The earliest veterinary care your kitten receives is likely to be related to pet vaccines. Kitten vaccinations should begin around eight weeks of age, and are usually given in three rounds about three or four weeks apart. Older cats may require booster shots at set intervals, to extend the protection of vaccines received as a kitten. The following are common questions regarding the use of cat vaccines and veterinary cat care.
Vaccines are engineered to protect your cat from specific diseases, by priming the immune system so it’s prepared to recognize and fight off those pathogens that cause the disease. Vaccines are routinely administered by injection.
Not every cat needs to receive every vaccine that’s out there. It’s recommended that all cats receive certain “core” vaccines, and your vet can make recommendations about additional cat vaccines that are available, taking into account your cat’s age, environment, medical history, and how prevalent certain diseases are in your area.
Core vaccines include those that are either required by law or are considered to be vital protection against very common infectious diseases. These include rabies, feline distemper (panleukopenia virus), feline calicivirus, and feline rhinotracheitis (herpes virus). Your kitten will receive these in a series of shots between the ages of six to 20 weeks. Cats who go outdoors and might come into contact with other cats should receive booster shots every one to three years, as determined by your vet. Remember that rabies shots are required by law in nearly every state.
Non-core vaccines have been developed for diseases that cats may or may not encounter, depending on how and where they live. These include:
Feline leukemia (FeLV). Your vet may recommend this vaccine for your kitten if you’re not yet sure how much exposure it will have to other cats during its lifetime. However, the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), a trade group of cat vets, recommends against FeLV vaccines in adult, indoor-only cats that routinely have no contact with other cats.
Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). While FIP is a serous and deadly disease, the only commercial vaccine against it is considered to be somewhat controversial. Some reports associate it with adverse side effects, and the AAFP believes it has not been proven to be of enough benefit to offset the potential risks.
Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Vaccination against FIV is generally not needed by healthy, indoor-only cats. And there is one very well known problem with vaccinating outdoor cats-with all current testing methods for the FIV virus, a vaccinated cat will always test positive. What this means is, if your vaccinated cat somehow ends up in a shelter, there’s a good chance it will be euthanized as a carrier of the disease. (Most shelters test cats for FeLV and FIV because these diseases are very contagious in multiple cat environments.) Discuss the risks and benefits of this vaccine carefully with your vet before making a decision.
Although any medical intervention has the potential for side effects, in general pet vaccines are considered very safe. With core vaccines for cats, serious side effects are rarely seen. However, some cats will seem sleepy or irritable, or lose interest in food for a few days after being vaccinated. Call your vet if you have any concerns.
In general, kittens shouldn’t be vaccinated before the age of six weeks. Likewise, geriatric cats (over 10 years old) may be better off without receiving additional booster shots, to avoid putting stress on their immune systems. Your vet may also advise against vaccinations if your cat has a chronic illness or a compromised immune system (for example, due to cortisone therapy).
Obvious signs of illness always require a trip to the vet – these include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, loss of appetite, or unusual behaviors like a change in bathroom habits. Some vets encourage pet owners to bring their cats in every year for an annual wellness exam; booster shots and teeth cleaning may also be administered at this time. And spaying and neutering is always essential to your cat’s health and wellbeing.