What exactly are cat vaccinations?
Vaccinations provide immunity towards certain illnesses for what we're trying to protect and indicate.
Dr. Lisa Stout
Cloverleaf Animal Hospital
Are cat vaccinations necessary?
Yes, they are absolutely necessary. They're an essential way of protecting your cat from acquiring illnesses, or lessening the illness itself, depending on what they have. Different vaccines protect against different things. One of the most common things that we see is upper respiratory infections. We include several different vaccines in our preventative care so that cats receive the proper vaccines for what they're being exposed to.
What cat vaccinations are typically recommended, and what are they for?
At Cloverleaf Animal Hospital, we always recommend what some people refer to as the December vaccine for our indoor kitties with no exposure to outside. The December part is the panleukopenia, but there are usually other elements, such as herpes, chlamydia, or calici, that are in that vaccine that protects them against upper respiratories. They also need a rabies vaccine. Each state is different concerning its requirements for rabies. The state of Ohio has different mandates for different counties. With that being said, it is important for cats to be vaccinated, especially if they're outside because rabies is a zoonotic disease. And that means that it can be transmitted from animal to animal and animal to human through a bite. Unfortunately, we still have that; it's out there. We don't see a lot of it, but we still have rabies, so they need to be vaccinated.
Those would be the two that we would recommend for indoor kitties or outdoor kitties or indoor that have exposure to outdoor kitties. We recommend having the upper respiratory, rabies, and feline leukemia vaccine. Feline leukemia is a virus that affects the immune system. Over time, it affects their overall quality of life. Because of their decreased immune system, they can get sicker or have a slight cold that they don't get over because their immune system can't fight it off. So it is important for them to be vaccinated. Most cats contract feline leukemia or FIV, which is the feline immunodeficiency virus. It's very similar to leukemia because that also affects your immune system, but there's not a vaccine that's efficient for FIV. Both of those are transmitted through bite wounds. So it is something that the cat should be vaccinated for. And lastly, you might hear of FIP. That's feline infectious peritonitis. It's been many, many years since a FIP vaccine was available. They reviewed it for a while, but it's been a long time. They weren't quite certain of the efficacy when it first came out. As more and more clinics used it, or trials were done, and research was done, they found that it was not effective for protecting against Feline Infectious Peritonitis. So there is no vaccine available anymore.
What is the vaccination schedule for kittens, adult cats, and senior cats?
This varies a little bit between personal preference and what veterinary clinics do. Here at Cloverleaf Animal Hospital, we will start off our kitten vaccines between six and eight weeks of age. They finish their vaccines between 16 to 18 or 20 weeks of age. For adult pets, if they've never been vaccinated, or maybe it was a stray kitty, and we don't know their vaccine history, if they're over a year old, they will get a series of two vaccines three to four weeks apart. Kitten vaccines are given every three to four weeks apart until they reach the age of between that 16 and 20 weeks. As far as our senior kitties go, we recommend continuous vaccination if they've been vaccinated from a kitten through to adulthood. They will then be vaccinated with the vaccine we recommend every three years.
Are there risks or side effects associated with cat vaccinations?
There are some risks that are associated with cat vaccines, but they're very rare. Generally, when we're giving vaccines, if we're giving one or two vaccines, and there are different types of vaccines, I'm not going to go into all that detail, but depending on what vaccine you're using, whether it's alive or a modified live, there can be some more reaction to it. Here at Cloverleaf, we choose to use less reactive vaccines. Our goal is to not have any type of vaccine reactions occurring, but the most common vaccine reaction that we see is that the cat would be a little bit lethargic after receiving it, maybe wanting to go home and lay around because they developed a little bit of a fever.
Sometimes they're off their feet for the first 24 hours, but usually, after 24 hours, they're back to normal. It's similar to when we get a vaccine, and you've got a bit of discomfort at the injection site, or you get a fever, but it doesn't last very long. Sometimes that does occur, but it's more common if more vaccines are given. We typically try to give no more than three vaccines at any given time. I often recommend that we split up those vaccines if it's a smaller kitten or a cat that has some other medical issues going on, and they're due for all their vaccines in that year. So we're only giving one vaccine at a time to decrease the risk of potentially having any problems.
There has only ever been one time that I've seen a severe, what we call anaphylactic vaccine reaction on a kitty. It's one in 10,000 occurrences, but that doesn't mean it can't happen. Unfortunately, they did have some facial swelling with this kitty, and they got very itchy. It can be severe to where they can have difficulty breathing, and it can even be fatal. So that's not to scare people, but it is something that can occur. It's just very rare. Those usually occur when they have been given a lot of vaccines at one time.
If my cat is going to live indoors strictly, do they still need to be vaccinated?
Yes. So we absolutely recommend indoor kidneys be vaccinated. People will say, "Well, why? If they're indoors and there's no exposure." The immunity of an adult cat typically lasts anywhere from about three to five years. There are a lot of available vaccines, but we don't have a way of determining the duration of the immunity. Some titer tests can be done, but they're usually very expensive, so owners don't always want to really look at if they have immunity or not. Still, if three years have passed, they're going to say, "Okay, it's time to vaccinate so that we build up that immunity." So for indoor kitties, as their immunity wears down, if we're bringing in another kitten from a shelter, or we found a stray, and we brought it in, we want to make sure that that cat or that kitten isn't a carrier. If they aren't vaccinated or their immunity is low, they are at risk of contracting something like an upper respiratory infection. So for indoor kitties, we recommend that they're up to date on their upper respiratory and rabies vaccines.
Why is it important to avoid missing a cat vaccination?
When we see missing vaccines, we usually did one or two vaccines in the kitten series, and then the owner forgot or something came up, and they say, "Oh, well, I thought that they were done or it wasn't important to get that last vaccine." So the way vaccines work is to build up your immunity. Their first vaccine is given, and then the immunity starts to decrease after three to four weeks, so we give it another boost. They're made to boost through their developing time as well. So it is important that you complete your kitty series. If, by chance, they only received two vaccines as a kitten, and we're seeing them as an adult kitty, knowing that they did not complete their series, we're going to treat that cat to say their immunity wasn't sufficient during that time. We're going to suggest reboosting that immunity so they would get two vaccines in a series. We give one, and then we would boost in three to four weeks, and then they would be good for the year. Even as an adult, it is important that you don't say, "Oh, well, we did fine. We completed the vaccines as a kitten. We got in at the yearly, or maybe we got in at two years. And then time kind of went by, and now my cat's six years old but hasn't had a vaccine since two years of age." We still recommend bringing them in for their yearly exam. And then, we would update the appropriate vaccines at that time.
If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (330) 948-2002, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.