My Cat Died Right After He Got His Shots. Why?

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I took my cat to the vet on Monday for simple shots — rabies and leukemia — and he had a couple of sores on his back and legs that I wanted to have checked. The problem is the vet gave him both vaccines at the same time, and he died in less than 15 minutes. He collapsed when he got back to an operating room and they gave him oxygen and tried to keep him alive, but it didn’t work. What could have caused this to happen? He had the shots the year before and did fine, and I was just trying to take care of my best friend. Now he is gone and my heart is just shattered. He was between 8 and 9 years old, and was showing signs of age, but certainly not enough for this to happen. Could you give me an idea of what might have happened here? I talked to the vet who worked on him and another vet and they aren’t really sure what happened. They said it was unusual, and there could be any number of reasons. Please help. I know it won’t bring him back, but it would give me peace of mind. I blame myself for taking him. If we hadn’t gone to the vet, he might still be alive.

~ Brian

A cat's face with a rainbow reflected on it

Rainbow Cat. Photo by Hibbard via Morguefile

Siouxsie: First of all, Brian, we’re tremendously sorry for your loss. It’s heartbreaking to lose a beloved friend suddenly and with no warning, and it’s really hard not to blame yourself or the vet.

Thomas: When Kissy died suddenly last fall, after she had surgery to amputate a chronically painful leg that reparative surgery probably wouldn’t have helped, Mama was in deep shock and grief for a long time. It’s terrible when you do something that you believe will make your cat’s life better and healthier and the cat dies instead.

Bella: We looked up information on sudden death in cats, and while we didn’t find any sudden deaths related to vaccines, the folks at VetInfo say that the most common causes of sudden death they see in their practice are heartworms and cardiomyopathy.

Siouxsie: Cats can get heartworms, and while they don’t grow as well in cats and generally don’t live as long or cause as many problems, they can cause fatalities. The VetInfo folks did a post-mortem exam on a cat that died suddenly and found four heartworms in the pulmonary arteries.

Thomas: Cardiomyopathy is a silent cat killer, too. There are three forms of the disease, which affect the muscles of the heart in different ways.

Bella: As the VetInfo article says, “Cardiomyopathy is probably the leading cause of anesthetic deaths in cats and most of the time the affected cats have no signs that are detected prior to the anesthetic crisis.”

Siouxsie: Oh, Mama, it’s  okay; you don’t have to cry. If Kissy did have cardiomyopathy, there’s no way either you or the vet could have known; after all, she didn’t have a heart murmur or anything … here, let me get on your *urf* lap and help you write for us. Jeez, this lap hopping isn’t quite as easy as it used to be.

Thomas: Ultimately, what it comes down to, Brian, is that without a post-mortem exam, neither you nor your vet will ever know for sure what caused your beloved cat’s death. But what we can tell you is that considering he was fine after his vaccinations last year and every year before that, there’s probably a 99.99999999% chance that the vaccinations are not what killed him.

Bella: Mama says she hopes you’ll be able to take comfort in the fact that you were doing the right thing by taking him in for a checkup and vaccinations. That’s what responsible cat caretakers do. You acted out of love — and common sense! — when you took your cat to the vet, and nobody can say otherwise.

Siouxsie: There’s no way you or your vet could have known, or even suspected, that this would happen. The odds of sudden death from any veterinary procedure in a cat that had no previous symptoms of illness range in the millions to one.

Thomas: We hope that when you’re ready to bring a new cat companion into your life, you won’t let your recent tragedy keep you from being sure that cat gets regular veterinary care and vaccinations appropriate for his or her lifestyle.

Bella: Purrs and head-bonks to you, Brian, and our profound sympathies as well.

  • http://conservationcubclub Joanne McGonagle

    Our deepest sympathies to Brian. We know how much it hurts to lose our loved ones too. Your words of comfort will help so much knowing that he was doing the best he could for his cat.

    • Donna Gegeny

      I took my cat to get vaccinated and when the vet gave him the shot my cat screamed so loud. Ive never heard a cat scream that loud. When I got him home not long after he died. I knew it was the shot right away. He was perfectly healthy.

      • Donna Gegeny

        I think it had something to do with where he injected the shot why else would my cat scream the way he did.

  • Angela U

    I am so sorry for your loss. It is heartbreaking to hear. While our kitten did not pass away I wanted to share another scary vaccine story. He did get very, very ill and almost did pass from routine vaccines. We were adopted by a stray who was a year old. We got him all his vaccines without incident. Year two we did the same without incident. Year three did not go so well. When we got him home he began vomiting and and it was all downhill from there. By morning he was not eating, drinking, or walking. We rushed him to the hospital where he spent the day on IV fluids. By the evening he was better and we were able to take him home. The diagnostics were inconclusive, but it was generally concluded that he had an allergic reaction to one or the combination of vaccines. We agreed in the future to only get him the vaccines he absolutely requires in the future and only do them one at a time and monitor him afterwards. We don’t know what changed with the cat or the vaccines, but something did in late 2012.

    • http://facebook susan

      I agree with Angela, &, not so much with the 99.9999% that it wasn’t the vaccines! I too, almost lost my cat after a severe allergic reaction to his booster! plus, the vet did not advise what to look for & when! and, oh yeah, by the way, maybe you should have some benedryl at home just in case!!
      he ended up at an emergency clinic!!

