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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.