22 October 2023

Cat vaccine shortages prompt change in approach

| Claire Sams
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A woman holding a cat

RSPCA ACT chief executive Michelle Robertson said the shelter was looking for more stock of a key vaccine for kittens and cats in their care. Photo: Travis Radford.

Cats are the latest critters to be hit by a shortage of animal vaccines.

Director of Gungahlin Vet Hospital and President of the ACT branch of the Australian Vet Association Doctor Michael Hayward said many vets had faced ongoing shortages of drugs and vaccines since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In some cases, it hasn’t been too big of an issue because there’s been alternate products or very, very similar products,” he said.

“In other cases, there’s been shortages of individual products.

“Dog and cat vaccines have variously been unavailable and currently we have an issue with the vaccination against canine leptospirosis and feline immunodeficiency.”

RSPCA NSW recently announced a temporary hold on accepting surrendered or stray cats, citing a shortage of core cat vaccinations.

The Blue Mountains and Illawarra were the only RSPCA Shelters to be exempt from the decision. They will keep accepting strays because of council pound obligations.

Dr Hayward said the core vaccines cover feline panlueukopenia, feline rhinotracheitis and feline calicivirus.

“These are highly infectious, so it’s very, very easy for a cat who has no protection – typically [done] by vaccination – to be infected,” he said.

Dr Hayward said vets had recently been forced to switch between brands.

“There are three brands [of the core cat vaccinations] that are sold in Australia,” he said.

“One of the brands became unavailable six weeks to two months ago, and then another brand announced it was being discontinued and another is going to be unavailable until next year.

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“There is a separate cat flu only vaccine, and we’ll be reserving stocks of the three-in-one vaccine [the core cat vaccine] for kittens and use the booster on adult cats.”

Dr Hayward asked pet owners to keep in mind supply issues are out of the hands of vet practice workers.

“Please be patient and understanding,” he said.

“The vets, the receptionist, the veterinary nurse – the whole of our industry – all find this vaccine and drug shortage or unavailability just as frustrating as you do.

“When there’s no stock, there’s no stock and nothing that we can do.”

RSPCA ACT chief executive Michelle Robertson said that while there were no immediate plans to stop accepting cats in the Territory, they were watching supply.

“We are scrambling around, trying to get enough [of the vaccines] and we are running low,” she said.

“That is a major, major headache for us and we are really worried about that.”

Ms Robertson said the RSPCA ACT would continue its operations as normal.

“The compromise that we’ve made in the ACT is to not shut the doors, but look at how we can potentially change our vaccine regime to still offer the best protection [to the cats] that we can, based on what’s available,” she said.

“It is doing the absolute best that you can in the circumstances.”

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For Tuggernong resident Morgan Kenyon, a loving pet parent to two cats, the shortage was “worrying, but not surprising”.

“Vaccines have been in shortage for a while now and kitten season will only make the situation worse,” she said.

She lives with her husband and several pets, including Wanda and Willow.

Two black cats cuddling on a couch

Morgan said that when it comes to Widow (left) and Wanda (right), vaccines were an easy decision. Photo: Morgan Kenyon.

Morgan said keeping kittens and cats vaccinated was a key part of keeping them healthy.

“Giving them vaccines is simple and pretty much painless – they worry more about the car ride than the needle,” she said.

“If you can’t get a vaccination from your vet, you have even more reason to keep your cats contained [inside].”

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