Tail Vaccination in Cats: Protection Against Cancer?

Oncology Viewpoint

As a veterinary oncologist,I know that the advisory panel chose the recommended vaccination sites with the management of injection-site sarcomas in mind. If vaccines are administered in a front or hind leg and result in a sarcoma, the tumors can be removed with limb amputation. From my specialist's viewpoint, tumors occurring as a result of vaccination in the hip, shoulder or chest area — the areas not recommended by the guidelines — are very difficult to remove. Successful treatment of those tumors also usually requires radiation therapy and chemotherapy in addition to surgery.

At first glance, from an oncologist’s viewpoint, vaccinating in the tail makes sense. While no one wants to see his favorite kitty lose any body part, the loss of the tail compared to a limb is minimally debilitating and only mildly painful. A tail amputation seems far better and simpler, in my mind, than amputating a leg. So if people are tweeting about using the tail as a vaccination site, why didn’t the advisory panel include it in its recommendations? A bit of reading in Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery provided the answer.

Pilot Results vs. Protocol

The impetus for a lot of my “tail tweets" was an article that first appeared in October in the journal’s online edition and later in its April print edition. The article, titled "Tail Vaccination in Cats: A Pilot Study," proposed the use of the tail as a possible vaccination site and was widely reported. However, it’s important to realize that a pilot study is by no means a definitive scientific exploration. The study surveyed 94 veterinary oncologists about their experiences with 60 cats.

Pilot studies are very useful because they can raise interesting questions and ideas for practitioners and researchers to consider. But they often are given wide coverage in mainstream media in a way that makes them seem much more authoritative than they really are. In reality, pilot studies are just the beginning step in looking at whether a practice is medically sound. A pilot study does not analyze safety or efficacy.

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