When a new cat comes into your life, you're in for a long-term commitment that pays off in unconditional love and affection. Keep in mind that your new fur baby, like any new addition to the family, will need medical care, including vaccinations to help protect against potentially life-threatening illnesses and give your furry friend the best chance of living a long and healthy life.
How Vaccines Work
Before we discuss specific vaccinations and why they're important, we first need to understand what vaccines actually are and how they work. Each vaccine is slightly different, but on a basic level, they all work by introducing organisms that closely resemble the pathogens that cause disease.
Once the disease has been introduced in a weakened form, the cat's immune system has all the information and tools it needs to defend properly. Then, if it ever encounters the real illness later, it can recognize it and call up the blueprints it's already created to either prevent the disease from taking hold at all or decrease its severity and/or shorten its duration.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners has a useful recommended vaccination schedule chart here
. Generally, vaccinations should begin at around 6-8 weeks of age and continue every few weeks until the full course has been administered.
Just like humans in certain occupations or environments require different vaccinations than others, so too do cats. Generally speaking, strictly indoor cats require fewer vaccinations than outdoor cats or indoor/outdoor cats, simply because they aren't exposed to as many potential threats.
In its most recent report in 2013
, the American Association of Feline Practitioners Vaccination Advisory Panel established its set of "core" vaccinations, or those recommended for all cats, regardless of living arrangements. These include feline panlukopenia (FPV), feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1), feline calicivirus (FCV),
, also called feline distemper
, is highly contagious and potentially fatal. Symptoms include vomiting, fever, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and occasionally even sudden death.
FHV-1 results in upper respiratory infections with symptoms such as fever, eye and nasal discharge, conjunctivitis, and sneezing.
likewise causes upper respiratory infections, but it can also lead to more severe symptoms including mouth and gum sores, lethargy, loss of appetite and associated weight loss, and lethargy. It can sometimes lead to pneumonia, particularly in kittens. An especially dangerous strain
can cause liver, intestinal, and pancreatic inflammation, a condition that proves deadly in about half of all cases.
virus typically spreads through bites from infected animals or the saliva from an infected animal coming into contact with an open wound. Even if your cat is a strictly indoor cat, local and state laws may require you to inoculate her against rabies anyway. In addition, it's a good idea to do so just in case a wild animal ever finds its way into your home and gets into a scuffle with your cat.
These vaccinations are still important, but you should consult with your veterinarian to determine if your cat needs them or not. Your vet will assess your cat based on his age, overall health, exposure to other cats, and other factors. The vaccines include:
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) is highly contagious and is transmitted through bite wounds, nursing, feces, urine, saliva, and nasal secretions. It can cause anemia, immunodeficiency, and cancer. Every kitten should receive a FeLV vaccination before turning one year old. Your vet will help you decide if your cat should continue receiving boosters as an adult.
Bordetella bronchiseptica, also called kennel cough, is very common, especially in shelters and, as the name implies, kennels. It can cause upper respiratory infections. The vaccine is usually given to help control the spread of the illness in shelters, and some pet boarders may require your cat have the vaccination.