All cats, indoor or outdoor, should be administered core vaccines, as these protect them against a wide range of diseases. If your cat escapes from the house or you have to leave them at a pet hotel for several days, it is recommended to have your cat vaccinated to prevent infection.
For your cat to be healthy and to be able to enjoy their company for a long time, you should vaccinate them regularly. Otherwise, your cat can contract a severe disease that could have permanent consequences. In the worst-case scenario, it can even lead to their death. Talk to your vet about the best vaccination schedule for your cat.
What Should You Consider Before Vaccination?
There are not many things to take into consideration before vaccinating your cat. Just make sure your pet has a proper diet, is the minimum age for vaccination, and is dewormed regularly. In other words, your cat has to be clinically healthy to be vaccinated. The vet will evaluate your cat before vaccination.
Sick cats will not be vaccinated because their immune system would focus on the vaccine and not on the disease that they are suffering from1. If your cat is sick, a vaccine will give them zero or very little immunity.
At What Age Can I Vaccinate My Cat?
In the first couple of weeks of life, kittens are protected by the antibodies received from their mother. At this age, they cannot strengthen their immune system on their own too much, so they need to be vaccinated. The vaccination schedule begins when kittens are at least 6 weeks of age.
It is recommended to repeat the vaccine at 12 weeks of age2. If your cat is already 12 weeks old or older at the time of vaccination, a single vaccine is enough to give them immunity. Then booster vaccines are given once a year or every 3 years, depending on the product and your cat’s lifestyle.
What Diseases Do Vaccines Protect Cats Against?
There are two types of vaccines for cats:
- Core (mandatory vaccines) are recommended for all cats.
- Non-core (optional vaccines) are recommended by the veterinarian based on your cat’s medical history and lifestyle (indoor/outdoor).
Core vaccines are administered to protect your cat from the following viruses:
- Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) (considered a core vaccine only in kittens)
- Rabies virus
- Feline panleukopenia virus
- Feline calicivirus
- Herpes virus type 1 (FHV-1) (causes feline viral rhinotracheitis)
1. Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)
Feline leukemia is a disease that suppresses the immune system and exposes cats to infections, anemia, and cancer. The disease commonly affects cats that live outdoors, but if your cat lives mostly indoors and likes to go outside occasionally, vaccinate them at 8 weeks of age3. The booster vaccine is given annually or once every 2–3 years if your cat has a low risk of infection.
2. Rabies Virus
Rabies is fatal after infection. The anti-rabies vaccine offers protection not only to your cat but also to you because rabies is transmitted from cats to humans, and it’s fatal. In general, cats that have access outside are the most exposed to the virus. The vaccine against rabies has to be given at 12 weeks of age, and the immunization is considered to be achieved 28 days after the vaccination. This vaccine must be repeated annually or every 3 years, depending on the product4.
3. Feline Panleukopenia Virus
Panleukopenia virus is similar to the virus that causes parvovirus in dogs, and it is also called feline parvovirus. It is transmitted quickly from cat to cat and through infected surfaces and objects. The virus is highly resistant and can represent a permanent danger for all unvaccinated cats. It can be found in the feces of sick or healthy cats that overcome the infection. The vaccine should be given at 8 weeks of age and repeated 12 months after the first vaccination and then once every 3 years.
4. Feline Calicivirus
Calicivirus is highly contagious and causes upper respiratory infections in cats (cat flu). Infected cats can transmit the virus through saliva or nasal and eye secretions. When infected cats sneeze, the airborne viral particles can be sprayed meters away through the air. People who have touched contaminated objects or an infected cat can also spread the virus. As a result, it is recommended to vaccinate your cat even if they only live indoors.
Vaccines do not offer complete protection, but they can greatly reduce the severity of the infection if your cat contracts the virus. There are two types of vaccines: nasal and injectable. Cats receiving the intranasal vaccine may sneeze for up to 7 days post-vaccination. Vaccination should be done at 8 weeks of age and repeated at 16 weeks. The booster vaccine is given once every 3 years. If your cat lives in an environment with a high risk of infection, the vaccination should be done annually.
5. Herpes Virus Type 1
The disease is highly contagious and can be transmitted easily from cat to cat. It can lead to pneumonia or even vision loss in cats. If left untreated, the disease can worsen and become fatal. Cats should be vaccinated starting at 8 weeks of age. Veterinarians recommend annual vaccination for cats that go outside, while indoor cats can be vaccinated once every 3 years.
Non-core vaccines are administered to protect your cat from the following pathogens:
- Bordetella bronchiseptica
- Chlamydophila felis
- Feline coronavirus (causes feline infectious peritonitis)
1. Bordetella Bronchiseptica
This bacterium causes upper respiratory tract infections in cats, being highly contagious. Usually, vaccination against this bacterium is recommended for cats that live or spend time outside. Vaccination is given intranasally, with annual boosters.
2. Chlamydophila Felis
The vaccine against this bacterium is given at the age of 8 weeks. It occurs mostly in kittens or households with multiple cats, affecting their eyes and manifesting through unilateral or bilateral conjunctivitis. The pathogen can be transmitted from infected cats to humans, so make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after you touch an infected cat.
Feline coronavirus causes feline infectious peritonitis, a fatal disease in almost 100% of cases once the infection has developed. The vaccine is given intranasally to cats that are at least 16 weeks old. The first booster vaccine is given after 3–4 weeks, then annually. Vaccination against feline coronavirus is not 100% effective.
Cats that live indoors must be vaccinated. Even if they don’t go outside at all, they still present a risk of getting infected with certain pathogens. Also, you can be a source of infection, even if you don’t bring other (sick) animals into your home. Vaccination starts at the age of 6–8 weeks, and the first booster vaccine is given at 12–16 weeks, then annually or once every 3 years, depending on the product. Cats that live only indoors can receive booster vaccines once every 3 years.
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