Dr. Nan Larsen of Dancing Cats Feline Health Center tells me that cat owners are much less likely to take their pet for regular check-ups and immunizations than dog owners. She says more awareness is needed regarding feline health.
Dr. Nan, tell us what vaccines we should provide our cats and how often they should be given?
Kittens should be vaccinated starting at 6-8 weeks of age. The FVRCP Vaccine, a triple vaccination (Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calcivirus, Panleukopenia) is the most important initial vaccine with a booster every four weeks up through four months of age. Rabies is required by law and given at four months. Feline Leukemia Vaccine is also recommended. I like to spread the vaccines out as much as possible so that the kitten does not get over-vaccinated on one visit.
Deworming is important. Roundworms and tapeworms are the most common internal parasites we see in cats. Roundworms are passed from cat to cat through worm eggs in the feces. Tapeworms are passed by tapeworm larvae residing in an intermediate host such as mice or fleas. The most common external parasite we see in cats is ear mites. Ear mites are passed from cat to cat, usually under crowded conditions or in cat colonies where cats become immunosuppressed.
As kittens mature into adult cats, vaccinations are administered one year following the last vaccination to boost the immune system.
Here is where we get into some controversy. The length of time these vaccines are good for varies, depending on the type and brand of vaccine the veterinarian uses. The vaccines given also vary depending on the cat's risk of contracting a disease—for instance, indoor cats vs. outdoor cats. Many vaccines on the market are three-year vaccines, a few are one to two year vaccines. With adult cats we consider the number of vaccinations they have had and their risk of contracting disease. They may not need vaccinating. Elderly cats should also be carefully evaluated and not vaccinated unless absolutely necessary.
Never allow your veterinarian to vaccinate your cat yearly for every vaccination on the market. Vaccines can have some very serious side effects, for instance fibrosarcoma.* Minimize the vaccines as much as possible. Educate yourself by visiting the following websites: catvets.com and catalystcouncil.org. * Fibrosarcoma is an aggressive type of cancer that originates in the fibrous connective tissue. It is one of the most common musculoskeletal cancer found in cats. There are three causes of fibrosarcoma one of which is vaccine-induced sarcoma.
Outside cats should be dewormed once to three times per year depending on their hunting habits. Cats that go outside should also be tested for feline leukemia (FeLV) and feline aids (FIV) on their annual visit. Leukemia-positive or FIV-positive cats can become immunosuppressed and have difficulty fighting off diseases. It's best to make these inside cats only, as they act as virus reservoirs for uninfected cats. It is wise to test new cats you are bringing into your house before you introduce them to your resident cats.
What vaccines are not necessary?
FIV and FIP (feline infectious peritonitis). These vaccines are controversial. Refer to the recommended websites for more complete information but in basic terms regarding FIV, there are different strains, and the vaccine's ability to induce protection against all of them from FIV is questionable; studies have shown that the vaccine may cover one or two strains but not all so it does not necessarily protect your cat from getting FIV. There doesn't appear to be enough known about FIP to have a successful vaccination.
Anything else you'd like us to know about vaccinating our cats?
Many veterinarians still vaccinate cats between the shoulder blades or along the back. The AAFP recommends that vaccines be given in certain sites: Rabies in the right rear, Leukemia in the left rear, FVRCP in the right front. Cats should not be vaccinated between the shoulder blades, especially with Rabies and Leukemia. If the cat gets a fibrosarcoma, the leg can be amputated; the head cannot, for obvious reasons. If vaccines are given in the "scruff" or elsewhere on the back of the cat and a fibrosarcoma develops, the prognosis for survival is grave.