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Vaccinations for Your Cat: why & when.


WHY DOES MY CAT NEED TO BE VACCINATED?

Vaccines help to protect against specific infectious diseases caused by some

viruses and bacteria. They stimulate the body’s immune system to detect

infection and help the body fight against infection if necessary in the future.

Without vaccination, many cats will become seriously ill or may even die from

diseases that their immune system is unable to fight effectively on its own.

The use of vaccines has prevented death and disease in millions of cats and it

is important to continue this practice to ensure cats are protected throughout

their lives. In addition, vaccines protect people from disease, such as rabies,

that can be transmitted from cats.


A discussion about vaccination needs and your cat’s individual risk is a part of

their routine check-up with their veterinarian.


WHY DOES MY KITTEN NEED A SERIES OF MORE THAN ONE VACCINE?

Newborn kittens depend on their mothers for food and warmth, but also for protection against infectious diseases. The first few times they nurse, kittens get antibodies from their mother’s milk that will help to keep them safe for a few weeks to several months. This immunity provides protection with “maternally derived antibodies” (MDA) while a kitten’s own immune system is still developing. However, if the antibody levels decrease before the kitten has developed his/her own immunity, they may not be protected which could leave the kitten susceptible to disease. During the time when the kitten has high levels of MDA, it can interfere with their immune system’s ability to fully respond to vaccination.


The rate at which MDA declines is different for every kitten. Since we cannot predict for each kitten when MDA has become low enough to allow an effective response to vaccination, guidelines have been developed to protect as many kittens as possible against disease by giving a series of vaccinations starting at 4 weeks of age. An incomplete series of kitten vaccinations may leave your kitten vulnerable to infection, so it is important to follow your veterinarian’s recommendations and vaccinate up to at least 16-18 weeks of age with boosters at 6 months and 12 months of age, depending on the vaccine.


HOW OFTEN DOES MY CAT NEED TO BE RE-VACCINATED?


Many things need to be taken into consideration when deciding how often your

cat needs to be vaccinated. These include such factors as:

• Health status

• Your cat’s age and lifestyle

• How long a specific vaccine provides protection for (“duration of immunity”)

• How likely your cat is to be exposed to a specific disease

• How dangerous a disease might be

• Licensing regulations in the area where you live or travel


This is why re-vaccination intervals may vary from cat to cat, home to home, and between different diseases. Your veterinarian will be able to customize a vaccination schedule for your individual cat.


WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF VACCINATIONS?

The benefits of vaccination greatly outweigh possible risks. Just as in children, following

vaccination your cat may experience mild and short-lived reactions (malaise), such as

poor appetite, lethargy, and fever that resolve without treatment. Any symptoms

that persist for more than a day or two should be discussed with your veterinarian.

Rarely, more serious allergic reactions occur and may include vomiting, diarrhea, facial swelling, or difficulty breathing.


These serious reactions appear within minutes or hours of vaccination and

require immediate veterinary care.


Another uncommon reaction is a tumor at the injection site that develops months or years after vaccination. Talk to your veterinarian about any persistent lumps or swellings at injection sites.


WHICH CORE VACCINES SHOULD MY CAT RECEIVE?

According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners feline vaccination guidelines, core vaccines for cats include:

  • Feline herpesvirus-1/feline viral rhinotracheitis: Causes infectious respiratory disease and lifelong infection that leads to recurrent flare-ups

  • Calicivirus: Also causes respiratory disease, often characterized by oral and nasal ulcers

  • Panleukopenia: Causes life-threatening blood cell deficiencies, vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration, as well as brain damage to kittens infected in utero

Together, these vaccines make up the "FVRCP".


Additional vaccines that cats may need based on their lifestyle include:

  • Rabies: Considered a noncore vaccine, but required by law in many states for both dogs and cats

  • Feline leukemia: Can cause lifelong infection that leads to a weakened immune system and chronic illness

  • Chlamydophila felis: Causes feline respiratory infection often characterized by severe conjunctivitis

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica: Another cause of bacterial respiratory infection in cats

  • Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV): Contracted when a cat is bitten during a cat fight, FIV causes immunosuppression and chronic illness

  • Feline infectious peritonitis: A fatal disease that causes fluid buildup in the thoracic and abdominal cavities

Vaccination is the most reliable method of disease prevention and poses few risks.

Ask your veterinarian which vaccines your pet should receive.

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