Risks and benefits of Rabies shots in Cats

The Rabies vaccination is part of what are referred to in veterinary medicine as ''core vaccinations''. Core vaccinations are vaccines that all cats shuold get. They prevent against serious diseases and shuold be given regardless if the cat lives outdoors and indoors. Both Rabies and Distemper are core vaccinations for cats.

The Rabies vaccine in particular is mandated by law now in most States. Because Rabies is such a serious, fatal disease transmittable to humans, all cats and dogs by law are required to be vaccinated against it. The vaccination can be given by a licensed DVM only and he or she must release a vaccination certificate often along with Rabies tags to put on collars if feasible.

Kittens are generally not vaccinated against Rabies until they are at least 12 weeks old. Then they are vaccinated a year later. After ward, depending on local laws, the cat may be vaccinated every year or every three years.

The Rabies vaccination is typically given in the right hind leg right below the knee joint.

The great benefit of rabies shots is that the disease is actually rarely seen anymore.



Reaction to Rabies Vaccinations

Rabies vaccines may give soreness to cats just as the tetanus shot may give soreness to humans. These are known as vaccine reactions and are not too uncommon. The most serious reactions occur often within minutes and can be similar to the allergic reaction humans allergic to peanuts may develop after eating them.

Serious Reactions

Such serious reactions cause often cause the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Facial swelling
  • Itchiness
  • Hives
  • Vomiting
  • Pale gums
  • Anaphylactic shock
  • Death

These are emergencies that need treated immediately. Affected cats require antihistamines and an injection of epinephrine. They cannot be treated at home.

Mild Reactions

Milder reactions are more common in pets. With mild reactions cats typically develp symptoms hours later . Cats affected by mild reaction typically develop the following symptoms:

  • Hiding
  • Refusing Food
  • Sleepiness
  • Fever
  • Reluctance to being touched

Often vet clininc will treat vaccine reactions for no charge or at a reduced rate. If your dog is in pain and very lethargic them may give an injection of an anti-flammatory and fluids if she has a fever.


Most cats will get better after 24-48 hours. Fluid intake is helpful. Offering water from a can of tuna or dry food softened with chicken broth containing no onion or garlic may help. Meat baby food with no onion or garlic diluted with some warm water may help as well.


Such mild reactions should be noted on the cat's chart. Owners therefore should notify their vet about them. In the future therefore, the vet may pretreat with an injection of Benadryl (Diphenidramine) to prevent such reaction from occurring.


For future reference it is also recommended to not schedule all vaccinations in one day. Separating them in separate visits may help reduce the reaction while allowing the vet to better determine exactly which vaccination creates trouble.


It is a good idea to always schedule vaccinations when you can monitor your pet after ward. This may mean scheduling over the weekend for some people but often vaterinary clininc close on noon on Saturdays, meaning that if a reaction necessitating of immediate treatment occurs, the only place to go is at a costly emergency clinic.

The Link between Rabies and Cancer

Vaccine Associated Sarcomas

There have been reports of cats developing cancer after being vaccinated against the Rabies vaccination. The cause appears to be the  aluminum adjuvant used from 1985.

This is the reason why vets administer the Rabies vaccine in the right hind leg. In case a sarcoma develops, the leg may be amputated giving the cat a chance for survival. The FELV vaccine has also been attributed to have chances of causing vaccine induced sarcomas, this vaccine is given instead in the left rear leg.

It is not uncommon for some swelling to develop at the injection site post vaccination. Usually such swellings should be reported to the vet, however, many times such swellings disappear within a few weeks.

According to  the article ''Feline Vaccine associated sarcoma by Barbara E. Kitchell, DVM  the sign of a vaccine induced sarcoma generally consists of the following:

  • A mass that does not go away after 3 months post injection.
  • A mass larger than 2 cm in diameter.
  • A  mass increasing in size beyond one month post-injection.

Treatment consists of aggressive surgery to remove the tumor and some surrounding tissues, chemotherapy and radiation. In some cases, amputationof the leg may be necessary.

There is a newer 1 year vaccine called Purevax which does not contain adjuvant and therefore it is less likely to cause tumors. More information about vaccine induced sarcomas and Purevax may be obtained here..


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Comments 6 comments

Jan from Virginia 6 years ago

My cat Rookie (5 years old) received her rabies shot two weeks ago and displays the mild sytmtoms of hiding, not eating, sleeping and not wanting to be touched. is this normal after two weeks? She seems to be getting better but ever so slowly.


alexadry profile image

alexadry 6 years ago from USA Author

I really think two weeks is too much. These symptoms may or may not be due to the shot. To be safe, I would call the vet and let him/her know and follow their advice. Best wishes!


Wendy 6 years ago

My 2 year old cat had her shots about a week ago. She had all the "mild" symptoms, so I took her in to the same vet. They did bloodwork and a leukemia test because she presented with a high fever. Her platelet count was really, really high and the vet said he wasn't sure why. He put her on steroids for twenty days, with a follow up in a week. I mentioned an allergic reaction and the possibility of an antihistamine shot, but he ignored it. She's not getting any better and her limping is getting worse. Any suggestions?


alexadry profile image

alexadry 6 years ago from USA Author

They should have put in her records that she had a mild reaction if that is what it was. Many vets will pre-medicate next time to play it safe with an antihistamine five to fifteen minutes prior to the shot in order to try to reduce the risk of severe reactions. I find it odd that the limping is getting worse after a week...The steroids should help if this is due to an autoimmune response to the vaccine. Has the vet checked if an abscess has formed in the leg? Sometimes these form as a result of the vaccine. Here is a helpful link: http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=1+2143&a...


vlasna 5 years ago

My Ragdoll cat Lexie was given Rabies and Dictemper vaccines yesterday. As soon as we got home she started to vomit non-stop. I brought he back to the clinic and they gave her a Benadryl shot. She stopped vomiting and did drink a lot of water. Starting from yesterday evening she started to hide, couldn't sit in one place for a second, nose is hot. She never liked to be touched, so... The symptoms still continue this morning.I hope she will feel better/ My vet said that next time she will give her Benadryl before vaccine.


valya 5 years ago

thanks for the upcoming newer vaccines

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