What exactly are cat vaccinations?
Your kitty will be vaccinated against several diseases. It's a shot that's administered similarly to human vaccines to expose the body to an antigen or disease so that they mount an immune response against it. That way, the next time the disease is encountered, your cat's body already knows how to fight it off, which can prevent the disease.
Dr. Rachel Kennedy
Highland Park Animal Hospital
What cat vaccinations are typically recommended, and what are they for?
There are two main core vaccinations for cats. That is the FVRCP vaccine and feline rabies vaccine. There's also a feline leukemia virus vaccine that is more lifestyle-dependent. However, we always recommend getting at least a couple of boosters of that as a kitten so that they have some immunity. These are all different viral and bacterial diseases that we like to prevent, as they can be instrumental in your cat's preventative care.
Can you tell me a little bit about the FIP vaccine?
The FIP vaccine is not currently recommended. We typically don't administer this because it is against a virus similar to the human coronavirus strain. However, this is slightly different in that it affects the cat's GI tract. Typically it causes only transient diarrhea. A severe form of this disease occurs when the virus mutates and creates a phenomenon called FIP, which can be either wet or dry. The vaccination is not very efficient in preventing initial infection of the coronavirus, and then it does nothing about preventing mutation into these more severe forms. So we don't typically recommend this vaccination for those reasons.
What is the vaccination schedule for kittens?
The vaccine schedule for kittens is that they typically receive an FVRCP vaccine and a feline leukemia vaccine at roughly eight to 10 weeks. Then we give both boosters in roughly three to four weeks from that initial shot. Rabies is typically given once during the kitten series, typically after 12 weeks of age, and that one doesn't need boosters until the following year. So typically, it's two visits as a kitten, and then we see them again in a year unless we do something like spaying or neutering around the six-month mark.
What about adults and senior cats?
We typically bump adults back to annual vaccinations. Sometimes, in very specific senior cases, like if they're indoor-only and have other concurrent diseases, we'll skip a vaccine. This is only done at the discretion of your veterinarian and depends on your cat's health. Overall, we recommend doing vaccinations annually, and in Texas, rabies is required to be up to date, even in feline cats and if they're indoor-only.
Are there risks and side effects associated with cat vaccinations?
Yes and no. There are occasionally vaccine reactions. These can be short-term anaphylactic reactions, which are very uncommon. Even more uncommon is the main hesitation that some people have, which is injection site sarcomas. However, vaccinations have been modified in that they are less and less likely to cause these injection site sarcomas, but it is a risk that's out there. More important is the risk of your cat contracting the diseases that we vaccinate against, which is our main focus of vaccinations. While no drug is safe, we weigh the risks and benefits, and we say the risk of your cat contracting some of these diseases is worse than the risk of a reaction.
Why is it so important to avoid missing a cat vaccination?
You're putting your cat at risk for contracting these diseases, especially kittens with little immunity already. Secondly, if your cat bites someone in the state of Texas, you must go through a mandatory quarantine period, and the county takes over, which can be a whole ordeal. So we recommend that kitties stay up to date on vaccinations overall and ensure that we're reporting any bites to the appropriate authorities.
If my cat is going to live strictly indoors, do they still need to be vaccinated?
Yes, definitely, both on the legal side and on the wellness side. There's always a risk that your cat could get out and be out for a day, spend some time with the neighborhood cats, and expose themselves to many different diseases that our vaccines prevent. So we always like to ensure they're protected, even if the plan is to keep them inside all the time. Lastly, as we talked about, rabies vaccinations are state-required, so that one is out of our hands.
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