Vaccinations are a necessity for keeping your cat healthy, particularly as a kitten. But which vaccines and when should they be given?

Let’s start at the beginning. A vaccination, which is sometimes also referred to as an immunization, is a medication which stimulates an immune response in your pet to provide protection against a particular disease, or group of diseases.

Vaccinations are divided into two groups: the core vaccines and the non-core vaccines. Core vaccines are recommended for all cats either because the disease the vaccine protects against is extremely severe and/or is especially common, or the disease is a threat to humans. Non-core vaccines are recommended only for those cats whose life-styles or living situations place them at risk for the disease in question.

For cats, core vaccines include feline panleukopenia, feline calicivirus, feline rhinotracheitis (also known as feline herpesvirus), and rabies.

  • Feline calicivirus and feline rhinotracheitis are the two viruses most commonly responsible for upper respiratory infections in cats. They are common viruses and almost all cats will be exposed to them at some point in their life.
  • Feline panleukopenia is a parvovirus that can prove to be fatal for infected cats, especially young cats. The disease is often called feline distemper, although this name is, in fact, a bit of a misnomer.
  • Rabies is a fatal disease that is contagious not only to other animals but to people as well.

Kittens should be started on vaccinations as early as six weeks of age. Vaccines are available that protect against feline panleukopenia, feline calicivirus, and feline rhinotracheitis all in one vaccination. This vaccination should be repeated at 3-4 week intervals until your kitten is at least 16 weeks of age and then repeated one year later.

Rabies vaccines, depending on the type of vaccine your veterinarian uses, can be given either at 8 weeks or at 12 weeks of age. This vaccine should be repeated in one year.

For adult cats, you’ll need to consult with your veterinarian concerning the proper vaccination interval. In some instances and depending on which vaccine brand is being used, vaccinations may need to be given at one year intervals. For instance, some rabies vaccines must be repeated yearly. In other cases, revaccination every three years may be recommended.

Non-core vaccinations for cats include vaccinations for diseases such as:

The need for these vaccinations is determined on a case by case basis. In the case of the feline leukemia vaccine, only those adult cats at risk of infection should be routinely vaccinated, although many veterinarians (but not all) believe that all kittens should be vaccinated against feline leukemia.

Some veterinarians recommend the feline AIDS vaccine for cats that are at risk while others believe that the risk of the vaccine does not outweigh the risk of the disease. Your veterinarian can advise you about the risks of the vaccine for your cat and help you make an appropriate decision.

The vaccine for feline infectious peritonitis is not generally recommended for most cats. Only under very specific circumstances would this vaccination be recommended for your cat.

Vaccinations against Chlamydophila felis and Bordetella bronchiseptica are not routinely administered to most cats either. They may be considered if your cat is required to enter an environment in which these bacteria are causing disease.

Dr. Lorie Huston

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