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Feline Vaccinations: What Do They Mean & Protect Cats Against?

June 23, 2013

For some, vaccinations and our cats’ health may seem complicated. Others may be bored by it.

As pet parents, I believe it’s our responsibility to understand what’s going into our cats’ bodies, the risks they face, and the conditions vaccinations protect them from. Learning about these things may not change your world, but hopefully it’ll give you a new appreciation for staying current with your cats’ vaccinations – and in some way, change your cat’s world for the better.

Photo courtesy Jeffrey Beall.

While there are a number of vaccinations your cat can receive, feline vaccinations are divided into two basic groups: core vaccines and non-core vaccines. Speak with your veterinarian to learn which vaccines your cat may need. Any medical records you may have from a previous vet or from your shelter can come in handy during that conversation.

During the vaccination process, a modified bacteria, virus, or parasite is administered to the cat. The cat’s body then triggers an immune response to protect the cat against a specific disease.

Here’s a look at some of the vaccines your cat may need:

Core Vaccines

These are vaccinations that are recommended for all cats. We’ll cover these in detail, since these are the ones we should all be familiar with.

– FVRCP: This is the main vaccine that your cat will receive. Sometimes called “distemper,”* this vaccine actually includes multiple vaccines in one dose that protects against a number of diseases. The vaccines and the diseases they protect against include:

  • Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis: FVR is the technical name for a respiratory infection that can be caused by the herpes virus in felines. This infection is highly contagious between cats. Most cats are exposed to the herpes virus at some point during their lives, and many cats become infected. That said, regularly vaccinating a cat can help keep the virus at bay. If the virus is activated, the infection usually leads to sneezing, “pink eye,” runny eyes, and nasal discharge. The virus can also cause eye problems and skin diseases.
  • Calicivirus: This is a common cause of upper respiratory and oral disease in cats. The virus’ signs (sneezing, ocular and nasal discharge) tend to be milder than those caused by the herpes virus; however, the calicivirus can also cause ulcers on the tongue. Direct and indirect transmission is possible, and cats of all ages are susceptible.
  • Panleukopenia: This is the illness that can be caused by the feline panleukopenia virus. It’s sometimes also referred to as distemper. This virus often leads to lethargy, poor appetite, fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. In young cats, the disease is often fatal. If a cat is infected with panleukopenia during pregnancy, her kittens may be born with cerebellar hypoplasia. The virus is mainly spread through feces, however, the virus is very stable and can be spread easily once other things are contaminated.

Photo courtesy davedehetre.

– Rabies: This vaccine protects against one thing: Rabies. This vaccination is required by law.

*While the term distemper is often used in place of the acronym FVRCP, some sources claim that the use is incorrect.

Non-Core Vaccines

These vaccinations may or may not be necessary. Their administration will depend on the individual cat’s lifestyle and needs. Chatting with your vet will help you figure out which your cat may or may not need.

Some of these vaccines include:

  • Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)
  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
  • Ringworm (a skin fungus)
  • Chlamydophila (a respiratory pathogen, formerly called Chlamydia)
  • Bordetella (another respiratory pathogen)

It’s important to remember that not all vaccines are 100% effective. Some pets may not develop an adequate immunity and may become ill. That said, the benefits of vaccinating your cat can far outweigh the risks.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lemonmelonn permalink
    June 23, 2013 4:25 pm

    Very informative. I skipped taking Dotty in for a distemper shot this year because she had a 3 year rabies shot. I’ll call the vet and make an appointment for her. Hate to shove her in that carrier and listen to her cry and scratch all the way to the vet, but I don’t want her to get sick.

  2. June 26, 2013 11:08 am

    the benefits MAY out weight the risks.. but you need to know your risks.

    All vaccines can lead to “VAS” aka Vaccine Associated Sarcoma – which is a very very deadly form of cancer. The risk of VAS is “minimal” according to the ‘experts’ but most of the experts have a financial stake in getting you to get your cats vaccinated. People who have gone through it see a different side of things. While in general the chances are low, they are not minimal.

    Also, vaccines last a great deal longer than the makers of the vaccines nor the vets would tell you. They used to have you vaccinate your kitty for FVRCP every year, and now it is no more than every three years – which to vets means every three years, but in reality is no more than every three years, and thus the protection lasts longer. The “one year” rabies vaccine actually has just recently been proven to last much longer than one year.

    What should the new guidelines be? how often should we be vaccinating our pets? *shrug* I do not know this. But having owned one cat that died from VAS, and another that had a serious reaction to a vaccine as well as many kittens that I have fostered that have had adverse reactions.. I just want people to understand there are risks. Most vets do not even discuss this with their clients even though they really should.

    If you have a kitty that does or could come in contact with other kitties of unknown vaccine history, then the risk of vaccines is outweighed by the risk of the vaccine itself. If not, than maybe you want to look at your particular situation and see which set of risks you can live with. the risk of not vaccinating your cat and having it catch a disease that a vaccine might have prevented, or vaccinating and having it have an illness directly associated with that vaccine that can include death..

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