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While nursing, pets receive antibodies and nutrients from their mother’s milk. When nursing stops, pets become more susceptible to illnesses because their immune systems do not have the same support they once did. As part of a preventative care routine, vaccinations can help protect your cat from life-threatening diseases.
For most cats, routine vaccinations start around the age of 6 to 8 weeks old and continue regularly throughout adulthood. Some vaccinations are even combined into a single syringe so a cat experiences fewer injections. After being vaccinated, most young cats take about 5 days to build protective antibodies with complete protection taking place after 14 days. Some vaccines require multiple dosages given over a short period of time, and most require booster shots every 1 to 3 years. Cats who have been vaccinated have an advantage over those who have not. When a disease is detected, your vaccinated cat’s immune system quickly responds, decreasing severity of the illness or preventing it altogether. While it is rare, some cats do not develop immunity from their vaccinations and still become ill. If your cat has been vaccinated, is current on all of their booster shots, and has never shown signs of illness or disease, it has likely been successfully vaccinated.
Pet owners should note that vaccinations are preventative, not curative. A vaccination will prevent an illness, but if your cat is already suffering from a disease, a vaccine will not cure them.
Core and non-core vaccinations
There are several vaccinations that are necessary for all cats and others that are recommended only under special circumstances. Core vaccinations are those that are commonly recommended for all cats, and non-core vaccinations include those that are only administered to cats considered to be “at-risk.” Necessary vaccines depend on local regulations, geographic location, and your cat’s lifestyle. Your cat will be vaccinated according to their risk of exposure and your veterinarian will discuss the best options for your cat.
Feline Herpesvirus, Calici Virus, Feline Distemper - These vaccines are considered core vaccines. Your kitten will receive their first vaccinations between the ages of 6 and 8 weeks, and they will need to be repeated once every 3 weeks until your kitten reaches 16 weeks old. A booster vaccination is administered one year later then every 3 years.
Feline Leukemia (FeLV) – Feline Leukemia is a non-core vaccine . It is given if the cat or kitten will be going outside or lives with a positive cat. The first vaccine is given when a kitten is 12 weeks old and the first booster is administered when the cat reaches 15 to 16 weeks old. Booster shots are recommended to be updated one year later then every other year for life.
Rabies – This vaccine is also a core vaccination for kittens. The initial vaccine is first administered between 12 and 16 weeks of age. A booster shot is necessary after 1 year, then typically every 3 years following that.
There are other vaccinations available that are not recommended by the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). The FIV vaccine is one that will cause the cat to test positive for the rest of its life, but doesn't offer immunity to all strains of the virus so we don't recommend giving it. If a cat goes outside and is exposed to other cats, we recommend testing annually for this virus.
Preventable feline diseases and symptoms:
Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) – a retroviral disease (one that duplicates itself and integrates with the host’s DNA) that causes immune suppression. Most cats that have the illness appear normal for years until the disease eventually depletes the immune system entirely, resulting in death.
Feline Leukemia Virus – a potentially life threatening virus that causes chronic immune suppression, leading to frequent infection and illness. It often results in cancer.
Herpesvirus and Calicivirus – highly contagious illnesses that cause fever, malaise, runny nose, and watery eyes.
Panleukopenia (also known as Feline Distemper) - a life threatening disease that causes pets to suffer dehydration, diarrhea, low white blood cell count, and vomiting.
Rabies - a fatal disease attacking the central nervous system. Because there isn’t a cure for rabies, animals that contract the disease are euthanized. The greatest risk of keeping the pet alive is that the disease can be spread to humans.
Pet vaccination concerns
Similar to human vaccinations, pet vaccinations do carry a risk of side-effects. While negative side-effects do exist, it is important to note that your pet is statistically more likely to develop a life-threatening illness when not vaccinated, than to suffer adverse results from a vaccination. None-the-less, it is important to remain informed so you can ask your veterinarian the appropriate questions at your pet’s appointment.
After being vaccinated, the injection site can be swollen or sore. Some pets also have a reduced appetite, fever, and experience lethargy. These side-effects should diminish over the next 24 to 48 hours. If you notice your pet’s side-effects are not subsiding, please contact our office. Very rarely, pets develop an allergy to a vaccine. Allergies can be detected within minutes of receiving a vaccination and if left untreated, can result in death. If you witness any of the following, contact our office immediately: collapse, non-stop diarrhea, continual vomiting, difficulty breathing, itching, or swelling of the legs or face.
Regulations regarding rabies vaccinations
While the federal government does not mandate pet vaccinations for rabies, most states implement their own laws regarding pet vaccination. Vaccination laws also vary from country to country, so if you plan on moving, be sure to check necessary requirements to ensure a smooth transition for your family.
States in which your pet can receive exemption from being vaccinated include: Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey (dogs only), New York, Oregon (dogs only), Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. All other states require rabies vaccinations by law - for all pets.
If you have any questions about vaccinations or scheduling new pet vaccinations, you may contact our office at your convenience.