What vaccines does your cat really need?
This is a question commonly asked by cat lovers everywhere. Cat lovers want to do the right thing, protect their cat but at the same time minimize risk of problems to their cat and avoid unnecessary expenses.
In this article, I'd like to address this question. I'm the Irreverent Veterinarian. I give you my opinion and speak the truth regardless of if pet owners or other veterinarians like it or not.
The question that I'll address today is...What Vaccines to Cats Really Need? Are Vaccines Safe?
Vaccines have a low rate of reactions but there are problems. Some of the problems can be life-threatening. For more information on this topic – please read this article: "The Irreverent Vet Speaks out on "Are Vaccines Safe
?" Because there are issues with vaccine safety, it is ideal to give only what a cat really needs. I do not believe in OVER vaccinating. What Vaccines do Cats Really Need?
This is the answer. It depends upon the age and risk factors of a cat. I'll tell you what I think and even tell you how I vaccinate my own cats.
Cats that are indoor only adult cats with minimal risk of exposure to infectious diseases have very little risk and should only receive infrequent vaccines. Cats that are indoor/outdoor or outdoor only with a high risk of various infectious diseases should have a totally different vaccine schedule. Kittens should receive a full set of vaccines to protect them against all the common diseases. Vaccine Recommendations Kittens – Kittens should receive immunity against some diseases through their mothers milk but this disappears during the first few months of their life. To protect kittens during this critical time, a well-researched approach is taken: A series of vaccines is given every 3 to 4 weeks until the chance of contracting an infectious disease is very low. The typical vaccine is a "combination" that protects against feline distemper virus, feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus. Rabies vaccines are given between 16 and 26 weeks of age in most states (governed by law).
Many cats are also immunized against feline leukemia virus (especially if they are at risk for infection – such as they go outside). The usual approach is to test the kitten for feline leukemia at the time of initial vaccination to ensure the cat is not harboring the virus.
After initial vaccination, booster immunizations ("shots") are given during the first one or two years of "adult" life. If a cat is indoors only with no risk, this is generally not recommended.
Cats between 20 weeks and 2 years of age
If a kitten has had its initial vaccine series, it is recommended to booster the kitten shots in young adult cats to ensure adequate lifelong immunity against deadly viral diseases. Your veterinarian will likely "booster" your cat to protect against feline panleukopenia ("distemper"), the upper respiratory viruses (herpesvirus, calicivirus), rabies and possibly the leukemia virus. In addition, a rabies vaccine is recommended approximately 12 months from the initial vaccine.
For adult cats with no prior vaccines, two sets of vaccines given 3 to 4 weeks apart is recommended to achieve immunity.
Adult cats (over 2 years of age) that live indoor only (with no exposure to other cats outside of their home)
Annual revaccination (booster shots) is recommended the first two years after the "kitten shots"; thereafter, you should discuss the benefits and risks of annual vaccination with your veterinarian. There is no national accepted standard at this time. Because of the possible risks of vaccination – it becomes a balancing act of giving only what is needed while protecting your cat. Many veterinarians stagger booster immunizations over a number of years. The rabies vaccines should be given as recommended by local law.
Annual vaccination for feline leukemia is recommended for cats at risk of exposure.
Adult cats (over 2 years of age) that live outdoors or that go outdoors and have exposure to other cats
Cats at a higher risk of infection should have more frequent vaccines. In this situation, feline leukemia, feline aids, rabies vaccines (required by law) and the common feline distemper combination vaccine is recommended. The leukemia, feline aids and rabies are recommended yearly. The feline distemper combination may be adequate if given every 3 years. Annual vaccination for feline leukemia is recommended for cats at risk of exposure.
Another option to determine what vaccines your cat needs is to do vaccine titers.
Should You do Vaccine Titers?
A vaccine titer is a blood test that determines the presence of antibodies that develop in response to the vaccine. Since varying amounts of antibodies can be detected in different animals, titers are expressed in terms of ratios. Adequate levels of vaccine titers indicate that the pet does not need a booster vaccination at that time. Low titers indicate that vaccination will be necessary to provide immune protection. This is a method to determine if a cat needs vaccines.
Historically, the cost of doing this test is far greater than giving the vaccine and therefore most veterinarians and pet owners did not do them. However, with the increased risk of vaccine complications, this is a reasonable option.
How I Vaccinate My Cats?
This is what I do. I understand the needs, benefits, and risks of vaccines.
For indoor only cats with no risk of exposure to outside cats – they get a full set of kitten vaccines and booster when they are one year of age. They are vaccinated for rabies as required by law (yearly or every 3 years depending on the state/county law). I do the minimum required by law. Then they are vaccinated every 3 years. They have yearly examinations. After the age of 7 –they have yearly blood work as well (which has nothing to do with vaccination – but is a way for me to evaluate their overall health).
For indoor/outdoor or outdoor cats – they get a full set of kitten vaccines and booster when they are one year of age. They are also vaccinated for feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus yearly. They are vaccinated for rabies as required by law depending on the county/state law. They are then vaccinated for the feline distemper combination vaccine every 3 years. They also have yearly examinations. After the age of 7 –they have yearly blood work as well (which has nothing to do with vaccination – but is a way for me to evaluate their overall health and detect any subtle changes).
For my indoor only cats over the age of 10 – to be honest – I don't vaccinate them. I actually asked 5 other veterinarians with cats – how they deal with their own cats and they do the same.
My Final Thoughts – What Vaccines Do Cats Really Need?
You should discuss all vaccination programs with your veterinarian. Follow their recommendations based on your cats risk. If you are not sure what your cat needs, consider vaccine titers. There is no real disadvantage of doing the titers other than the expense of doing them.
What are your thoughts? Email me
The Irreverent Vet is a columnist that regularly contributes to PetPlace.com. The goal is to add a balanced and alternative view of some controversial pet issues. As happens with all of us, veterinarians can't say what they really think without offending some clients. This commentary allows vets to say what they think and give you, the pet owner, the opportunity to consider another view. All opinions are those of the Politically Incorrect Vet and not the views of PetPlace.com and are not endorsed by PetPlace.com.