Vaccines for Cats
Vaccinations should begin when a kitten 6-9 weeks old. Boosters should be administered every 3-4 weeks until the kitten is 16 weeks old. A series of vaccinations is necessary to achieve adequate immunity to disease. After the initial series, the "distemper" vaccination should be updated yearly, especially in cats that go outdoors or live in a group of cats. The core vaccines for cats are distemper and rabies. The distemper vaccination is actually a vaccination against distemper (also known as panleukopenia), rhinotracheitis and calicivirus. Distemper is a very lethal virus rarely seen today; rhinotracheitis and calicivirus tend to cause upper respiratory illness, but can cause death in kittens, blinding eye problems and chronic bothersome respiratory problems.
Rabies vaccination is required by law in NYS. The first vaccination can be given at 12 weeks of age and is licensed for 1 year of protection. The rabies boosters are good for 3 years. In the event of a possible exposure to rabies, a booster should be done within 5 days.
Feline leukemia virus vaccine is a non-core vaccine for cats. Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a retrovirus generally spread in saliva from cat to cat and can cause serious illness including cancer, bone marrow failure, and immunodeficiency. Young cats and kittens are most susceptible to FeLV infection and there is no significantly effective treatment for it. FeLV vaccination is recommended for all cats that go outdoors, live in groups and all kittens who may possibly become exposed to other cats. There are tests to detect FeLV in cats; appropriate testing can help prevent introducing FeLV into a household of cats.
Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is another retrovirus found in cats less commonly than FeLV. FIV seems to cause milder disease and tends to be transmitted by biting. A vaccine is available for FIV, but is not carried by FVVC. Testing for antibodies to FIV can be done, but need to be carefully interpreted.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis virus (FIP) is a mutated coronavirus that can suddenly cause fatal disease in cats. It can mimic cancer or kidney failure and is fatal despite treatment. Unfortunately, FIP testing is not reliable. A vaccine has been developed for FIP, but has fallen into disuse due to controversy over its benefit.