Cats and Vaccines - A Cat Doctor's Perspective

posted: by: The Cat Doctor & Friends Tags: "Clinic Specials" "News" 

Cats and Vaccines-A Cat Doctor’s Perspective Part 1
As a veterinarian who limits her practice to cats only, I am often asked “Should I vaccinate my cat if he never leaves the house?”  When I answer with a resounding yes, the next question is almost always, “Why?”

First of all, certain viruses that cause disease are very hardy (hard to kill).  Panleukopenia virus is shed in the feces (stool) of outdoor cats who are infected with the disease.  This deadly virus can survive for many months in the environment and won’t be killed by most disinfectants in a veterinary clinic.

While a majority of cats will be protected for years if vaccinated properly as kittens and at one year of age, some cats will become vulnerable again, so all cats should be boostered every three years, once they’ve received their one year vaccine “boosters”.  This way, they are protected from virus that an owner can bring home on the soles of their shoes, and also protected if they need to be hospitalized.  It is especially important that kittens receive their last kitten vaccine at or after 16 weeks of age, in order to create long lasting immunity.  Maternal antibodies from the mother can interfere with the creation of immunity in a very small percentage of kittens who are older than 12 weeks, which is why we are vaccinating again at 16 weeks or older.

I believe that all cats, including indoor cats, should be vaccinated against rabies virus.  Rabid bats are found in Santa Clarita every year, and rabid bats will do strange things, such as flying through a briefly opened door and then falling to the ground, where your cat can find it and say to himself “Cool, a mouse with wings!!!”  Also, should you or anyone be bitten by your cat, physicians are obligated to report those bites to public health and your cat will be quarantined for 6 months if he or she is not currently vaccinated.

I feel Leukemia virus vaccines are important for kittens, who are especially vulnerable to this virus, and all cats who go outdoors.  Strictly indoor adult cats who live in a feline leukemia virus free environment (they live alone or live with other indoor cats and all cats are tested leukemia virus negative) really don’t need this particular vaccine.

Cats and Vaccines – A Cat Doctor’s Perspective Part 2
In part 1 I discussed the different vaccines and why an indoor cat should be vaccinated.  To see part 1 of this article go to our website at or go to the October issue of The Magazine of Santa Clarita.

All vaccines carry a risk.  Your veterinarian should evaluate your cat’s health and lifestyle to decide what vaccines make sense for your cat.  Rarely, a cat can experience an anaphylactic reaction, which can range from vomiting to collapse and even death.  If I am giving vaccines to a cat with a history of allergic reactions such as fever or lameness post vaccine, I will give an antihistamine injection first, to minimize discomfort and risk.  This also applies when we are giving more than 2 vaccines at one time, since risks of a reaction increase with the number of vaccines given.

For those rare cats who don’t handle vaccines well, we can perform a lab test called a vaccine titer to check their immunity against serious infections, such as panleukopenia and calicivirus.

Lastly, a warning about where vaccines should be given.  Please don’t allow a veterinarian or technician (veterinary nurse) to administer your cat’s vaccines between the shoulder blades or the back of the neck.  A very tiny percentage of vaccines will result in a tumor called a vaccinial fibrosarcoma and they are less likely to happen and easier to deal with if they do happen, when the vaccines are given separately and on your cat’s legs instead of between the shoulder blades.  If you notice a lump after your cat has had a vaccine injection call your veterinarian right away.  Lumps that grow rapidly or persist longer than 4-6 weeks should be aspirated and/or biopsied.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners created recommendations for vaccine protocols, which most veterinarians follow.  My recommendations in this article are based on them.  FIP and FIV vaccines are not recommended for most cats and kittens.