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Cat Vaccination - The Pivotal Role of Vaccinations For Your Cat

What are cat vaccinations?

Vaccinations, in general, are an essential thing to help create immunity in our cats, immunity against common things that may be out there, common viruses. We try to help protect our cats from getting infections or getting severe infections through vaccination.

Dr. Cason McInturff
Berry Farms Animal Hospital - Cupola Animal Hospital

What cat vaccinations are typically recommended, and what are they for?

There are several different types of vaccines in our cats that we'll talk about. There are a couple that are core or recommended for all of our cats. The first one is the rabies vaccine, which involves legal considerations, depending on the county where you're located, where that may be impacted. But certainly, rabies is one of the core vaccinations. The other one is going to be the FVRCP vaccine. Some people call it the HCP vaccine. That helps protect cats against viral rhinotracheitis as well as the calicivirus and panleukopenia.

So for our cats and our kittens, these are things that they're very susceptible to early on. When they're with their mom and nursing from their mother, they get some protection against those infectious agents. Once they leave their mother, they don't have those maternal antibodies to protect them, so we're responsible for vaccinating them and boosting their immune system against those common infectious agents out there.

Another vaccine that may be more lifestyle type depending on if your cat is outdoors frequently or around other cats or maybe you even have a cat in your household that has this would be the FeLV vaccine. Feline leukemia would be the other name for that infection. Again, depending on the lifestyle of your cat, that might be a vital vaccine for them.

What is the vaccination schedule for kittens?

So for kittens, we tend to vaccinate them over a series of four total times, starting at about six weeks of age. Many times, if you've gotten your cat from a breeder, they may have been given the first vaccine. But around six to eight weeks would be the first one, and then three to four weeks after that would be the second booster followed by two other vaccine boosters up until they're about 16 weeks of age. The reason it's so critical for us to stay on top of those vaccinations, again, is because some of these infectious agents are very common in the environment, and our kittens are highly susceptible to them. They don't have mom's protective antibodies against those things. And so, we're responsible for boosting the vaccines and helping create that immunity for them. Once we finish our kitten vaccinations, a year later, you can boost the FVRCP or the HCP vaccine, along with rabies.

Once they've passed that, we can give them a rabies shot that will last three years, as well as an FVRCP or HCP (that's the other name for it) vaccine that would last three years as well. Suppose your cat is getting vaccinated against the feline leukemia virus again. In that case, something that is very common in the environment depending on your cat's lifestyle, we first test to make sure that our kittens are not infected with feline leukemia once we finish the kitten series. If they are, it's come from their mother and it's something that they didn't have any choice of getting exposure to. But if we choose to vaccinate them against that, we first test to make sure they're negative, and then we can vaccinate them twice as a kitten, boosting that vaccine a year later. We can give a FeLV or feline leukemia vaccine that lasts us two years at that point.

For our adult cats, once we kind of get them on that three-year schedule, if that's what we choose to do, they won't need those core vaccinations, unless it's every third year for the rabies and the FVRCP vaccine. You'll hear some people call the FVRCP the feline distemper vaccination as well. Once we start talking about our senior or geriatric cats, again, all of this is very lifestyle-based. Still, your veterinarian will come up with the best plan for your individual cat, remembering that the rabies vaccine is something that might be required by law.

Are there risks or side effects associated with cat vaccinations?

Unfortunately, there are risks or side effects associated with anything we do, just as in human medicine or any medicine. Sometimes after getting our vaccines, our cats can be a little bit sore in whichever limb we’ve given them the vaccine. They can also maybe be a little more tired or have a slight fever.

Longer-term, we do see that the use of certain types of vaccinations can actually cause certain cancers in our cats, so we make sure that we use vaccines that don't fit that criterion. And we also try to make sure that we're giving these vaccinations in a specific area on your cat; if that were to occur, it would then be treatable. We're finding that some of those cancers aren't even associated with the vaccines as much as they are just an injection in general, be it an antibiotic injection or anything that your cat may be getting. But the immediate concern would be for the day or two after they get their vaccination. Although the highest percentage of the time we don't see any of those effects, we still talk with you about any possible adverse effects we may see.

Symptoms that might indicate negative side effects from a cat vaccine:

  • Fever
  • Severe lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Swelling and redness around the injection site
  • Lameness
  • Hives

If my cat is going to strictly live indoors, do they still need to be vaccinated?

This is a great question, and I would answer yes to this question. Of course, it depends on what other cats are in the household. Do any of them have any pre-existing diseases or conditions? Are you going to be getting another cat? Are you going to, at some point, bring another cat into your household that may potentially spread something? If your cat is indoors specifically, we do know that our vaccines still help things that they may have experienced or encountered earlier on, too. So, yes, I think it's essential. It's also something that I encourage you to talk to your veterinarian about specifically to come up with the best plan for your situation.

Why is it important to avoid missing a cat vaccination?

So, we must make sure we're on target with our vaccines in our cats because vaccines are designed to build an appropriate level of protection or immunity in our cats. And so, there are antibodies that are created in your cat that help protect against these infectious agents. The vaccines help create those antibodies. Over time, the studies have shown us that those antibodies will decrease and there won't be as high of a circulating level in your cat, making them more susceptible to these things that they may encounter in the environment. Staying on that vaccination schedule is important because it ensures that we're going to have the appropriate level of antibodies in your cat, which will protect them against these things that they may encounter. So staying on schedule is an essential thing for kittens and adult cats as well.

When Should I Schedule Kitten Vaccinations And Cat Vaccinations?

You should schedule your kitten vaccinations as soon as you get your new kitten. Regardless of the age, your new kitten should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. It is important to get a preventive healthcare plan in place that includes vaccinations, deworming, and flea control. In addition, we will spend time discussing behavioral training to make sure your kitten develops good behaviors and becomes a great pet.

Plan on spending at least thirty minutes at your first visit. This is a great time to get all your questions answered on kitten care and discuss the recommended preventive program with our veterinary team.

An adult cat vaccination schedule, which includes periodic booster immunizations, will be scheduled one year after the kitten vaccination schedule has been completed.

As with any other immunization protocol, a cat vaccination schedule should be adhered to without deviation to ensure your cat remains healthy for the duration of his or her life. We cannot control all health issues, but we can prevent the majority of infectious disease with the proper vaccine schedule.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (615) 224-7776, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

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