Are cat vaccinations necessary?

Vaccinating a cat really is necessary. Besides the fact that rabies is required by law, there are very easy-to-catch diseases and viruses that cats can hold onto for a lifetime if they're not vaccine protected. So for the best health of our cats, we do want to keep them vaccinated.

Dr. Cierra Tabony
Central Providence Veterinary Hospital

What cat vaccinations are typically recommended, and what are they for?

Cat vaccines are fewer in number than dog vaccines, which is nice. The primary one is the upper respiratory, which goes by many names: FVRCP, feline distemper, and feline viral rhinotracheitis. These are all names that you may hear, but essentially it is a group of upper respiratory vaccinations that cats can easily catch. So, the feline FVRCP is a core vaccine. Feline rabies is required by law. Rabies in our area is still present and can be transmitted even by animals like bats, which we don't like to think about being in our home or putting our indoor cats at risk. But there is enough of a risk that is still required by law. Then if we have cats that go outdoors, and I don't mean live outdoors or hang out outdoors all night, I mean any cat that goes outdoors, even if you have a screened porch, even if you're walking on a harness, any cat that goes outdoors should be protected for feline leukemia. Feline leukemia is an immunosuppressive virus, which means if they contract it, it's in their system forever. It does depress the immune system and can shorten lifespan. So any cat that goes outdoors should have the feline leukemia vaccine.

What is the vaccination schedule?

There are different vaccination schedules for different cats, but kittens generally start between the five and seven-week timeline. We'll do the upper respiratory series every three weeks until 14 to 16 weeks of age. Like dogs, it can get confusing. It's not the number that they get; it's the timing and the fact that the last one ends at that 14 to the 16-week timeframe. So that's the core for kittens. I like to recommend doing the leukemia series, which is a two-dose series for kittens. When kittens are young, they're at their highest risk. They're also at the highest risk of sneaking out. So we think we know their personality, but we might not know yet. And if the cat slips out, I would just hate for them to get exposed to a lifelong immunosuppressive virus. I do vaccinate for leukemia, recommend that we do so, and certainly can discuss that with each client for their first year of life.

Rabies is administered after 12 weeks of age, and we need to get that in by 16 weeks of age. Adult cats then have that same series at one year. So you finished your kitten series and come back for their one-year visit, which is typically around the one-year and four-month timeline. We do the upper respiratory again, and we do rabies again. And then we talk about if they are slipping in and out, if they're having any outside times, then we continue the leukemia vaccination. After that one-year visit, things get a little easier. We can start spreading most of our vaccinations besides leukemia out to every three years. Some cats that are around many other cats when they board and go outdoors may also use the non-core vaccine called the feline bordetella to tell us so we can discuss that individually with you. And then, we can also discuss which type of rabies vaccination we use. There are a couple of different ones, and we can discuss that when you're in the office.

Are there risks or side effects associated with cat vaccinations?

Fortunately, the risks and side effects these days are very minimal. So they used to be higher, but vaccinology has improved so much over the last decades that it is much less of a concern. We want to use vaccines with minimal inflammatory reactions at the vaccine site. A nice way to do that is to use what's called the rabies Purevax. It's a nonadjuvanted vaccine. That rabies vaccine is administered at one year. So that's where I mentioned if we have a one-year versus three-year rabies, the three-year is certainly nice because you only have to do it every three years, and it is a lesser expense in that you only have to do it every three years, although rabies is quite inexpensive. It does create a little bit more inflammation at the injection site, so we have the alternative of the nonadjuvanted or Purevax on rabies. We use tiny little needles and distraction techniques, and we have catnip in every examination room and our staff's low-stress handling techniques. Using those techniques, any other side effect in terms of concern for discomfort is minimized.

If my cat is going to strictly live indoors, do they still need to be vaccinated?

Cats that strictly stay indoors do still need to be vaccinated. Rabies is still required by law, and the upper respiratory vaccine that we mentioned, the FVRCP, the one that goes by many names, should still be given to indoor cats. I cannot tell how many cats I have treated over the years, sometimes with very chronic respiratory diseases, that wasn't vaccinated because they were indoors. But someone visited that had a kitten at home, and then that cat sniffed that person, and all of a sudden, we have a lifelong disease. So it comes in very easily. We are all well aware now, after the pandemic, of how easily some things can spread. Many of these upper respiratory challenges for cats can spread very quickly. Whether it's mail, packages, shoes, friends, or family, indoor cats should still get upper respiratory vaccinations.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 844-8387, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.