Some people feel that cats shouldn’t be vaccinated at all, and some feel that cats should get every shot every year. The large majority, however, follow a middle path, guided by the recommendations of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, which came up with a list of five diseases against which cats definitely should be vaccinated. Here are those five diseases and why it’s so important to protect your cat against them.
This highly contagious and deadly disease, also known as feline distemper, attacks the lining of the digestive tract and causes profuse and usually bloody diarrhea, severe dehydration, malnutrition, and anemia. It compromises the immune system by reducing the number of white blood cells. Death from panleukopenia is grotesque and extremely painful, and 60 to 95 percent of kittens contracting the disease die from it despite aggressive treatment. The virus lingers in the environment for a long time, and if a pregnant cat is exposed to it, her kittens can develop cerebral hypoplasia.
Eighty to 90 percent of contagious upper respiratory infections are caused by calicivirus and herpesvirus. Calicivirus symptoms include discharge from the eyes, nose, or mouth, along with labored breathing, ulcers in the mouth, lethargy, lack of appetite, and fever. Herpesvirus, also known as feline viral rhinotracheitis, shows itself with symptoms including sneezing attacks, discharge from the nose and eyes, conjunctivitis, eye ulcers, depression, and lack of appetite. These diseases are typically transmitted by direct contact with infected eye, mouth, or nose discharge. In multi-cat environments like shelters and kennels, infected dishes, carriers, bedding, litter boxes, and human hands can also spread infection. Once infected, many cats never rid themselves of the virus, and they can infect other cats. The vaccine minimizes the severity of infections but won’t prevent the disease in all situations.
As the number of rabies cases in wildlife increase, so do the chances that a cat will be infected by rabies. Rabies is an incurable disease that affects the brain and nervous system, causing symptoms like seizures, paralysis, vocalization changes, aggression, and disorientation. The virus spreads from the wound site to the nerves and brain, then into the salivary glands, and bites from infected animals are the primary transmission route. Rabies is always fatal, and infected animals endure 7 to 10 days of agony before they die. Even indoor-only cats can get rabies: Your cat may not go out, but bats and other wildlife may get in. Rabies is a major public health concern because it is highly contagious to all warm-blooded animals … including humans.
The feline leukemia virus suppresses the immune system and makes a cat susceptible to wide array of bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. About a third of cats infected with the virus will develop virus-related cancers. The disease is highly contagious and can be spread by casual contact, such as sharing food and water dishes or cat-to-cat grooming. There is no cure and no effective treatment for feline leukemia. It’s generally agreed that all kittens should be vaccinated against feline leukemia, but there is some disagreement among veterinarians as to whether indoor-only adult cats should receive boosters.
The vaccinations for panleukopenia, calicivirus, and herpesvirus are typically delivered in one injection usually called the FVRCP (Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis/Calicivirus/Panleukopenia) shot, and the others are delivered separately.
Do you have questions about other diseases and their vaccinations? Please ask me in the comments!