Whether you’ve just adopted an older cat or a kitten, you’ll need to know when to schedule vaccinations and which ones your cat will need in order to keep her healthy. With 14 cats in our household, there’s always someone who needs to be vaccinated. Sometimes it seems like a revolving door that never stops. On our limited income, it’s time-consuming and costly, but we feel our kitties are worth it.
If you’re a first-time kitty owner, it’s important for you to know which vaccinations your cat will need and when to get them. Here’s what you need to know to get you started:
What do vaccines really do?
Vaccines can help build up your cat’s immune system so that it can fight off invasions of disease-causing organisms, according to the ASPCA. This is because they contain antigens which trick the immune system into attacking because it mistakes the antigens for disease-causing organisms. Should your cat be exposed to the real disease, her immune system will be prepared to recognize it and fight it off or reduce the severity of the disease.
What’s in your cat’s vaccines?
Vaccines, which are usually injected under the skin, or occasionally administered as eyedrops may contain the following according to International Cat Care (ICC):
- Live organisms. In these cases, the organism has been modified so that it can’t cause disease but can replicate for a short while after the vaccine has been administered. This promotes a good response from the immune system.
- Killed organisms. In this case, killed organisms are combined with other agents or chemicals. Once again, this produces a good response from the immune system.
- Recombinant vaccines. This is a recent innovation in regards to vaccines. Parts of one organism (the genes that are responsible for manufacturing proteins that are key to provoking a good immune response) may be incorporated into another organism, which then may be used to vaccinate your cat.
Vaccines for cats are divided into two different types: Core,and non-core vaccines, ICC reports. Core vaccines are considered by vets to be essential for all cats–including cats that are strictly kept indoors–because the diseases involved are either severe or widespread. Non-core vaccines are those which given to cats only if there’s possible risk of exposure to the infection, and they are only given if vaccination would provide adequate protection. Your cat’s age, lifestyle and contact with other cats all play into decisions about whether or not your cat will need a non-core vaccine. You need to have a good rapport with your veterinarian in order to understand what shots your cat may need.
Diseases that core vaccines are used for:
- Feline panleukopenia. Also called feline parvovirus or feline infectious enteritis, this disease is extremely severe and very often fatal, causing hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. Outbreaks of infection with this virus are common and a large proportion of cats affected with this die. This nasty virus can survive for extended periods in the environment, so vaccination is the only real way to protect your cat. Fortunately, vaccination is very effective and is critically important for protecting cats against this highly contagious virus.
- Feline herpes virus (FHV-1) and feline calici virus (FCV). Also known as the “cat flu,” these two are the main causes of upper respiratory ailments in cats. Therefore, the vaccines for these two viruses are combined. Afflicted cats sneeze, have nasal discharge, conjunctivitis, eye discharge, and ulcers of the mouth. Clinical signs can range from mild to extremely severe and viral pneumonia arises on occasion. Most cats afflicted with FHV-1 remain permanently infected with the virus, even after the symptoms subside. Some develop recurrent eye infections or other symptoms. These viruses may be transmitted by close or direct contact between cats–such as in sneezed droplets. They can also survive in the environment for short periods. Infections of these two viruses in cat populations are common and often quite severe. Young cats are hit especially hard, therefore, vaccination is of the utmost importance for all cats. While vaccination doesn’t always prevent infection, it greatly reduces the severity of disease if a vaccinated cat becomes infected, ICC reports.
- Rabies. While rabies is more common in dogs, and passed more commonly from dogs to humans than cats to humans, cats can nevertheless be infected and then pass the virus on to humans. It’s crucial that cats be vaccinated if they live in a region or in a country where rabies is present. Rabies vaccinations are highly effective in preventing disease.
Diseases that non-core vaccines are used for:
- Feline leukemia virus (FeLV). This disease is spread through fighting, mutual grooming, sharing food and water dishes, and sharing litterboxes. The disease can also be passed from an infected mother cat to her kittens. FeLV can cause a wide variety of problems in cats that are persistently infected. The problems include immunosuppression, anemia, and lymphoma. Sadly, most persistently infected cats die as a result of their infection, ICC reports. Blood tests can detect if a cat is infected, and if so, isolating these cats to keep them from coming in contact with others is one way of preventing infection. If your cat goes outdoors, she may possibly come in contact with other cats and this puts her at risk. Therefore, vaccinating your cat against this disease is a good idea. Kittens should also be vaccinated because they are more susceptible to this infection.
- Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). This virus is very common in cats–especially outdoor cats who get in fights. In fact, this infection is mainly spread through cat bites. There are several strains of FIV and it’s not well-understood how well the available vacine protects against these different strains, but studies do suggest that it provides a valuable degree of protection for cats that are at risk of exposure.
When should my cat be vaccinated?
Kittens should receive core vaccinations and any other vaccinations that your vet may feel are necessary when they are between eight to nine weeks old. That should be followed up with a second injection three to four weeks later. Some vets also like to provide a third vaccination–especially for FPV–when a kitten is 16-20 weeks old to ensure that the kitten is properly protected. Your vet will likely give your cat her first booster vaccination about 12 months later so that she receives continued protection. After that, your kitty will likely receive booster vaccinations every one to three years depending upon the vaccine, the disease, and her possible risk of infection. Cats that are boarded in catteries usually require annual vaccinations or booster vaccines if the cat is going into a cattery, since it is a situation with a higher risk of infection.
It’s also a good idea to keep a record of when your cat gets her shots. If your life is hectic, or if, like us, you already have more than one cat, it can be extremely easy to forget a booster shot here or there. Keeping a record will keep you and your cat on track and keep illnesses at bay.
Hopefully this will provide you and your kitty with many happy years to come.