The Bottom Line on Cat Vaccinations

"But my cat doesn't go outside. Why does she need vaccines?"

That question is one we hear very often, and we understand that, when you have a healthy cat who stays inside, annual or tri-annual vaccines may seem like a lot. However, when the possible alternative to not vaccinating includes becoming ill (and possibly dying) from a preventable disease, it makes sense to vaccinate.

Not every vaccine that has been created for cats is necessary for every kitty, though, and veterinarians divide vaccinations into "core" and "non-core" vaccines. Core vaccines are needed as part of every cat's health protocol. Non-core vaccines may or may not be recommended, depending on your cat's age/life stage, overall health, environment and other factors you and your veterinarian can discuss.

Feline core vaccines are rabies (which is required by law for all cats and dogs across the United States) and FVRCP (feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia/feline "distemper"). Feline non-core vaccines include feline leukemia (FELV), bordetella, and (rarely) others.


Kitten Vaccinations

While kittens imbibe natural antibodies from their mother’s milk while nursing, it’s not long before they’ll benefit from professional help. Your veterinarian will recommend certain shots starting at 6-8 weeks of age.

In addition to the rabies vaccine, the FVRCP vaccine protects against some highly contagious, potentially serious upper respiratory infections ("FVR" and "C") and panleukopenia ("P" - which is highly contagious and life-threatening, particularly in unvaccinated kittens). We also strongly recommend all kittens be vaccinated for feline leukemia, as well.

Keep in mind, if you adopt a new kitten from a shelter, s/he may already have the initial round of shots, and you may only need to see your veterinarian for boosters. Be sure you ask for vaccination records when you adopt your new friend, whether s/he is a kitten or an adult!


Adult Cat Vaccinations

As your kitty grows up, most vets recommend adult boosters for core vaccines every 3 years for normal, healthy cats, starting at one year (usually a year after the final round of kitten shots was administered).  Any additional vaccines will vary depending on your cat’s lifestyle. For example, feline leukemia is an important non core vaccine to consider if you have an outdoor only cat, an indoor/outdoor cat, or one that comes into contact with strange cats. This shot is usually boostered every year.


Non-Core Vaccines

Feline Leukemia is highly contagious among cats, and it spreads through grooming or fighting - saliva and blood are both transmitters. This is a serious (and common) disease that suppresses your cat’s immune system and is the 2nd leading cause of death in cats. While about 70% of cats are able to fight off the initial infection, those cats that cannot have an 85% mortality rate within 3 years of infection (prognosis is worse and progression is faster in kittens than in adults).

So if you have a kitty who likes to spend time in your backyard (or your entire neighborhood!), your veterinarian will recommend this vaccine. It's also strongly recommended for all kittens whether they go outside or not, with a booster at the first 1-year visit, to give baseline immunity. Luckily, thanks to vaccines and better testing, prevalence of feline leukemia has declined over the last 25 years, but there is still no cure for it. The best medicine is, absolutely, prevention.

Another non core vaccine your veterinarian may recommend is bordetella. If you have a dog, you may be familiar with this vaccine by it’s name “kennel cough.” Turns out, cats are also susceptible to this contagious disease. Like you might guess by the name, it’s an upper respiratory infection that causes coughing, runny nose, lethargy and other flu-like symptoms. 


Vaccines and Preventive Care

You say your cat never interacts with other animals, never leaves your house and never boards when you're out of town? Does s/he still need vaccines as an adult?

The answer is YES! Indoor cats need up-to-date vaccinations, too. Vaccines are an important first step when it comes to preventive care - and remember: the rabies vaccine is required by law, though that isn't the only reason it should be kept up-to-date. According to Douglas Aspros, DVM and president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, “Perhaps the greatest success story in animal health is the reduction of infectious diseases resulting from the use of vaccines.”

Keep in mind, though, that vaccines are only one piece of a well-rounded, complete health plan (whether for dogs, cats or humans!). We also recommend regular wellness exams. Annual check ups are usually sufficient for younger kitties, and twice a year exams with annual bloodwork are good for older ones (7 years and up) as long as there are no signs of other problems.

Do you need to make an appointment for your cat with our veterinarian? Call us or fill out our online form!


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