As veterinary medical science advances, more vaccines are becoming available for cats. These vaccines are continuously improving in terms of safety and effectiveness. Veterinarians recommend certain vaccines for all cats, known as core vaccines, while others, called non-core vaccines, are given selectively based on a cat’s environment and lifestyle. It is important to seek professional advice on vaccine types and schedules for each individual cat.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recommends the following core vaccines for kittens and adult cats:
- Feline panleukopenia virus
- Feline viral rhinotracheitis, also known as herpes virus type 1 (FHV-1)
- Feline caliciviruses
- Rabies virus
- Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is considered a core vaccine in kittens only.
Non-core vaccines are recommended by the AAFP for cats with a risk of exposure to specific diseases, including:
- Chlamydophila felis (causes feline chlamydiosis)
- Bordetella bronchiseptica (causes feline bordetellosis)
- Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) in adult cats
While the AAFP does not recommend certain vaccines, such as the vaccine for feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), they may be appropriate under certain conditions.
Vaccines work by stimulating the immune system to recognize and fight specific microorganisms, such as viruses, bacteria, or other infectious organisms. Once vaccinated, the immune system is better prepared to react to future infection with that microorganism. Vaccines can prevent infection or lessen the severity of the infection and promote rapid recovery, depending on the disease.
What is the difference between the various types of vaccines?
There are three main types of vaccines:
- Modified live vaccines contain live organisms that are weakened or genetically modified to prevent them from causing disease. They can multiply in the cat’s body, leading to stronger and longer-lasting immunity. However, it is not recommended to use modified live vaccines in pregnant queens or cats with compromised immune systems.
- Killed (inactivated) vaccines use actual or genetically modified organisms that have been killed. They do not provide as high a level of protection as live vaccines, so they may contain an adjuvant, which is an added ingredient that makes the immune response stronger.
- Subunit vaccines, also known as recombinant-DNA vaccines, include only certain parts of the infectious organism, which have been broken apart.
Many vaccines are available in combination, providing protection against multiple diseases in a single administration. While some vaccines are given intranasally, the majority are given by injection. Your veterinarian can recommend the most appropriate vaccines for your cat based on their lifestyle and individual health needs.
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When should my kitten be vaccinated?
Generally, kittens are vaccinated for the first time between six and eight weeks of age, and booster doses are given every three to four weeks until 16-20 weeks of age. A kitten will not be fully protected until seven to ten days after completing the vaccination series. Under certain circumstances, your veterinarian may advise an alternative regime .
How often should booster vaccinations be given?
Historically, veterinarians recommended annual booster vaccinations for cats. However, as vaccines improve and our understanding of them grows, recommendations regarding booster frequency are evolving. The appropriate interval for boosters will depend on individual lifestyles. Most adult cats that received the full booster series of vaccines as kittens should be re-vaccinated one year later, and then every one to three years based on a lifestyle risk assessment. If your cat is at a higher risk for exposure to a disease, a more frequent vaccination schedule (annually) may be recommended. It is crucial to discuss your cat’s lifestyle with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate vaccinations and vaccination schedule.
According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) vaccination guidelines, low-risk adult cats should be vaccinated every three years with core vaccines, and then as determined by your veterinarian for any non-core vaccines. Some vaccine manufacturers have developed approved three-year doses for many of the core vaccines. Ultimately, your veterinarian is the authority on how your cat should be vaccinated.
Will vaccination always protect my cat?
Vaccines are highly effective in protecting cats, but under certain circumstances, vaccine breakdowns can occur. The following reasons can contribute to apparent vaccine failure:
- Variations between different strains of viruses, especially for feline calicivirus infections, where there are many different strains. Available vaccines may only partially protect against some of these strains.
- Maternally derived antibodies can block the effects of vaccination in kittens during the first two to three months of life. This blocking effect decreases over time as maternal antibodies disappear. Booster vaccines are recommended frequently until the kitten is older.
- Stress or an unhealthy condition at the time of vaccination can prevent a good response to vaccination. For this reason, it is better to wait five to seven days before vaccinating a new kitten. Before vaccinating, the veterinarian performs a complete physical examination to ensure no signs of clinical disease.
- Some vaccines are designed to lessen the severity of the disease, but they may not always prevent infection completely.
- The immune system of the cat is under-performing or incompetent due to other diseases or advanced age.
These are some of the most common reasons for vaccination failure, but not the only ones. If you suspect your cat has contracted an infection despite being vaccinated, inform your veterinarian so that tests can be done to investigate the cause of failure.
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What are the risks of vaccination?
Vaccination is generally safe for cats, with few associated risks. Your veterinarian can provide specific information regarding your cat and the vaccines they receive. In some cases, you may notice your cat has a temporary loss of appetite or is less lively for a day or two after vaccination, but these symptoms should resolve within 24-48 hours. In very rare cases, some cats may be allergic to one or more components of the vaccine, resulting in more serious side effects such as difficulty breathing, vomiting, or diarrhea. If you observe these signs, contact your veterinarian immediately.
A rare form of soft tissue sarcoma, known as vaccine-associated or injection-site fibrosarcoma, has been linked to a reaction to vaccine components or injectable medication in a very small number of genetically susceptible cats. However, the benefits of vaccination far outweigh these small risks in most situations.
What are the diseases my cat can be protected from through vaccination?
There are several diseases that cats can be protected from through vaccination, including:
- Feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR) – a respiratory disease caused by feline herpesvirus.
- Feline calicivirus (FCV) – another respiratory disease that causes flu-like symptoms in cats.
- Feline panleukopenia (FPV) – also known as feline distemper, a highly contagious and often fatal disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract.
- Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) – a viral disease that can cause anemia, lymphoma, and other serious health problems.
- Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) – a viral disease that attacks the immune system, leaving cats vulnerable to infections and diseases.
- Rabies – a viral disease that affects the nervous system and can be transmitted to humans.
Your veterinarian will recommend a vaccination schedule based on your cat’s lifestyle and risk factors, and will advise you on the appropriate vaccines to protect your cat from these and other diseases.
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