Cats are independent animals.
Their natural roaming habits may being them into contact with other animals -- increasing their exposure to disease. And research shows that nearly 6 of 10 cats in the United States spend some time outdoors.
Several diseases that cats get are almost always fatal -- feline leukemia, feline infectious peritonitis, and rabies, for instance. Other diseases can be fatal in kittens or destroy the good health of adult cats.
Fortunately, for your pet, vaccines are available to help prevent many cat diseases. Vaccines help protect pets against common viruses and bacteria that cause disease.
Prevention is one of the ways to assure the best quality of life for your pet, and it usually costs less than treatment. Vaccinating your cat is the best and least costly way to help prevent disease. Without a vaccination program, many cats may come down with a serious or even fatal disease.
The following outlines the vaccines veterinarians most often recommend to help prevent infectious diseases in cats:
Feline Leukemia virus (Felv) suppresses the cat's immune system, leaving it unable to fight off other infections, such as pneumonia. Felv can also cause cancer in some cats.
A few cats recover from a brief Felv infection and rid themselves of the virus. But if permanent infections occurs, death almost always results. Any cat that is in continuing poor health or that often becomes sick with infections or fever may have feline leukemia. Your veterinarian can do a simple blood test to find out if your cat is infected with Feline Leukemia.
Feline leukemia vaccination is an important part of cat preventative health programs. Two initial doses are recommended three weeks apart, followed by annual booster.
All warm-blooded animals (dogs, cats, livestock, wildlife) can become infected with rabies virus. Because rabies is also a threat to humans, many states require vaccination of dogs and cats.
It is especially important to vaccinated cats against rabies, because most rabies cases in domestic (non-wild) animals occur in cats. For example, in the U.S. since 1981, more cats than dogs have been reported with rabies. In 1996, reported cases of rabies in cats were more than double those of dogs.
Rabies is caused by a virus that attacks nerve tissue. The disease develops over 10 days to several months. Infected animals may withdraw and avoid contact with people and animals. Others become unnaturally aggressive and may attack. Death always occurs once a rabies-infected animals shows signs of disease.
In North America, most rabies exists in wildlife, especially raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats. Rabies is spread by bites or saliva of infected animals. Therefore, an unvaccinated cat involved in a fight with a wild animal or with wounds from an unknown animals should be suspect for rabies. When rabies is suspected, animals must be quarantined and observed. This may lead to euthanasia to obtain a definite diagnosis by laboratory testing for public health reasons.
If humans are infected, they can be treated in early stages of the disease. Treatment, however, is unpleasant and costly.
Cats should be vaccinated for rabies at 12 weeks or older, boosted 1 year later and again 3 years later.
Feline panleukopenia (P), sometimes called feline distemper, is more commonly seen in younger cats, but can affect cats of any age. It's difficult to prevent exposure, so all cats should be vaccinated.
The panleukopenia virus can affect many parts of a cat's body, causing fever, appetite loss, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, weakness, tremors, and incoordination. Death can occur within a week. Estimates range from a 50% to 90% + % death rate in clinical cases of feline panleukopenia.
Panleukopenia vaccines are given to kittens and annual boosters are recommended. Kittens less than 12 weeks old are given boosters several weeks apart until they are more than 12 weeks of age.
Feline Respiratory Disease
Respiratory disease is easily passed from one cat to another by direct contact or droplets in the air from coughing or sneezing. Kittens can die from the disease, especially if they get pneumonia. Cats with respiratory disease may have watery or sticky discharge from the nose and eyes, nose and mouth sores, fever, lethargy and loss of appetite.
Most respiratory diseases are caused by one of two viruses -- feline rhinotracheitis virus or feline calicivirus. Rhinotracheitis tends to be more severe and can cause abortions in pregnant cats.
Vaccines against these two viruses are available. Veterinarians can use either an injectable vaccine or one given as droplets in the cat's nose.
Another respiratory disease is caused by an organism called Chlamydia psittaci. Although once called pneumonitis, the disease primarily causes inflammation of the eyes and nose. This disease can also be controlled by vaccination.
How do Vaccines Work?
Vaccination helps prevent infection and / or reduce symptoms of disease. Vaccines contain viruses or bacteria that have been altered so they don't cause disease. When your cat is vaccinated, its immune system produces special substance called antibodies that work against the viruses or bacteria that cause the disease. Later, if your pet is exposed to that disease, these antibodies quickly destroy the disease-causing agent.
The protection provided by a vaccine gradually declines after a pet is vaccinated. That is why a regular booster vaccination along with a health check-up is always recommended.
Why do Kittens Require a Number of Shots?
A nursing kitten receives antibodies from its mother's milk (called maternal antibodies) that protect it from disease during the first months of its life. Unfortunately, these antibodies can also keep a vaccine from being effective.
Maternal antibodies gradually decrease during the first few months of the kitten's life. That is why kittens are given a series of two or three doses spread out over several weeks. That way, if maternal antibodies interfere with early vaccination, later doses will still stimulate the kitten to produce its own antibodies to the disease.
Which Vaccines are Required?
Your veterinarian will have a list of recommended vaccines, which may be changed to meet your pet's needs. Some factors your veterinarian will consider before beginning a vaccination program are:
| Age ||Most vaccines have limited effectiveness until a kitten is weaned, because maternal antibodies neutralize vaccine. |
| Overall Health || |
Poorly nourished or sick animals or those on some medications may not respond well to vaccination. That's why a physical exam is required.
| Need for diagnostic tests || |
An animal with parasites (like worms or fleas) or one infected with a disease may not respond to some vaccines.
| Risk of exposure || |
Vaccination against some diseases may not be necessary if the risk of getting them is low. Using the information gained from the physical exam and from asking you questions about your pet, your veterinarian can suggest a vaccination program that will help keep your pet healthy.
Information provided by Pfizer Animal Health