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Comments on the dilemma in the February issue: ‘Vaccinations and the Animal Welfare Act’
  1. Jonathan Tesh
  1. Grantham, UK


The dilemma in the February issue concerned frustration at a shelter's resistance to vaccinating all its cats against feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) because of the expense, despite the duty of care that the Animal Welfare Act 2006 imposes on cat owners (In Practice, February 2013, volume 35, pages 102-103). Martin Whiting commented that while all vets should be providing evidence-based veterinary medicine for the animals under their care, which included the proper use of vaccines, neither the Animal Welfare Act 2006 nor Defra's Code of Practice covering cats stated that vaccination was mandatory. The legislation was written in an open-ended and non-prescriptive manner and how it was interpreted would depend on the specific circumstances. With that in mind, he suggested redirecting your efforts. Rather than only pressing the shelter staff to vaccinate cats, advice could be provided on other ways of avoiding disease transmission within the shelter and, once the cats were adopted, the new owners could be advised on vaccination.

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WSAVA Guidelines for the Vaccination of Dogs and Cats (2010) class FeLV vaccination as non-core; they also only recommend vaccinating cats that have been FeLV tested and found to be negative. A blanket recommendation to vaccinate all cats in the shelter against FeLV does not fit with this recommendation and it could be argued that this is not seen as good practice under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and, therefore, not a legal requirement.

Although it may not be a legal requirement to vaccinate all cats, it could be argued that if the shelter had the ability to prevent a disease that carries a guarded prognosis it has an ethical responsibility to do so. However, if, due to financial constraints, vaccination resulted in the shelter being able to help fewer cats, this move could be seen as unethical.

A better recommendation might be to test all cats and then advise new owners to have the cats vaccinated depending upon health status and living arrangements in the new home. The shelter could offer financial help towards the cost, encouraging the new owners to take up the advice given, while allowing the shelter to save money and help more animals.

Have you faced a dilemma that you would like considered in a future instalment of Everyday Ethics? If so, e-mail a brief outline to inpractice{at} We pay a small honorarium for contributions that are published.

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