal, which could encourage more owners to treat the disease in their pet when it occurs.

As a first step in amassing information for the study, the researchers developed a questionnaire that was sent to veterinary oncologists practicing around the world. Oncologists were asked to rank 11 potential vaccination sites, and to note their top three preferred sites, considering only of sarcomas that might develop at those sites.

When the tail emerged as a favored site, the team performed a trial to see if cats would even allow it to be done to them.

Sixty cats that had come for spay or neuter services through the Operation Catnip trap-neuter-return program at UF were enrolled in the study. Only cats that were tame, outwardly healthy, had a full-length tail and were brought by a caregiver who committed to returning the cat in one or two months for further evaluation were selected for the study, the researchers said.

The study showed that cats tolerate tail vaccination at least as well as the currently recommended injection site in the hind leg.

"Dr. Levy's study is very important for a number of reasons," said Julius Liptak, a surgery specialist and a founding fellow in surgical oncology with the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

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

Most important from a cancer perspective, "If vaccinations on the end of the tail become a widely adopted practice, then amputating the tail is a much easier and less traumatic procedure, which will hopefully result in a much greater potential to cure this disease," Liptak said.

Explore further: As deadly cat disease spreads nationally, MU veterinarian finds effective treatment

Related Stories

ISFM takes a stand on welfare of unowned cats

September 6, 2013

Long-term confinement is not a humane option for the control of feral and stray or abandoned cat populations, according to new guidelines issued by the International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM) in its Journal of Feline ...

Stroking could stress out your cat

October 7, 2013

A new study by an international team of animal behaviour specialists suggests that cats who reluctantly allow their owners to stroke them could be more stressed out than moggies who carefully avoid being petted.

Recommended for you

New gene map reveals cancer's Achilles heel

November 25, 2015

Scientists have mapped out the genes that keep our cells alive, creating a long-awaited foothold for understanding how our genome works and which genes are crucial in disease like cancer.

Insect DNA extracted, sequenced from black widow spider web

November 25, 2015

Scientists extracted DNA from spider webs to identify the web's spider architect and the prey that crossed it, according to this proof-of-concept study published November 25, 2015 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Charles ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.