Vaccines are administered to prepare the body’s immune system to fight off a particular disease. The vaccine is created from a part of the organism–perhaps a bacterial protein, or maybe even a killed virus itself – that “tricks” the immune system into mounting a protective response, without risk of causing the original disease itself. Then, when the cat, dog, or human is actually exposed to the real disease-causing organism, the body is already prepared to respond. Ultimately, vaccines are given to either prevent infection completely, or reduce the severity and duration of disease symptoms.
It may be confusing to know exactly what shots your cat should receive. Most people do not want to put their cat through unnecessary stress, and though serious side effects of vaccination are uncommon, they can occur. The most common reactions are transient pain or swelling at the injection site, occasion stomach upset or loss of appetite, and lethargy/tiredness. These reactions come and go very quickly, and may not even be noticed. Rarely, more serious allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis , or a tumor called an injection-site sarcoma can occur post-vaccination.
Nevertheless, vaccination plays a very important role in preventative care and the health of your cat Here is a list of the most common vaccinations, and which cats should be receive them. One vaccine is a combination vaccine, often abbreviated as “FVRCP” or “RCP” This vaccine protects against the following conditions:
The second vaccine recommended for all cats, and often required by law is the Rabies Virus Vaccine. Rabies is a deadly neurologic disease which is also a health risk to humans. Cats can be exposed to rabies through bites from wildlife, other cats or dogs in the area. Clinical signs include abnormal behavior (aggression, disorientation, and vocalization), seizures, paralysis, fever and hypersalivation. Death is expected within 7-10 days after signs begin.
Some vaccines are only recommended for cats with a certain lifestyle that puts them at a higher risk of exposure to certain diseases. Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) is one of these vaccines.
Feline Leukemia Virus is the leading viral killer of cats. The virus is spread through a cat’s saliva, nasal secretions, urine, feces and milk. It is commonly spread through bite wounds, and can be spread through casual contact between cats (grooming, etc) or from a mother cat to her kittens (before birth or while nursing) FeLV is a common cause of feline cancer, often causes blood disorders, and can damage a cat’s immune system. The individuals who should definitely receive this vaccine are outdoor cats, indoor/outdoor cats, and cats living in households with FeLV-positive cats. (Indoor-only cats have very little risk of contact with stray or infected cats, and do not necessarily need this vaccine every year.)
Other available vaccines include the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) vaccine, Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) vaccine, Chlamydia and Ringworm vaccines. These vaccines are not routinely administered, and all risks and benefits should be fully discussed with a veterinarian.