Cats are wonderful pets that rely on their owners to provide for their everyday needs and health care. James Richards, DVM, director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, points out that many diseases, including feline distemper that once claimed the lives of many cats, have been greatly reduced because of vaccination. There are many vaccines on the market, but they are not all necessary or recommended for every cat, says Richards.
With the help of your veterinarian, you can weigh both the benefits and risks of the various vaccines on the market, and together develop a vaccine protocol tailored to meet the needs of your own cat.
How do vaccines work?
Generally speaking, vaccines work on the cats immune system the same way a naturally occurring infection does, except they do not cause disease. When inoculated with a vaccine, the cats immune system is alerted to invasion by a foreign microbe (usually a bacteria or virus). Antibodies and a multitude of specialized cells are produced to combat the microbe by a complex and highly effective immune response, enabling the cat to fight off a real infection should it occur.
Several kinds of vaccines are manufactured: Killed vaccines (KV), modified live vaccines (MLV), and more recently, vaccines produced using recombinant DNA technology (genetic engineering). After the initial inoculations, most vaccines require a booster at specific intervals to maintain protective immunity. Kittens receive passive immunity to many diseases through antibodies in the colostrum of their mothers milk. While present, these antibodies provide protection during the time when the kittens own immune system is immature. But they will also block the action of a vaccine given to the kitten. Since the depletion of maternal antibodies is gradual, vaccines are repeated at specific intervals during kittenhood to give the kitten the best chance to develop its own, longer lasting protection against that microbe.
Whats right for your cat?
Which vaccines your cat should receive depends upon a number of factors:
How old is the cat?
What is its general health?
What is the cats risk of exposure to infectious diseases?
Is there a FeLV-positive cat in the household?
Does the cat ever stay at the kennel?
Does the cat go outside?
Has the cat experienced a vaccine reaction in the past?
The answers to these questions will help you and your veterinarian decide which of the vaccines available are right for your cat. Many veterinarians are now recommending longer intervals between booster innoculations than in the past.
Richards explains that research in this area indicates many vaccines, but not necessarily all, provide protection for a longer period than once thought. The goal of your cats immunization program should be to confer protection from disease without submitting him to unnecessary vaccinations.
Most reactions are mild, commonly occur within hours to several days after the vaccination, and subside after a few days. Serious allergic reactions generally occur within an hour after vaccination and require immediate veterinary attention. Richards explains that a tumor called a sarcoma has been associated with injection sites in cats and can occur weeks, months, or even years after injection. Any lump that develops at the site of an injection warrants a trip to your veterinarian for diagnosis.
Vaccination is not risk free, but it has improved the health and life expectancy for both humans and their pets. Cats are wonderful companions and with our help, they can live happy, healthy, long lives – our greatest reward.