When welcoming a new kitten home, you’re likely thinking more about their adorable antics and feisty personality than the vaccines necessary to keep them healthy. While you can easily get wrapped up in playing with your new feline friend, routine veterinary care is essential to help them grow up happy, healthy, and protected from infectious diseases. So, as soon as you bring your new kitten home, schedule a wellness visit with your Just Cats Clinic veterinarian to get a handle on preventive health care. Here, we answer your questions about kitten vaccinations, so you’re better prepared for the first visit.

Question: How does my Just Cats Clinic veterinarian decide which vaccinations my kitten needs?

Answer: While we treat each kitten who walks through our doors as an individual and create a customized vaccination protocol to meet their lifestyle needs, there are guidelines and recommendations for feline vaccination. In fact, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) have recently released the 2020 AAHA/AAFP Feline Vaccination Guidelines. As dedicated feline veterinary professionals, our mission is to provide only the best care for cats, so we closely follow the latest research to ensure your feline friend stays happy and healthy. 

During your kitten’s appointment, we’ll perform a physical exam to evaluate their health status, discuss their lifestyle and exposure risk, and consider which vaccinations are appropriate for their age. Based on these factors, we’ll make a decision and customize a plan for your kitten that sets out which vaccinations they need when.

Q: What diseases can my kitten catch?

A: Through proper vaccination, we can protect your kitten from numerous infectious, and sometimes deadly, diseases. These vaccinations guard your kitten against the following diseases:

  • Feline viral rhinotracheitis — Similar to the human common cold, this virus is a highly contagious illness that causes upper respiratory tract infections.
  • Feline panleukopenia — Sometimes known as feline distemper, this disease is similar to canine parvovirus. The virus can survive for up to a year outside a cat’s body.
  • Feline calicivirus — This virus is another major cause of upper respiratory tract infections in cats, and is also known for causing ulcers and blisters on the tongue.
  • Feline leukemia virus — The feline leukemia virus attacks your kitten’s immune system, leaving them defenseless against infection, illness, and disease.
  • Rabies — This incurable viral disease affects the central nervous system and is spread through the saliva of infected animals.

Q: When should I begin my kitten’s vaccination series?

A: The kitten vaccination series can begin as early as 6 weeks of age, but typically begins around 8 or 9 weeks, when the maternal antibodies begin their slow decline. Vaccinations will be boostered every three to four weeks until your kitten reaches 4 or 5 months of age, and the final vaccination booster given at 6 months.

Q: Why have kitten vaccination guidelines changed recently?

A: Kittens receive antibodies from their mother, known as maternally derived antibodies (MDA). These antibodies are in effect at birth, but begin to wane over your kitten’s first few months. However, MDA have been discovered to last longer than previously thought, which means vaccinations need boostering again. If your kitten is vaccinated while still full of maternal antibodies, their immune system will be unable to respond properly to the vaccines, leaving them unprotected once the MDA wear off. Proper vaccination boosters are critical for your kitten’s protection, as vaccines must be given when the MDA are declining. 

In the past, revaccination was recommended one year after the initial kitten series, with most vaccines given every three years thereafter. However, up to one-third of kittens may fail to respond to a final core vaccine at 16 weeks and still have blocking MDA at 20 weeks. Therefore, the guidelines have changed to move up the one-year vaccine, which consists of feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia, to age 6 months. However, despite this core vaccination now being boostered at 6 months rather than 12 months of age, your kitten will still need to return in a year for the annual feline leukemia virus and rabies vaccinations.

Have you welcomed a new, adorable kitten into your family? Our Just Cats Clinic team would like to welcome your new pet, too. Your new kitten requires several veterinary visits throughout kittenhood to ensure they grow up happy and healthy, so get started as soon as possible. Give us a call to schedule your feline friend’s first appointment.