Now that you know what vaccines are, you’re probably asking, “Which vaccines are right for ME?” That’s a question that is best discussed with your veterinarian, but here are some general guidelines used by our vets at Cat Care, PC of Rochester Hills, MI.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) is a national group dedicated to improving “the health and welfare of cats by supporting high standards of practice, continuing education, and scientific investigation.” That means they like cats! In reality, AAFP has many functions, including evaluating research on available vaccines and forming recommendations to guide practitioners in navigating the confusing area of feline vaccines. Vaccines are split into “core” and “non-core” groups. Core vaccines are those vaccines that ALL cats should have. Non-core vaccines are given to cats who are at risk for exposure or infection; some of the non-core vaccines are used ONLY in very specific situations and are not recommended for the general population. Here’s a brief rundown of the most common vaccines used in my area (southeast Michigan, specifically Rochester Hills):
Rabies vaccine– CORE VACCINE- This is by far the most important vaccine because of the potential for zoonotic infection (it can be passed between animals and HUMANS). Vaccination of the pet population creates a “barrier” between wildlife hosts of rabies and people. Rabies is carried by a number of different critters; the most common rabies carriers vary by region of the country. In Southeast Michigan, BATS are the most common rabies carriers. Unfortunately, bats can get into houses through very small holes, and bat bites are nearly painless and too small to easily see. If there are bats in the same room as pets or sleeping humans, assume they’ve been bitten! Be proactive – protect your kitties against rabies.
“Distemper” vaccine– CORE VACCINE- This is a combination vaccine against several infectious agents. It’s also called FVRCP or FVRCCP- it covers feline herpes virus-1, calicivirus, and parvovirus (“feline distemper”). Some versions also contain a Chlamydophila vaccine (that’s the extra “c” in FVRCCP). Herpes virus, calicivirus, and Chlamydophila are feline-specific, and usually manifest as upper respiratory infections. These aren’t usually fatal infections (although they can be in very young, very old, or debilitated cats), but they are easily transmitted. Think of them like “kitty colds”- you don’t need direct exposure to another cat to develop an infection. That’s one of the reasons the vets here at Cat Care, PC wear lab coats- they don’t want to transmit any viruses from a sick cat to a healthy cat like me (or take it home to their cats!). Feline parvovirus can manifest in several ways, most often as severe bloody diarrhea and generalized illness (often accompanied by a low white blood cell count). This can be a fatal disease if not treated immediately and aggressively. However, vaccination has significantly decreased the number of cases of feline parvovirus, to the point where it’s rarely if ever seen in our feline pet population.
Feline Leukemia– NON- CORE VACCINE- According to the AAFP, the Feline Leukemia (FeLV) vaccine is highly recommended for all kittens because they are the cats most at risk for exposure and infection. The FeLV vaccine should be boostered at yearly intervals in cats who are at risk for exposure. Basically, if Fluffy is in a “closed environment”- there is absolutely no possible contact with other cats- then she is not at risk. If Fluffy is in an “open environment” then she needs to be vaccinated for FeLV. What exactly is an “open environment?” Any cat that sets a single toe outside the house (with the exception of vet visits), or even lives with a cat who goes outdoors, is in an “open environment.” Why do we worry so much about Feline Leukemia? Because, if contracted, it is a fatal disease (although it may be dormant for a few years). Also, Feline Leukemia is the “friendly” cat disease; although usually transmitted via bite wound or from the mama cat, it can be passed between housemates by sharing food and water bowls, as well as mutual grooming.
Other non-core vaccines that are available include the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and the Bordatella (“kennel cough”) vaccines. The FIV vaccine doesn’t protect against all strains of FIV, and, once vaccinated, cats become POSITIVE on all widely used FIV tests for a year. The Bordatella vaccine is used ONLY in cats who at very high risk of exposure (catteries, shelters, etc). The Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) vaccine and Feline Giardia vaccines are NOT generally recommended for use because studies do not indicate that they are useful in preventing the diseases.