Q: I'm concerned that the vaccine to protect cats against rhinotracheitis and the calici virus actually causes the (viral infections) and helps destroy a cat's immune system. I know two cats whose deaths directly resulted from the feline leukemia vaccine. Can you please tell people not to use these vaccines? — A.A., Cyberspace
A: I'm afraid I can't help because you're wrong. Feline herpes virus (rhinotracheitis) is the most common cause of upper respiratory disease in cats. Calici virus often causes inflammation in the mouth, oral ulcers and/or limping, and can be very serious. Both infections occur most often in kittens, cats in stressed or overcrowded environments like animal shelters and those in multicat households.
Once infected, there may be chronic flare-ups throughout a cat's life.
Feline veterinarian Dr. Susan Little, of Ottawa, Canada, says, "The vaccine for the feline herpes virus and for the calici virus were never intended to prevent infection. Vaccination does in some cases prevent symptoms, or at least lessens their severity, so cats don't die."
As for your claim about the feline leukemia vaccine, it's simply not true, says Little, a past president of the Winn Feline Foundation. Most veterinarians do agree that not all cats should be vaccinated for feline leukemia. This has nothing to do with the vaccines but instead is about the lifestyle of individual cats.
For example, indoor only cats are unlikely to be exposed to the disease, and may not require the vaccine.
"For some reason, this myth (about the danger of the feline leukemia vaccine) has persisted for decades," Little says.