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Cat Vaccinations - What, When, and Why - Veterinary Advice

Your feline friend doesn’t actually have nine lives, so it’s up to you to protect them, and having them vaccinated is one of the best ways to do just that. Modern vaccines are highly effective at protecting pets against potentially devastating diseases, and the risk of side effects is extremely low. 

Still, you probably have some questions about what vaccinations your cat needs or whether you should vaccinate your furry friend if they never go outside. That is why we have created this resource filled with answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about cat vaccinations. 

If you don’t have a veterinarian and are looking for one near San Dimas, CA, we’d love to help! Give our team a call at (909) 294-7478 to schedule your cat’s appointment. 

What exactly are cat vaccinations?

Vaccinations are injectable substances that help cats build immunity against certain diseases. Each vaccine is a modified version of a pathogen, typically a bacteria or virus. We inject these modified pathogens to trigger the patient’s natural immune response. When this happens, the body produces antibodies that protect against the substance. If your cat is ever exposed to that specific pathogen after receiving the vaccine, they will already have an immunity against it. As a result, they will be better equipped to fight it off without experiencing severe illness. 

Are cat vaccinations important?

Absolutely! Cat vaccinations are vital because you never know what your feline friend could encounter during their lifetime. If you do not have your cat vaccinated, they may be unable to fight off illnesses like feline distemper. Starting your cat on a vaccine schedule at an early age is the best way to provide life-long protection. As your cat’s veterinarian, we are here to help you determine which vaccinations are most suitable. 

What cat vaccinations do you typically recommend, and what do they protect against?

Let’s start with core vaccinations. These are the essential vaccines that all cats need and protect your pet from the most life-threatening illnesses and the ones they are most likely to encounter. 

Core vaccinations for cats include: 

Because Rabies is a public health concern, the law mandates this vaccine in most areas. Next is the FVRCP vaccine, which protects cats from Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia. 
We also commonly recommend the Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) vaccine, but this one is a bit more lifestyle-dependent. We usually recommend it for kittens, but it’s not always necessary for older cats. 

What is the kitten vaccine schedule?

Kittens should receive their first vaccinations in a series. We usually administer the first set when they are six or seven weeks old, then provide additional doses every three to four weeks until they are about four months old. 

Getting your kitten set up on a vaccination schedule helps them build immunity and grow into healthy adults. As their veterinarian, we will help you keep your furry friend on schedule. 

What is the cat vaccination schedule?

Assuming that your adult cat received appropriate vaccinations as a kitten, they will need boosters for Rabies, FVRCP, and (if applicable) FeLV throughout their life. We typically administer the FVRCP and FeLV vaccines annually, while your cat may need a booster for their Rabies vaccine every one or three years, depending on the vaccination used. 

However, if your cat is long overdue for boosters or you don’t know their vaccine history, we will start them on the same schedule as a kitten. 

What is the vaccine schedule for senior cats?

We recommend keeping your cat up to date on their vaccinations throughout their life. While a 12-year-old cat isn’t as susceptible to certain illnesses as a 12-week-old kitten because of the antibodies they’ve developed throughout their life, the risk is still there. Plus, older cats sometimes have weaker immune systems than their younger counterparts. Preventing illness is a vital step in keeping your cat by your side for as many years as possible. Again, as your cat’s veterinarian, we will help you determine what vaccinations are appropriate and get them on a proper vaccine schedule. 

Are there risks or side effects associated with cat vaccinations?

There is always a degree of risk when injecting a foreign substance into the body of a living creature. However, the good thing is that side effects — particularly severe ones — are not common with cat vaccinations. 

Though uncommon, the most typical side effects of cat vaccines include: 

  • Hives
  • Itching 
  • Pain or swelling at the injection site
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy

Very rarely, cats can develop a severe complication known as injection-site sarcoma — a cancerous mass that forms at the site of vaccine administration. As the quality of pet vaccines has improved, the risk of this already-rare complication has dropped significantly. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), injection-site sarcomas only occur at roughly one case per 10,000 to 30,000 vaccinations. 

Are vaccinations necessary for cats who live strictly indoors?

We recommend vaccinating your cat even if you don’t plan on letting them outside. While an indoor cat’s risk of exposure to illness is substantially lower than a cat who goes outdoors, there is no way to eliminate it. It only takes one ripped window screen or a door that stays open just a few seconds too long for an “inside-only” cat to find their way outside. Whether they’re gone for an hour, a day, or an entire week, there’s no telling what viruses or bacteria they could encounter during their adventure. 

Why is it important to avoid missing a cat vaccination?

For kittens, missing a vaccination can prevent the series from working as it should. We need to administer the vaccinations at least three weeks apart so that the immune system can produce enough antibodies for the second or third set. However, if you wait more than six weeks, the antibody production will decrease to the point where getting a booster will be like starting the process again. 

There is a bit more room for flexibility in older cats. If you are a little bit late, it isn’t the end of the world, but you should try to keep up with boosters as much as possible. Vaccinations rely on immune memory cells. In other words, boosters “remind” your cat’s immune system what a pathogen looks like and how to respond to it. If you miss boosters altogether, your cat won’t have the appropriate protection, and we will need to start the series over again. 

As your cat’s veterinarian in San Dimas, CA, we are here to help you understand their vaccination needs. For additional information or to schedule an appointment to have your feline friend vaccinated, call (909) 294-7478 today! 

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