Vaccinations: Just How Important Are They?
While no one likes having to bring their cat in for vaccinations, it’s important to keep them up to date and protected. At Just Cats, we discuss your cat’s specific lifestyle to determine what vaccinations are needed. This month we’ll attempt to unravel the mystery of your cat’s vaccinations by discussing how they work, what we recommend, and why we vaccinate.
How do vaccines work?
One of the most important functions of the immune system is producing proteins called antibodies. When a cat is infected with a virus or microorganism, the body reacts to specific proteins in the virus called antigens. The immune system forms antibodies in response to the antigens, which then work with the immune system to get rid of infected cells. Vaccinations help the immune system ‘learn’ and ‘remember’ certain viruses and form antibodies against them before the cat becomes infected with the full-blown virus by introducing the antigens from common viruses in a safer and more controlled situation.
Which vaccines do we recommend?
We break down vaccinations into two categories – core and non-core vaccines. Core vaccinations, as distinguished by the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) for kittens and adult cats, are recommended for healthy cats. In general, Just Cats recommends receiving core vaccinations, Rabies and FVRCP vaccines, unless your cat has a specific medical reason to discontinue them.
- Rabies caused by the rabies virus. This disease is 100% fatal once symptoms occur and can be transmitted from animals to humans through bite wounds. In addition to being recommended to prevent illness, this vaccine is also a legal requirement.
The following 3 components are usually bundled into the same vaccination commonly referred to as the FVRCP or Distemper vaccination.
- Feline Panleukopenia, also known as feline infectious enteritis or distemper. Caused by a feline parvovirus. Causes a severe, and often fatal, gastroenteritis, with profound depression, dehydration, and collapse. Very contagious to other cats. The “P” in FVRCP vaccine.
- Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, also known as herpes virus type 1. Causes respiratory and ocular (eye) infections. Once exposed, a cat will be infected for life; however, vaccination will help decrease the frequency and severity of signs. The “VR”: in FVRCP vaccine.
- Feline Calicivirus. Also causes respiratory signs, along with oral ulcers, sore joints, and general illness. Again, vaccination will help decrease severity of signs. The “C” in FVRCP vaccine.
‘Non-core’ vaccines may be recommended for cats and kittens based on their risk factors and lifestyle. While there are quite a few ‘non-core’ vaccines available, the only non-core vaccination that Just Cats recommends is the feline leukemia virus for outdoor cats.
- Feline Leukemia Virus. Recommended for cats that go outdoors on a regular basis, are prone to escaping, or have house mates that go outside regularly. Generally discontinued if the cat is an indoor-only cat.
How often should my cat get boosters and what determines the schedule?
For the first set of vaccines for a kitten or an adult cat that hasn’t had them before, the vaccination schedule will be more frequent to help build up their immunity. Maternal antibodies can also interfere with vaccines so we counteract this by boostering vaccines in a series. While kittens typically receive some maternal antibodies from their mother – how much and how long it lasts varies from cat to cat so by boostering until about 4 months of age, it guarantees a certain level of protection. For the FVRCP vaccination, kittens typically receive a booster every 3-4 weeks starting at 8 weeks of age.
We don’t have to booster the rabies vaccination in the same schedule because we simply wait to give the initial vaccine until any maternal antibodies have disappeared completely. The risk for rabies in a young kitten is less than the risk for their exposure to the components that make up FVRCP.
Vaccinations schedules are typically set by the manufacturer based on studies showing how long the protection from the vaccine is effective. For most cats, we follow the AAFP (American Association of Feline Practitioners) guidelines that recommend that ‘low risk’ adult cats be vaccinated ever 3 years for FVRCP, either 1 or 3 years for rabies depending on which vaccine is used.
What vaccinations types do we use and recommend?
Not all vaccine brands and products are made equally and at Just Cats we only use the safest and most reliable. For our Rabies and FVRCP vaccines, we carry Merial Purevax’s line which contains no adjuvants. Adjuvants are additives to vaccinations that are designed to stimulate a stronger immune response in the patient; however, in feline patients adjuvants have been linked to injection site reactions and chronic inflammation. Injection site reactions can include everything from swelling to aggressive tumors.
We also carry a FVRCP intranasal vaccination that works well for cats that have had a reaction to the FVRCP injectable vaccine or chronic allergies. In cats with severe allergies, we typically want to limit how much we stimulate their immune system and limit how much inflammation they have. Intranasal vaccinations provide an alternative to injectable vaccinations without sacrificing protection.
We’re also excited to announce that we added Merial’s new Purevax Rabies 3 year vaccine, also without adjuvants, to our practice!
What are the risks of vaccination?
There are relatively few risks to vaccination. Common short-term effects can include temporary loss of appetite, lethargy, or tenderness at the vaccination site. These signs should resolve in 24 to 48 hours. A small number of cats will have more severe reactions such as difficulty breathing, vomiting, or diarrhea. If you see any of these signs, let us know immediately. A very small percentage of cats can develop tumors at the site of vaccination known as vaccine-associated sarcomas, but again we use the safest vaccinations available to limit this potential reaction.
In general, the diseases we recommend vaccinating against are extremely dangerous and the benefits of the vaccinations greatly outweigh the potential risks for most cats. If you have questions about your cat’s specific vaccination protocol, let us know at your next examination!