      • Cindy

        Check with vet before using benedryl on a cat. Pretty sure it kill them. Dogs can but not cats.

  • InterestedPerson

    Brian, I learned about cardiomyopathy the horrible way, when my dear Mudita, died from it…
    no symptoms discernable until 36 hours before he died at the emergency medical center.
    I think it is the leading cause of death of young cats…he was almost 8, and that was considered
    It might help you to learn about it, but nothing helps when it is so unexpected. I can say that you
    should not blame yourself, as everyone said to me, but one still does. I hope the time comes
    soon when all you rmember are the good times, and as Dr. Seuss is quoted:
    Do not cry because it is over: Smile because it happened.

  • Claudia

    I am so sorry for your loss. It is hard to deal with unexplained deaths, it hurts incredibly much, but try not to blame yourself. Whatever is the reason, your did your best and it was not your fault. Life can be unfair sometimes, we lose loved ones all the time, family, friends and pets. Don’t shut yourself out of grieve. Honor your little friend and open yourself to greater love for life and the world. Get yourself another kitty and give your love to her instead. Don’t let your love unattended, that is the worst part of losing a friend, the loneliness. I have learned that differently from humans ( from whom you can not transfer love instantaneously) we are able to hug, cry and love a new pet the loss of another. We are helping another animal by helping ourselves to overcome our grieve. All the best for you.

  • Jen

    Im so sorry Brian

    but like they said, when you do get another furry friend, dont let this horrible tragedy stop you from taking her/him to the vets for their ‘usuals’


    Love & Light

    Jen xxx

  • Judith

    I am so sorry for the loss of Brian’s baby. It is gut wrenching to lose one. Most all of us who have lost them know how much it hurts. In your case it is hard not to second guess and blame yourself. I did.

    I truly believe after much listening to the holistic Dr”s and using my own common sense that cats do not need nor should they have vaccines every year. Holistic Dr’s say a good rule is get the first set of vaccines. Get the vaccines every 3rd year until the cat is 10 and no more after that. I do not get the rabies because my cats are all inside. I personally don’t get vaccines much after the first set. I believe we medicate them way to much. I also believe the long use of prednisone was a great contributor to the death of my Siamese baby Peppy. We have to do all we can at home and do the research to make wise decisions when it comes to out babies. I.

  • rumorasit

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Brian. It’s possible that the stress brought on by the vet visit contributed to one of above mentioned conditions. Or not. There’s really no way to know without….you know. And even then they may not be able to find a cause. My heart goes out to you.

    I think many of us have lost furbabies. And perhaps lost them in ways that just don’t seem to make logical sense. Please, don’t blame yourself. You were doing what any responsible and loving fur parent does for their babies. <3

  • vagabond

    Judith- I agree with you completely! My catz are kept inside and after the kitten set of shots that is all they get. I (my catz!) also do not have fleas anymore, so I don’t use the flea controls that are on the market, which in my non-professional opinion, are harmful in and of themselves.
    Brian- I am truly sorry for your loss. It wasn’t your fault- you were only acting out of love.

  • Ardis

    So sorry for your loss! We have lost lots of pets over the years, and yet each new loss is traumatic! As if it were our first! Little One, Little One 2, Sumi, Kitten, Mitzi, Snickers, Iniki, Kit, Squeegie, Sassy, Funny, White Face, Taylor, Rusty, Calico – we cried with each one! Some we had only a short time, other’s from the time they were born until their life was lived to the fullest (15 years)! No matter, they are part of your family, and it hurts terribly! So, I am so sorry for your loss!

    We all have regrets, that maybe we could have done something differently, but in the end, we only make ourselves more miserable! When you can, a new kitty will help take the hurt away. You will not forget your beloved pet, but the hurt gets less when you can share your love with another little kitty! Your new one has no idea what you are going thru, but they are there for you, to comfort your tears! God Bless!

  • Julianna

    I’m sorry bout your loss which is similar to my story. We had never taken our cats in to a vet before and I had basic issues to address that’s why I took them in. Leslie had dandruff and kitty had a cough. He vaccinated both of them and we brought them home. Leslie immediately went and hid that night, I had seen her once and thought nothing of it. I’m haunted by the thought she was sick and it was her goodbye. I didn’t see her the following morning so I called the vet they told me to keep an eye on her for vomiting and see if she ate,by 5 pm she was found dead. I miss her greatly. According to the autopsy she was ill and the vet didn’t catch it when he gave her the shots it was a death sentence. I want to sue him cause his selfish butt wants paid for killing my cat which he said she was healthy. If he told me she was sick I would’ve done a fecal test anything to save her. I don’t believe in vets anymore

  • Kathleen Young

    I just experienced the same exact thing today. Spuds was 8 years old and went in for the same vaccinations. He came back with a great heart report. The vet noticed a blockage and unblocked it. He was on med to help him go. That night he got off the bed to go use the litter box and never bothered coming back to bed so I went and got him. He left again but this time only made it out the bedroom door. We rushed him back to the vet where they gave him fluids and medication. 2 days later we get the call he should be put down and will not sustain without life support.