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You know that healthy food, play, and regular physical examinations are all necessary to help keep your cat healthy, but when it comes to routine vaccinations, it can often be confusing to understand what your cat needs. Like dogs, cats are also at risk of contracting numerous viruses that can affect their health and wellbeing. Luckily, highly effective vaccinations are available to keep your kitty safe and healthy.
Vaccines for pets are generally broken down into two categories. ‘Core’ vaccines are vaccines that are generally recommended for all cats, while ‘non-core’ vaccines are vaccinations your cat may or may not receive depending on her lifestyle and risk factors. The most familiar of the ‘core’ vaccines is the Rabies vaccine. Even solely indoor cats are required by law to be kept up to date on their Rabies vaccine. This is to protect both your cat and your human family against this serious virus that affects the nervous system of mammals. Fortunately, a Rabies vaccine that lasts for 3 years is now available for both dogs and cats. Your cat will receive her first Rabies vaccination at around 3 or 4 months of age, 1 year later, and then every 3 years after that.
The other core vaccine your cat should receive is the FVRCP vaccine. FVRCP is an abbreviation for Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia.
Rhinotracheitis (inflammation of the nose and trachea) is often caused by the feline herpes virus which is believed to be responsible for up to 80% of infectious upper respiratory tract disease in cats. It is not uncommon for cats infected with herpesvirus or calicivirus to sneeze, have a runny nose, or have conjunctivitis and a decreased appetite. Once infected, many cats never completely rid themselves of these viruses, which can rear their heads during times of physical or emotional stress in your cat’s life. These highly contagious diseases can be spread from cat to cat, through airborne particles, or via contaminated objects or environments. Prevention is the best approach when it comes to respiratory viruses in cats, especially in younger cats and kittens who are most susceptible to these bugs.
Feline panleukopenia (FPV) is a very contagious and often deadly disease and the reason the FVRCP vaccination is sometimes colloquially called “Feline Distemper.” As is the case with many diseases, kittens, unvaccinated cats, and immune-compromised cats are most at risk. Anemia (low red blood cells), fever, and GI signs such as vomiting and diarrhea can lead to a dangerous dehydration in your cat. Without supportive care, many cats may not recover. Prevention by keeping your cat up to date on her FVRCP vaccine is the safest and easiest way to prevent this disease.
Because kittens are usually more susceptible to infection than adult cats, it is crucial that they receive their vaccinations on schedule. The recommendation is to vaccinate your kitten every 3-4 weeks until she is about 4 months old. Because even ‘indoor only’ cats can find their daily lives and exposure risks changed by a move, a new household member, or a visit from an outdoor cat, staying up-to-date on Rabies and FVCRP is a good idea for almost all kitties!
Cats that spend time outside are at greater risk of contracting diseases than strictly indoor pets. If you’ve got a cat who ventures outdoors, you may have heard of the non-core vaccination against Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV). FeLV is a virus affecting approximately 2% of cats in the United States. Since advances in testing and the emergence of quite effective vaccines, the prevalence of FeLV in cats has decreased significantly in the past few decades.
Thankfully, the feline leukemia virus doesn’t survive long in the environment. Cats infected with FeLV are the primary source of infection for other cats. This means that if your cat isn’t interacting with infected cats, she’s not really at risk of contracting this disease. Because the virus is shed in bodily fluids, infection most often occurs via bite wounds, mutual grooming, or rarely through shared bowls and litter boxes.
Due to their lifestyles, outdoor, intact male cats are most at risk of contracting this virus. Generally, it takes prolonged and repeated exposure to contract FeLV, though it is possible for mother cats to transmit the virus to their kittens at birth or during nursing, so testing a new kitten is always a good idea. Young cats and kittens are at the greatest risk for contracting this virus; while cats of all ages can contract this virus, adult cats do seem to develop some natural immunity as they age. If you have a cat who ventures outside, check out the Cornell Feline Health Center’s information on FeLV and ask your BetterVet veterinarian about how best to protect her from this virus.
Yearly exams by a veterinarian are a good idea for every cat. The stress of a carrier, car ride, and trip to the hospital can often prevent pet parents from getting cats the care they need. A visit from your BetterVet veterinarian can take a lot of the stress out of your cat’s annual physical exam and vaccinations while ensuring she receives all the care she needs and deserves!