Vaccinations are an economical protection against a number of costly and sometimes fatal diseases. Vaccines work by producing antibodies in cats, protecting them from infection by various viruses and bacteria. Re-vaccination is essential in maintaining this immunity and giving cats lifelong protection. Kittens receive some immunity from their mothers, but this protection is unpredictable. For this reason kittens receive a series of vaccinations during the early, most susceptible months of their lives. Listed below are the most routine vaccinations available for cats.
Feline Respiratory Disease (Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus and Chlamydia)
Rhinotracheitis is a very common, highly contagious herpesvirus which causes fever, sneezing and nasal discharge. Kittens are routinely vaccinated against this in a series of shots with a combination injectable vaccine called FVRCP. Cats should be boosted annually for the rest of their lives. Although vaccination greatly minimizes the severity of the disease, it does not completely protect against eye problems. In cattery and multicat household situations, intranasal vaccination should also be considered.
Calicivirus also causes respiratory problems in cats and is included in the FVRCP vaccine. Signs of infection include fever, runny nose, loss of appetite and ulcers on the tongue and in the mouth.
Chlamydia is a cause of mild respiratory and eye problems and can occasionally be transmitted to people. This is included in a vaccine called FVRCPC. It is rarely fatal but may reoccur when a cat is ill or stressed.
Sometimes referred to as distemper, this is an often fatal disease of kittens and cats that causes fever and severe vomiting. The virus is very stable in the environment, hence even indoor cats can be exposed by the owner tracking the virus in on shoes and clothing. Vaccination is very important and is included in the FVRCP series for kittens and cats.
Rabies is a fatal disease which cats primarily contract through bite wounds. Cats are vaccinated at 16 weeks and every 1-3 years thereafter depending on the type of vaccine given.
Feline Leukemia (FeLV)
This is a virus which can cause cancer, blood cell abnormalities, reproductive disorders and decreases the ability of the immune system to respond to infections. The virus is transmitted through intimate contact with other cats. A blood test is available to screen for the disease. Because some cats are able to eliminate the virus from their bodies, cats who test positive should be retested to confirm the presence of infection. Most persistently infected cats die within 2-3 years of original exposure. Feline leukemia vaccination is recommended for cats who may be exposed to other cats of unknown feline leukemia status. An initial series of two vaccinations is given 3-4 weeks apart, followed by annual boosters.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
FIP is a fatal disease caused by a coronavirus. Signs of FIP vary and may include a swollen abdomen, persistent fever and eye problems. A vaccine is available but is controversial. Please discuss FIP vaccination with your veterinarian.
Most cats display no ill effects or are somewhat less active for up to two days following vaccinations. More severe reactions include fever and vomiting, and should receive IMMEDIATE veterinarian attention. Cats that repeatedly react to vaccinations should receive their annual boosters on separate days, or in some cases, the cats may be pretreated with injectable medication to minimize the threat of reaction.
In conclusion, vaccination is an important preventative measure but will not cure existing disease. Consult your veterinarian about the appropriate vaccinations needed for your cat. Do not be afraid to ask questions, as your veterinarian is the most reliable source of information about your cat’s health.