Understanding Feline Vaccinations

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Vaccination is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, and recommendations depend on a cat's age, lifestyle and overall health. The best person to determine which vaccines are necessary is a veterinarian who is familiar with your cat and the incidence of feline diseases in your part of the country.

That said, guidelines are available to help make sure that cats get the vaccines they need but are not over-vaccinated. The following is a summary of which feline diseases have commonly available vaccines and the cats that should routinely receive them. If your pet has had a severe adverse reaction to a particular vaccine, is ill or very aged, or has an out-of-the-ordinary lifestyle, your veterinarian may alter his or her recommendations accordingly.

"Determining when to vaccinate a cat is almost as confusing as deciding what to vaccinate her against, but some general rules do apply."

All cats should be vaccinated against:

  • Rabies
  • Panleukopenia (also called distemper)
  • Herpesvirus (also called rhinotracheitis)
  • Calicivirus

Protection against the last three of these diseases is often combined into a single inoculation called FVRCP, which stands for feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia.

Cats that go outside or live with a cat with feline leukemia should be vaccinated against the feline leukemia virus (FeLV). A vaccine that offers some protection against feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is also available and is worth considering for cats that live with or are likely to fight with an FIV positive individual. However, cats test positive for this fatal disease after receiving the vaccine, which can complicate their future medical care.

Many other vaccines are available but should only be considered under special circumstances.

It is also important to note that some older types of feline rabies and leukemia vaccines have been associated with the development of an aggressive form of cancer at injection sites. New vaccines have been developed that appear to be much safer, so ask your veterinarian which type he or she routinely uses.

Vaccination Schedules

Determining when to vaccinate a cat is almost as confusing as deciding what to vaccinate her against, but some general rules do apply. Kittens usually need their first vaccines at seven to eight weeks of age and then should return to the veterinarian's office for boosters every three to four weeks until they are 16 weeks of age. Most kittens need at least three FVRCP vaccines, two leukemia vaccines and one rabies vaccine during these visits to be protected for a full year. Kittens and young cats should generally be vaccinated against feline leukemia because this is when they are most susceptible to the disease and it is sometimes difficult to know whether or not a cat will be 100% indoor-only when it is young.

The next vaccine visit should occur approximately one year after the last kitten shots were given. During this appointment your cat will usually receive boosters for all the vaccines that she received as a kitten, unless her risk factors have changed. From this point on, some vaccines can be boosted every three years while others may require annual revaccination.

If you adopt an adult cat with an unknown vaccination history, she should see the veterinarian two times, three to four weeks apart for her initial vaccines and boosters. Then, she can continue with the regular adult cat revaccination schedule. Regardless of their vaccine needs, all cats should be examined by a veterinarian at least once a year.

The above is provided for information purposes only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any condition. This information does not cover all possible variables, conditions, reactions, or risks relating to any topic, medication, or product and should not be considered complete. Certain products or medications may have risks and you should always consult your local veterinarian concerning the treatment of your pet. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

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