Rabies shot for 15 year old cat
January 28, 2019 2:27 PM   Subscribe

My childhood cat has not received any shots/vaccines since she left the shelter at 1 year old. She's now 15 and we've moved somewhere that requires a pet license. The license requires a rabies shot. What do I need to consider here?

This is Cindy. My mother was anti-vax and never licensed her so never had to get her a rabies shot. In 2017 my partner and I moved into an apartment and moved my cat in with us. We got her a pet license using the online form, which either didn't ask for vaccination information or let me proceed without it, I don't remember which. They sent me the license/tag with no issues.

This year I renewed her license and they again sent me the license/tag with no issues. I just got an email from someone at animal control saying that they processed and sent me the tag but just realized their records say that her rabies vaccine is out of date and I need to send them information/proof of vaccination. I confirmed with them that proof of a rabies shot is required for a pet license (and pet licenses are also required by law).

I am not anti-vax but this cat hasn't had any shots in 15 years. She also reacts very badly to car rides--throws up the whole time. My anxiety brain is going, "What if she has an allergic reaction? What if she's too old and the shock of it hurts her? What if she never trusts me again?" And I don't know how much of that IS just anxiety brain, or if there are things I should be considering with an older cat who's never had shots before.

She is (as far as we know) pretty healthy--still very active and energetic, no bathroom problems, very cuddly and loving. She has had an issue with throwing up clear-ish liquid (kind of like a hairball without hair?) a little less than once a week for the past two months or so --but she's always acted totally fine and not distressed or in pain after, and has shown no other signs of illness. We have been meaning to get her to the vet for that, but with the bad weather and how much cars stress her out we haven't made it happen yet.

So, if you can please help me get a realistic look at the situation, I would love to hear your knowledge and experiences about shots and older cats. Also, if you know any vets who do house calls in Milwaukee, I'm considering that as an option to reduce Cindy's stress as much as possible--trying to figure out how much extra cost that would be and if we can afford it.
posted by brook horse to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Anecdata, but my family have collectively owned at least 20 geriatric cats, all of whom had their rabies vaccinations without any problem. Most places have at least one mobile vet service for cats (and dogs) that hate going for car rides.
posted by rockindata at 2:40 PM on January 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'll let others chime in elsewhere, but this is a mobile vet in Milwaukee who can do house calls via a van that's been converted to a little exam room.
posted by mosst at 2:42 PM on January 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

When one of my cats reached that age, our vet stopped vaccinating him because she felt the risks outweighed the benefits. If your landlord doesn’t require the license to have a cat in the apartment, I would just not worry about it. Compliance with pet licensing laws is low and I believe there are unlikely to be any consequences if you spare your kitty the stress.
posted by Orlop at 2:42 PM on January 28, 2019 [7 favorites]

I also think you should ignore this request.

If you want just say your cat is very old and indoor cat and you don't think it's right for her health. Or that she has had a bad site reaction in the past and you don't want to put her through that again. The worst thing you'll get is a fine. Whoever emailed you is probably just supposed to go through the list and ask. I don't you'll hear from them again. I'm a huge proponent of both herd health and cat health care but this seems a little silly.

If you do decide to vaccinate, buy puppy pee pads and put one in the bottom of the carrier to minimize clean up. Take her to the next pet store rabies vaccination clinic.
posted by Bistyfrass at 2:52 PM on January 28, 2019

Consult the vet. I lean on the side of having the cat vaccinated, because in most states, if an unvaccinated cat has an encounter with a potentially rabid animal such as a bat, it must be euthanized. Your cat has never had a rabies shot. You're running this risk. (If a vaccinated animal has such an encounter, it just gets a booster shot.)
posted by Frowner at 2:53 PM on January 28, 2019 [6 favorites]

Cindy is a pretty kitty! Your question should really be answered by your vet, who it sounds like you need to visit or have visit you (has she ever been to a vet?). She should have a wellness exam and you should discuss the throwing up issue. You can then discuss the advisability of having her vaccinated. One of my elderly cats was fairly frail and his vet decided he could skip his rabies vaccine that year (which turned out to be his last) because all of my cats were inside-only and the other two were vaccinated. Most vets are compassionate and wise and make good decisions for our furry friends.
posted by clone boulevard at 2:53 PM on January 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

Honestly she sounds like a very healthy "senior" cat. I grew up with a cat that died at 22 and have known many other cats of similar age - Cindy likely has quite a few more years to enjoy. Getting her used to going to the vet is going to make caring for her in subsequent years a lot easier, so I'd focus on that if I were you. I don't think the actual vaccine will be a problem at all - that's definitely anxiety brain talking.

Ask a local person you know with animals about their vet and get in contact - vet offices these days do email and you can ask them about things like possible vaccine complications and if they know any house call services. Cindy really needs a wellness checkup regardless of if she gets a vaccine or not. Cats are experts at hiding their problems. Work slowly on getting her used to the car - leave the carrier out so it smells normal, practice putting her in and taking her out, carry it around the house then release her, then place carrier in the car and then remove, go for a very short drive, extend until you can get to the vet. It'll take some time, but imagine how much nicer it will be to care for your lovely cat.
posted by Mizu at 3:00 PM on January 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

A mobile vet visit for a wellness check for Cindy at her age would be a good idea anyway. When you do that, you can chat with the vet about a possible rabies shot, the risks and benefits, and whether her age might preclude it. If so, the vet can likely provide you a letter for a medical exemption, which might be sufficient, depending on how your animal control office works.

