Vaccines are made to protect against pathogens that can cause infectious diseases, many of which can be deadly. Cats have to be vaccinated against some of these conditions, but there are some non-mandatory vaccines, too.
In this post, we’ll look at what vaccines your cat needs, which ones are optional, if vaccines come with any side effects, and just how often you should vaccinate your feline companion.
Core Vaccines for Cats
There are three important diseases you want your feline friend to be protected against, and there are vaccines for all of them. These are:
Feline panleukopenia (FPV)
Panleukopenia is a potentially deadly viral disease that can affect cats of all ages. Infected animals often show symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and severe dehydration, and the clinical signs can become so severe that they can lead to death.
Kittens that are born from an infected mother are known to suffer from brain damage for the rest of their life. To date, there is no specific treatment for this medical condition, neither in adults nor in kittens.
Fortunately, the vaccine against FPV is effective and offers excellent immunity against the pathogen. So, even if your cat comes in contact with another infected animal, if she is vaccinated, she’s not going to develop the disease.
Feline calicivirus (FCV)
Feline calicivirus causes an upper respiratory and oral infection in cats. Cats that are infected with this pathogen often experience sneezing, conjunctivitis, nasal congestion, and discharge from the eyes or the nose. The severe form of the condition causes ulcers on the cat’s tongue and oral cavity, which means that the animal becomes incapable of feeding.
There are some strains of Feline calicivirus that can cause lameness in the joints, too, and this form appears in kittens more often than in adults.
Even though it is encountered rarely, there is an even more severe form, one which causes a generalized illness that begins with the symptoms we’ve already noted but progresses into depression, fever, face and leg edemas, and jaundice.
Although there have been discussions about whether the vaccine against Feline calicivirus is effective enough, it can protect all cats to some extent. Even if your cat doesn’t become fully immune (which happens rarely), your pet will still not develop a severe form of the disease if he or she is vaccinated.
Feline Herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1)
Feline herpesvirus is a disease that affects domestic and wild cats alike. Like Feline calicivirus, it causes an upper respiratory infection associated with conjunctivitis. It is very contagious, which means that it can be passed on indirectly, too, meaning via food and water bowls or the cat’s living environment.
A cat that has become infected with Feline herpesvirus-1 shows symptoms such as a runny nose and runny eyes, sneezing, coughing, fever, or an eye infection. If you know that you haven’t vaccinated your cat against this infectious disease and she starts showing any of these symptoms, take your feline friend to the vet as soon as possible.
Even though the clinical signs caused by this condition are usually manageable enough, there can be risks for the cat’s health later on. Vaccinating your feline companion against Feline herpesvirus-1 can prevent this illness.
For all of these three diseases, vets typically use a polyvalent vaccine (FVRCP) that protects animals against Calicivirus, Panleukopenia, and Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis.
Non-core Vaccines for Cats
There are a number of optional vaccines that you should consider depending on your cat’s lifestyle and risk of being infected. While indoor cats will have to be vaccinated against the three diseases that we have mentioned, outdoor cats require more protection. They have a higher chance of running into other infected cats or animals.
In some countries, vaccinating your cat against rabies is not mandatory, but in others, all cats have to be vaccinated against rabies for legal reasons. If, for example, your cat ends up biting someone, you will have fewer legal problems if your pet is covered for rabies.
All mammals, including humans, are at risk of getting rabies, and there is no treatment whatsoever for this disease. It is deadly and extremely dangerous. As unlikely as it might be for your cat to get it if she spends no time outdoors, you should consider immunizing her against the disease.
Doing so is a gesture of responsibility not just for your feline friend, but also for yourself and your family. Outdoor cats are more exposed to coming in contact with potentially infected animals.
You’ll be glad to know that once your cat completes her vaccination schedule, the rabies vaccine has to be repeated once every two to three years, not yearly, like the vaccines for other diseases.
Feline leukemia virus
As its name suggests, this virus can cause several disorders, but also leukemia and tumors, marrow suppression, and more. Kittens under the age of 1 should all be vaccinated against FeLV as they are at a higher risk of becoming infected. Outdoor cats have to be immunized, as well, as they are also more likely to get the disease from other cats.
This is the same pathogen that causes kennel cough in dogs. In cats, it causes symptoms such as mild sneezing, ocular and nasal discharge, and coughing. These symptoms usually last for seven to ten days, but there are more severe forms where the cat develops pneumonia.
The vaccine for this disease should be administered to cats that live with others so that all of the population is immunized. Catteries and boarding facilities are two places where the animals have to be vaccinated against this condition.
Feline infectious peritonitis
This is one of the most contagious diseases that affects cats, and unfortunately, it is deadly, especially in kittens. The vaccine offers partial or total immunity, which is why some cat guardians choose not to go through the vaccination.
However, the places where cats have to be vaccinated against FIP are rescues, catteries, and shelters, as if one of the cats develops it in such a facility, almost all cats will become infected.
Do Vaccines Have Any Side Effects?
Since the anti-vaccination movement has become so popular in recent years, you might be wondering whether cat vaccines have any side effects. Like any other biological and pharmaceutical substance, vaccines do come with a series of adverse reactions, but most of them are mild and short-term.
If you take your cat to the vet clinic and get her vaccinated, she might be a little feverish or sluggish for a couple of days. Some can develop inflammation at the injection site. This mishap is often caused not by the way the injection was performed, but by some additives present in the vaccine.
To date, some vaccines contain substances such as aluminum or formaldehyde, which can cause a variety of problems. For example, aluminum is a known carcinogen. Just to be on the safe side of things, ask your vet to use a vaccine that doesn’t contain aluminum – there are some out there.
How Often Should You Vaccinate Your Cat?
A standard vaccination plan for kittens begins when they are 6 to 8 weeks old. The polyvalent vaccine has to be repeated twice every 2-3 weeks. This means that you’d have to vaccinate your cat when she’s 6 to 8-weeks-old, 10 to 12-weeks-old, and then 14 to 16-weeks old.
The rabies vaccine is separate and is usually administered at the end of the vaccination plan.
The polyvalent vaccine is repeated yearly, which means that each time you take your feline friend in for a routine checkup, it’s likely to be administered then. As the cat ages, however, she gets more immune to these diseases simply because she was vaccinated regularly. The rabies vaccine has to be repeated once every two to three years.