A Cat Clinic

Vaccines and Autism: NO link in cats (or people)!

Posted on: March 13th, 2015 by Dr. Dale Rubenstein

When I saw this crazy headline ,“Vaccinations Made My Cat Autistic!”, I generally would have just sighed and moved on. But this was so egregious, I couldn’t just let it go.

The recent outbreak of measles shows what happens when people stop vaccinating their children. And, measles is more than just a rash: blindness and even death, not to mention in-utero problems can result.

Autism is a terrible disease. I have two close friends with autistic children and the challenges are exhausting and relentless.

But, this article forced me to say something. First, no feline has ever been diagnosed with “autism”. How would you diagnose this in a cat, who can’t speak (at least that we can be 100% certain of what they are saying, beside simple – “Feed me”/ “Let me go outside”, etc)?

Second, as hopefully most people now know, the autism/vaccine link has been disproved. There is no scientific evidence of a connection!

In the current case, the “autistic” cat was found to be Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) positive. The virus was far more likely to be the cause of change in behavior than anything to do with any vaccinations administered.

There are times when we elect not to vaccinate – a cat with advanced stage cancer or end-stage kidney failure might be one. The most recent Feline Practitioner (AAFP) guidelines from 2013 recommend only 2 core vaccines: Rabies, required by law in most states, and FVRCP (distemper/upper respiratory).

Vaccines can cause reactions, most of which are not fatal, and can be minimized or prevented by giving only one vaccine at a time, or pre-treating with anti-histamines and/or a short-acting corticosteroid. If your cat has had the “one in a million” anaphylactic reaction, that may be the cat we chose not to vaccinate again. But, this is based on discussion with your veterinarian as to the risk/benefit for your cat.

Pretty Boy was a generally healthy 17-year old cat when his mom decided to adopt a kitten. She had decided to skip the FVRCP vaccine for him just because of his age. As you can guess, Pretty Boy developed the worst case of upper respiratory virus I’ve seen: he had difficulty breathing, was unable to eat, and was refractory to treatment. This is heart-breaking because this scenario was preventable.

Again, please, please talk to your veterinarian. We don’t want you do lose your cat to something that could have been prevented. And please don’t spread that vaccines in cats cause autism – this is simply not true.

Dale Rubenstein, DVM, DABVP
Diplomate, Amerian Board of Veterinary Practitioners
Feline Practice Specialty