I hear and read all the time about veterinarians over-vaccinating pets. In fact, I have heard it so much that I have spent significant time and thought formulating the vaccine recommendations at my hospital, weighing out risk and benefit.  The barrage of suggestions that we as a society overdo vaccines had even caused me to look more closely at how I vaccinate my human child. I was starting to think there was merit to these suggestions-until today.

I recently adopted a kitten. He is a mixed breed kitten that looks Siamese born from a barn cat that Julie happened across and gave to me.  He is my dream kitten and everyone who knows me knows that I have wanted a Siamese cat for over 20 years. I have just never been able to get one because I want to adopt and not shop.  This little kitten has belonged to me for a little over a week.  He goes with me and the dog to work each morning and back home each night. When he came, he was not even old enough to start his vaccines.  

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Last Thursday, a lady came rushing in with a very tiny orange kitten, near to death and begged us to treat him even though she had just found him.  Being animal lovers, we rushed to his aid and began emergency treatments.  Everyone in the hospital did their part to rouse the baby kitten, but he breathed his last in our arms.  I remember having the thought that my new baby kitten was in the building, so we all washed our hands after the sick baby since we did not know what was wrong.

On Thursday, my kitten started to have loose stool and act a little sick.  He did not want to eat or play.  I started running tests and instituting treatments.  I was not really too concerned because like everyone, I figured that all the really bad diseases are so over-vaccinated for that they have been eliminated, right? As my kitten spiraled sicker and I knew I was doing everything I could, I decided to take him to the local referral center.  I had ruled out and treated for all the routine stuff and I thought that I needed more care than my general practice can give-24 hour care. 

When I arrived with him, they began more tests and were very kind, seeing that I was torn between being a cat mom and being a vet.  Sometimes you just need some separation when it is your fur child and I guess all vets know about this. I am really attached to this kitten because he has required around the clock care for several days now and so he is with me all the time.  I was shocked to learn that my kitten (and very likely the little dead kitten) was infected with Panleukopenia.  Feline Panleukopenia is a part of the “core” vaccines suggested for all cats and I have never diagnosed this disease before in 17 years of practice.  You see, when all cats were regularly vaccinated, it had become rare.  My kitten was not quite old enough to have been vaccinated yet, but if all adult cats were being treated as they should, it would still be a thing of the past. My kitten may not survive. 

I do have a painful answer to question about whether we as a profession are over-vaccinating and the answer is NO.  We are not vaccinating enough. 

Dr. Kathryn Primm is a veterinarian and author. Her first book is Tennessee Tails: Pets and Their People, and you can visit her author site at http://www.drprimm.com/