A kitten would get a series of rabies shots; I don't know if an adult cat who hasn't been vaccinated in 14 years would be able to get a one-off or would also need multiple visits to get the full series. That's something to ask the vet, and take into account when you budget for this. My experience with adult cats is that these days their adult rabies shots are good for three years, so if you can get yourself and Cindy through this once, you can take a few years off from worrying about it anymore.

She's not going to hate you and not trust you (maybe for a few hours, but not long-term). I can't speak to whether she's too old - my only cat who lived to 15 had an autoimmune disease so his vet didn't want him vaccinated for other reasons - but a vet can talk with you about that.

Assuming you go ahead, one thing to be aware of is that she might be sleepier than usual following the shot. This isn't generally something to be worried about; it seems to just be a common thing that happens, maybe a combo of the shot and travel stress? They'll sleep it off and be fine. But if you haven't seen that before I can imagine finding it worrisome, so just FYI - that's a thing that happens!
posted by Stacey at 3:12 PM on January 28, 2019

If you're worried she won't tolerate it because of age, see if your vet would confirm that opinion and provide a note. However like a few people stated, age shouldn't be an issue for the rabies vaccine so I'd definitely look into a mobile vet if you're worried about the stress alone. I'm in a city where pet licenses and rabies vaccines are a requirement and also work with a rescue that requires it for all cats. Also in my state there were two recent incidents of rabid raccoons getting into people's homes...thankfully all their pets were vaccinated.
posted by Katie8709 at 3:26 PM on January 28, 2019

Response by poster: She has been to the vet at least once for a UTI (that cleared up with treatment and has not recurred) about 3 years ago but she is definitely not used to regular check ups. I am also pretty certain her car stress is related to motion sickness--she actually loves the cat carrier (which I discovered after being too lazy to put away once) and will sit in it of her own volition, and doesn't start showing distress in a car until after we've been moving for a bit. But I wouldn't want to give her anything for the nausea without talking to a vet first, hence the Catch-22...

I've called two mobile vets but neither picked up and their prices aren't on their websites. But half our city is shut down because of the blizzard, so I may just have to try again tomorrow. The only clinic whose website acknowledged doing house calls apparently no longer does them, thought I could call and confirm the other ones.
posted by brook horse at 3:49 PM on January 28, 2019

I know the anxiety about geriatric cats very well. My 17-year-old just had a very bad spell with an infection that probably could have been the end if she hadn't behaved as well as she did about the recovery. But she forgave me really quickly, despite having been very cranky with me in the midst of it. I think you should ask a vet about whether the shot is a good idea, but this part:

but she's always acted totally fine and not distressed or in pain after

If you find a vet who's reasonably close? Yeah, she's going to spend a little while being queasy, but even if she does throw up, she'll feel better as soon as she's home, and she probably is much less traumatized by her car rides than you are by having to be there at the time. Humans think puking is the Absolute Worst, and cats really don't. A mobile vet is great if you can swing it, but if you can't, don't project too much of your feelings onto her about this! She isn't anxious about this stuff like you are. She might get carsick but she doesn't spend the whole time going "oh god oh god" about it the way a person might. Definitely don't put her through things if you don't have to, but if you need to go somewhere, pairing this with a check-in about her problem and possibly a dental if you can swing it means at least you can kill several birds with one stone.

She has years of practice being your lovey cat. One day of being queasy and unhappy is not going to break that.
posted by Sequence at 4:26 PM on January 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

For a mellow indoor companion, please just skip it. I'm not anti vax.
posted by ovvl at 4:46 PM on January 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is an indoor cat? Just don't bother. Nothing is going to happen if her license lapses. Nobody is going to come take her away. She's not going to start a rabies plague. You have more important things to worry about than this.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:51 PM on January 28, 2019

I mean look, if the very rules-abiding people of Ask Metafilter are telling you that you don't need to worry about this, it really is seriously not a big deal.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:52 PM on January 28, 2019

I would ignore the request. If they press you on it, tell them the cat passed away or moved back to Indiana (or somewhere). No one is going to come to the apartment and check.
posted by AugustWest at 7:50 PM on January 28, 2019

What is her risk profile? I'm assuming she is an indoor cat, but does she ever get out by accident? Do you have friends that bring their pets to your home? Do you ever have problems with wildlife getting in to your home (bats, mice, etc)?

If the answer to those questions is no, then I would agree with the folks who say that it is reasonable to forgo vaccinations for elderly cats with low risk profiles.

That said, it's a good time to consider arranging for a check-up with a house-call vet to make sure Cindy's doing OK in general, and they can go over the vaccination options with you, but there is no rush.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:35 AM on January 29, 2019

Your biggest problem might be the fact that animal control, an agency in your municipal government, has gotten wind of a potential violation.

SCC Animal Control hounded us year after year after we licensed our old dog, 12 when we got him, and threatened us with fines when we tried to let the license lapse. We were good citizens until the end of that dog, informed them that the dog had died, and never licensed again.

We always had rabies tags on our dogs, directly from the vet.
posted by the Real Dan at 8:13 AM on January 29, 2019

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