Robin Paterson, D.V.M.
Cerbat Cliffs Animal Hospital
Congratulations on your new kitten! Now is the time to bring her to the vet for a check-up, deworming and, if she is the correct age, begin her vaccinations. What exactly will she be vaccinated against? The answer depends on several factors. What to vaccinate for, and how often to booster has been a topic that has been studied intently over the last two decades. Today’s veterinarians are trained with the most updated annual information to plan a vaccination protocol that is tailored to your cat (or dog, or horse.) Let’s answer some common questions about vaccines.
What are vaccinations and why are they necessary?
The immune system has specialized cells, molecules and proteins to fight off infection from bacteria, viruses and fungi. Kittens receive some maternal antibody from their mother’s milk (colostrum) within the first few hours of life. This antibody does not last forever, though. By the time a kitten reaches about 6 weeks of age, the strength of this antibody has started to wane. This is why vaccinations are started at six to eight weeks of age.
Vaccinations are lab-engineered particles of certain bacteria or viruses that are mixed with a carrier solution (adjuvant) which can be inoculated into the animal. The bacteria or viral particles that are introduced are modified so the animal should not contract the disease when it is being vaccinated. However the immune system will form a very small response to the vaccine and make memory cells so that when the animal encounters the bacteria or virus later on in her life, it is recognized and the immune system is able to fight off infection.
Which vaccinations should my kitten/cat receive?
Vaccines are divided into core vs. non-core vaccines. Core vaccines are strongly recommended, and in the case of rabies, may be required by the town or county in which you live. Core vaccines are those which are for the most common diseases and pose the greatest risk to your kitty. Non-core vaccines are for diseases that are less likely to cause disease and/or that your kitty is much less likely to be exposed to.
FVRCP is the first core vaccine your kitten will receive. If begun at 6-8 weeks old, she will receive a series of 3 FVCRP vaccines, at 3 week intervals, and then yearly boosters. If kitty is indoors only, and has a lower risk level, your veterinarian may administer this booster every three years.
FVRCP stands Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (herpesvirus), Calicivirus, Panleukopenia (Distemper). Herpesvirus and calicivirus are responsible for up to 90% of feline upper respiratory disease in cats and once contracted, most cats do not entirely clear the infection. They become lifelong carriers so that disease may recur throughout their life and so that they may infect other cats. Panleukopenia, or distemper, is a serious viral disease and is usually fatal in cats. The virus, which is related to the parvovirus in dogs, is very hardy and difficult to clear in the environment.
Rabiesvirus is a uniformly fatal viral infection that can be transmitted to other mammals, including humans. For this reason, it is strongly recommended, and in many cities, required, that all cats be vaccinated against rabies. Currently, in Kingman, AZ, rabies is not required, however, local veterinarians very strongly recommend it. Kittens are vaccinated once between 12-15 weeks of age, boostered at 1 year of age, then every three years thereafter. It is important to note that, in some states, rabies virus vaccine is boostered annually or every two years.
FeLV, or Feline Leukemia virus is a considered the leading viral killer of cats. It is most often spread through cat bite wounds, therefore outdoor cats, indoor/outdoor cats or cats that are exposed to these individuals should be vaccinated. However, it can also be spread through casual contact/bodily fluids, and can pass from mother cats to their kittens, so it is ideal to test any new cat before introducing him or her to the household. A fast and accurate blood test is available at your veterinarian’s office. Vaccines are given initially in a series of two, administered 3 weeks apart anytime after 12 weeks of age, and boostered annually.
Feline Bordetella bronchiseptica is really an upper respiratory disease caused by multiple bacterial strains. This vaccine is recommended for cats that are frequently exposed to other cats i.e boarding, grooming, have been in a shelter or cattery, or live in multi-cat households.
FIP (feline infectious peritonitis), chlamydia, ringworm, giardia are all infectious agents that have available vaccinations, however, their use is reserved for very specialized situations and, in some cases, may be controversial. Your veterinarian can help determine if these vaccines would be applicable to your cat.
How will I know which vaccines are appropriate and how often they should be given?
Your veterinarian can help you plan the best protocol for your kitty. Once kitten vaccinations are completed, it is ideal to have a check-up done every 6-12 months to assess overall health and talk about any changes in your cat’s lifestyle. Your veterinarian will make recommendations for your cat’s wellness plan based on this information and her physical examination findings, and will always be available to answer any questions you may have.