Vaccination, the Mystery Revealed (Feline)

When considering getting a new puppy or kitten, one of the most important decisions you can make is regarding vaccination. Vaccines have many benefits, but can also have risks associated with them. It is important to be well informed so that you can make the best choices for your beloved pet. Vaccines can be broken up into two categories, core and non core vaccines. Core vaccines are recommended by the AVMA and are in the case of rabies, required by law in most states. Non-core vaccines cover less virulent or less common diseases.

Both dogs and cats should receive a rabies vaccine. This applies to indoor and outdoor pets as rabies can be spread by bats and other animals. This vaccine is required by law in Virginia. Rabies is a vicious disease that is 100% fatal if contracted. The disease itself presents in two forms, furious or dumb. The furious form is the stereotypical rabid dog. The dumb form includes trouble eating and vague neurological signs. In addition, your pet can give you rabies if you have contact with its saliva once it is infected. If your pet is not vaccinated and is attacked by an animal or bites someone one of two things occurs. Your pet is either placed in six months of quarantine by the Virginia health department or your pet will be euthanized and the sent for testing by Virginia State law. Dogs and cats are eligible for vaccination once they pass 15 weeks of age. They should receive a booster at one year of age and then a booster every three years thereafter.

Kittens should receive the FVRCP vaccination series starting shortly after six weeks of age. This important combination vaccine protects your cat from multiple diseases that can cause multiple respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses. Upper respiratory infections are very common and highly contagious in cats. They cause coughing, sneezing, runny eyes and painful ulcerations of the eyes or mouth. Affected kittens can become chronically infected and may have chronic health issues for their whole lives. Starting at six weeks of age this series should be given every three to four weeks until the kitten is 16 weeks old. They should then receive a booster at one year of age and boosters thereafter every three years.

Feline leukemia virus is a serious infection of cats that can cause immune suppression and cancer.  It is transmitted by close contact with the saliva or urine of infected cats. All kittens should be tested for feline leukemia virus, and cats that go outdoors should be vaccinated yearly.  Kittens should start this vaccine at eight weeks of age. They should receive a booster four weeks after the first vaccine. If there is a high risk of exposure yearly boosters can be given.

All of these vaccines have certain risks associated with giving them. Reactions are rare, but do occur. Vaccination by definition stimulates an intense immune response. Acute allergic reaction, fever, pain and swelling at injection site, hives, and anaphylactic shock are all potential consequences of vaccination. Sometimes this can result in the body’s immune response turning against itself.  The rise of immune-mediated conditions such as thrombocytopenia (body destroying its own platelets), hemolytic anemia (body destroying its own red blood cells), polyarthritis, glomerulonephritis etc. have all been linked at times to vaccination. Cats have can have a further complication. Some cats can develop cancer from the adjuvant in the vaccines. The type of cancer they develop is a sarcoma. This is an aggressive cancer that grows very quickly in the area it appears in. Because of this, feline vaccines should be given in specific areas. They should be given as far down the appendages as possible. If your cat does develop cancer, the mass can be removed more easily if it is on the end of the appendage as opposed to being on the trunk of the body.

Making well informed decisions regarding which vaccines to give is one of the most important aspects of having a happy, healthy pet. You must choose your vaccines based on your pet’s lifestyle. All kittens should receive their FVRCP vaccine, FELV, and rabies. Be careful if you choose to buy the vaccines at a coop or feed supply store. The vaccines themselves are good, but the way they were stored can cause them to be ineffective. If you do purchase them, make sure you keep them cold with an icepack on the way home. The best way to insure proper vaccination is to receive them at your veterinarian.  It is important to note that most vaccines are not effective until around three to four weeks after being given. The body has to have time to recognize the disease and build up immunity to it.


Dr. McKenna


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