A vaccination is an administration of medication, normally given by injection, to stimulate an immune response to a particular disease. Feline vaccines prepare the body to fight the designated illnesses without making the animals sick. Once vaccinated, a cat exposed to the actual, potentially fatal, disease will either fight off the infection entirely or develop only a very mild case. Some vaccinations are administered in combination.
Core Feline Vaccinations
Certain feline vaccinations, considered essential for all cats, are known as core vaccines, so designated by The American Association of Feline Practitioners. Core vaccines provide protection against the following diseases:
- Feline distemper (parvovirus or panleukopenia)
- Feline calicivirus
- Feline herpes virus (feline rhinotracheitis)
The only feline vaccination required by law is a rabies vaccination which is mandated in almost all states. In some states, the vaccination is required annually; in others, the pet may only be required to receive it every three years.
Non-Core Feline Vaccinations
Non-core vaccinations are administered to cats when the veterinarian considers them necessary because of the individual cat's lifestyle, environment or medical condition. The vaccination needs of an outdoor cat, for example, may differ from those of an indoor cat. Similarly, a cat who comes into contact with many other other animals may require more vaccinations than a cat that lives alone with its owners.
Non-core feline vaccinations may include those for:
- Feline leukemia virus
- Bordetella (kennel cough))
- Chylamydophia felis
- Feline immunodeficiency virus
- Lyme disease, though rare in cats
The veterinarian is in a position to decide on which vaccinations are necessary for a particular cat, taking into consideration its health history and genetic background, as well as its lifestyle.
Schedule of Feline Vaccinations
Because kittens receive antibodies in their mother's milk as long as they are nursing, they are not normally vaccinated until they are at least 6 to 8 weeks of age. Vaccinations are usually given in several doses at 3 to 4 week intervals with boosters annually. After that, booster shots will be administered as frequently as the veterinarian deems necessary.
Risks of Feline Vaccinations
Most cats do not have any adverse reactions to their vaccinations, but on occasion they may have mild, transient symptoms. These may include:
- Soreness or swelling at the injection site
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting or diarrhea
More serious risks of feline vaccinations include the development of tumors at the injection site, lameness, or disease symptoms associated with the illness being vaccinated against. In the overall scheme of things, however, the protective benefits of feline vaccinations far outweigh the risks.