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Cat Vaccinations: What Cat Owners Need to Know

Cat Vaccinations can lessen the severity of future diseases, and certain vaccines can prevent infection altogether in your cat.,  A variety of vaccines are available for use by veterinarians for cats. Any treatment carries some risk, but these risks should be weighed against the benefits of protecting your cat from potentially fatal diseases.

Cat Vaccinations are Critical for Your Cat’s Health

Cat owners should take note of their pet’s current vaccinations, to ensure they’re up to date. Vaccination is an inexpensive, effective means of protecting your cat from a variety of illnesses and diseases so it’s important to be aware of your cat’s immunization schedule. 

Forging a relationship with your veterinarian is an important part of this continuum of managing your cat’s health. Your veterinarian will help you understand which vaccines your animal is receiving and will inform you of a regimen you should follow. 

What is a vaccine exactly? In layman's terms, a vaccine is an antigen that engages the immune system. When your animals are administered vaccinations, their bodies perceive the vaccine as a threat and the immune system is stimulated. If the animal then comes into contact with that disease, the immune system is prepared to fight and eliminate it. Most animals, when fully vaccinated, prove to be immune to diseases for which they are vaccinated. Side effects of vaccines are rare but if they do occur, your veterinarian can advise you on how best to treat them.

It’s not enough to get only the core vaccines for kittens, revaccinating is also required. This can be every 6 months for an animal in conformation events or competitive sport. It may be annual for breeding animals. It may be every 2 - 3 years. Discuss your cat’s risk factors with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may also make recommendations on optional vaccinations depending on your location or the animal’s lifestyle.

Sharpen Your Know-how on Cat Vaccines

Q. What diseases are cats commonly vaccinated for?

  • Upper respiratory viruses – Calici, Rhinotracheitis, Chlamydia
  • Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper)
  • Rabies
  • Feline Leukemia

Your veterinarian or veterinary technologist will discuss these diseases with you and make recommendations based on the risk level for your cat.

Q. How do the vaccinations work?

Most vaccines are made of modified live viruses. The virus has been reproduced multiple times until a non disease causing strain eventually develops. Although no longer dangerous, the virus still causes an immune response that provides protection from the disease.

Q. What are the side effects of these vaccines?

Just like humans, cats can get a bit of a fever or stomach upset and feel a little bit “punky.” There can be local reactions such as swelling, redness or sensitivity, but they don’t happen that frequently. Hives can develop, particularly in dogs, but a couple of injections by the veterinarian can treat the hives.

Severe side effects are rare but may include anaphylaxis (a serious allergic reaction). That usually happens immediately — while they’re still at the clinic and able to get treatment.

An uncommon but serious adverse reaction that can occur with injection sites in cats, including those sites where vaccines are administered, is tumor growth (sarcomas), which can develop weeks, months, or even years after a vaccination. The rate of occurrence of these sarcomas is 1 in 10,000.

Q. What are essential vaccinations for cats?

The essential or core vaccines are usually given as a combination. In cats the combination includes vaccines for feline rhinotracheitis virus (feline herpes virus), feline calcivirus and feline panleukopenia with the rabies vaccine also administered separately.

Recommendations for optional or non core vaccines are based mainly on lifestyle in cats. Your veterinarian or veterinary technologist is your top resource because they can identify which diseases they’re seeing in your area.

Q. When should the vaccination program begin?

For cats, a typical routine will be eight, 12 and 16 weeks for the first vaccinations.  Multiple dosages ensure the animal is  vaccinated at a point when their level of maternal antibodies — the protection against infectious diseases passed on by the mother — is no longer high enough to defeat the vaccine.

Cats should get the vaccinations again  a year later but their schedule may differ after that. Concerns about the risk of a specific cancer, injection site fibrosarcoma, have led to the development of vaccines that induce less inflammation but have shorter term protection. Your veterinarian will make recommendations based on your cat’s risk level.

Q. When should we avoid having our cats vaccinated?

Pregnant or unhealthy cats typically have their vaccines deferred to an appropriate time.

Q. Is there anything else that my kitten needs along with vaccinations?

Yes, your kitten should be checked for internal parasites (worms) and ear mites which are both common in Alberta. External parasites such as lice and fleas are less common and part of the physical examination when checking your pet’s skin. Your veterinary team may request you bring in a fecal sample to check for internal parasites. There are many treatment options available to be prescribed by your veterinarian for parasites.

Further Reading:

2020 AAHA/AAFP Feline Vaccination Guidelines