Important cat vaccines

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A cat at the vet
Rabies is a fatal illness that is able to be transferred from animal to animal or from animal to human
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Keeping your cat and your family healthy is without a doubt one of your goals.

Vaccinations to prevent serious illnesses are an important part of a cat-owner's responsibility. While children and even some adults make a strong association between going to the doctor and "getting a needle," important cat vaccines can help your pet live a long and healthy life. 


The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and the Academy of Feline Medicine's Advisory panel on Feline Vaccines have made the following general recommendations to protect all healthy kittens and cats:


Feline panleukopenia (Feline distemper): Caused by the feline parvovirus, distemper can remain contagious on surfaces for months to years. Signs of distemper are fever, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and weakness and can lead to death. Because of the virus' long life, vaccination is highly recommended for all cats, initially at 12 weeks, with a booster at one year, then no more often that every three years. 


Feline viral rhinotracheitis and feline calcivitis: Transmitted by nose-to-nose contact or sharing food or water dishes, the viruses produce symptoms similar to human colds and conjunctivitis. While many cats recover on their own but some develop chronic symptom, they can even when appearing well remain contagious to other cats. These vaccines alleviate rather than completely prevent viral episodes. Vaccination is recommended for all cats at 12 weeks (earlier for kittens living in catteries, boarding facilities or shelters), with boosters at one year, then every three years. 


Rabies: This fatal illness can be transferred from one mammal to another including humans; vaccination is therefore highly recommended for all cats. While outdoor cats are at the highest risk of exposure to an infected animal, indoor cats can also be exposed if an infected animal such as a bat or squirrel accidentally enters the house. Some states and municipalities require vets to comply with laws requiring rabies vaccination; therefore, vaccination protocols may vary from one area to another.


Feline leukemia: This virus can be shared through saliva—sneezing, biting, sharing food dishes—and can also be transmitted by a mother cat to unborn or nursing kittens. Not all vaccines provide total protection, so isolating a leukemic cat remains a good contagion-prevention tool. Vaccination is highly recommended for all cats who are not constantly kept in a closed, indoor, virus-negative atmosphere. Cats who are never exposed to other cats need not be vaccinated. Kittens may be vaccinated as young as eight weeks; they and older cats need an annual booster.


Primary Vaccines


These four vaccines comprise a core, or essential, group. Except for rabies, which may be legally required, vaccines remain a matter of concern to both feline practitioners and owners. All vaccines can have side-effects, running from frequently mild to occasionally severe. Homeopathic practitioners present strong arguments against vaccination based on side-effects. Cat owners should consult thoroughly with their veterinarians to learn about different forms of vaccines, risks and protection. Very young kittens and pregnant cats should be not be vaccinated.


The gravest side-effect concern of cat owners is the possible development of malignant sarcoma tumors, associated with leukemia and possibly rabies vaccinations. The possible risk of vaccine-associated sarcomas merits full discussion with the veterinarian. Most practitioners agree that risks posed by the viruses strongly outweigh what appears to be a declining risk of sarcomas.


Other Vaccines


In addition to the important cat vaccines described above, six additional vaccines are regarded as ancillary, recommended only to cats in high-risk environments. All have side effects; further, there are few studies confirming consistent protection or amelioration of symptoms for all treated cats. These vaccines address:


Clamydiosis: a bacterial infection of eye membranes and the respiratory tract.

Feline infectious peritonitis:  an aggressive and usually fatal virus; current vaccine does not appear to provide adequate protection.

Dermatophytosis: commonly known as ringworm; studies of current virus do not show proof of protection or elimination.

Bordatella bronchiseptica: a respiratory illness; studies inadequate to document prevention or limit of severity.

Giardia: a parasitic intestinal infection; suggested only for cases of severe diarrhea.

Feline immunodeficiency virus: commonly known as feline AIDS; despite recent USDA approval, documentation of effectiveness against virus subtypes and strains not yet available.


As with core vaccines, the use of all medications and immunizations depends both on the cat's condition, risk of exposure, and age. Forming a working partnership with your veterinarian is the best assurance that your cat will receive important cat vaccines and all necessary treatment during a long and healthy life.

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