We know that all pet parents want to help protect their furry friends the best they can. Routine preventive care can help ensure the lifelong help of your kitty, especially if they spend time outside. Here, our Citrus Heights vets share the importance of vaccinations for outdoor cats and what shots your cat should have to stay safe.
How Safe Are Cat Vaccinations?
Vaccines and the need for vaccinating our pets is certainly a contentious topic.
At Family Friends Veterinary Hospital our vets believe vaccinations are safe for cats and that vaccinating your outdoor cat can help to protect your feline friend against a number of very serious conditions which be costly to treat and/or potentially deadly.
Nonetheless, not all cats face the same health risks, which means that each cat's need for vaccines will differ. While core vaccines are strongly recommended for all cats, and the Rabies vaccine is required by law in most states, there are certain 'lifestyle vaccines' which are aimed more at cats who spend time outdoors with other cats.
Core Vaccinations For Outdoor Cats
Core vaccinations are designed to help protect your cat by preventing diseases commonly found in your area that spread very quickly, and have a high fatality rate. If you have an outdoor cat it is important to protect your feline friend with the following core vaccinations:
Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper or Feline Parvo)
- Closely related to the canine parvovirus, Panleukopenia is an extremely contagious, life-threatening viral disease in cats. This virus attacks blood cells in the body, including the cells in the intestinal tract, bone marrow, skin or developing fetus. Panleukopenia is spread through the urine, stool, and nasal secretions of infected cats, or from the fleas of an infected cat.
- Feline calicivirus is a highly contagious respiratory disease in cats and kittens. This illness attacks the cat's respiratory tract including the nasal passages and lungs, as well as the mouth, intestines and the cat's musculoskeletal system. Feline calicivirus can be very difficult to get rid of once it has been contracted, so vaccinating your cat against feline calicivirus is strongly recommended.
Feline Herpesvirus Type I (Rhinotracheitis)
- Feline Herpesvirus (also known as feline viral rhinotracheitis -FVR) is a major cause of upper respiratory disease in cats, as well as inflammation of the tissues surrounding the cat's eyes. Cats that have been infected with FVR it become carriers of the virus, passing it along to other cats they come in contact with. Although symptoms can be treated the virus remains present. Stress or illness can cause Feline Herpesvirus to become reactivated and infectious.
- Rabies is typically transmitted through a bite from the infected animal and is one of the few diseases that can be transmitted to people from their pets. The rabies virus causes acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and will gradually infect the entire nervous system of the animal or person causing death. In many states, including North Carolina, rabies shots are mandatory for dogs, cats and ferrets, without exception.
Lifestyle Vaccinations For Outdoor Cats
Cats that are free to explore outdoors are exposed to more diseases and parasites, which means it is even more important that they stay well-protected. 'Lifestyle vaccines' are those that are recommended primarily for cats that spend a great deal of time outdoors, or in the company of other cats. The following are lifestyle vaccines that your vet may recommend for your feline explorer:
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)
- Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) is the leading viral killer of cats and kittens. While it can hide undetected for long periods of time, it gradually weakens the cat's immune system and increases their susceptibility to other diseases including cancer. Feline leukemia is spread by saliva and can be transmitted from cat to cat through mutual grooming, bite wounds, mother's milk to kittens or through shared litter box use. Kittens are at high risk for contracting this disease and should be vaccinated against Feline leukemia starting at 9 - 12 weeks of age.
Chlamydia (Chlamydophila felis)
- Chlamydia can cause respiratory disease and eye infection in cats and is easily spread between cats that are in close contact with each other. We recommend that all cats living in catteries, breeders and shelters be vaccinated against this illness. Speak to your vet to learn whether your cat is susceptible to this condition.
Standard Cat Vaccination Schedule
You can help give your cat the best protection possible by bringing them to your vet for routine pet vaccinations. Below is the typical schedule that most healthy cats follow when they begin to get their kitten shots.
First visit (6 to 8 weeks)
- Review nutrition and grooming
- Blood test for feline leukemia
- Fecal exam for parasites
- Vaccinations for chlamydia, calicivirus, rhinotracheitis and panleukopenia
Second visit (12 weeks)
- Examination and external check for parasites
- First feline leukemia vaccine
- Second vaccinations for calicivirus rhinotracheitis, and panleukopenia
- First feline leukemia vaccine
Third visit (follow veterinarian’s advice)
- Rabies vaccine
- Second feline leukemia vaccine
Depending on the type of cat vaccination, your vet may recommend that you bring your outdoor cat in for routine booster shots every 1 to 3 years. They will base this schedule on the health of your cat and any potential conditions or concerns they may have.
When will my outdoor cat be fully protected?
Until they have received all of their pet vaccinations (when they are about 12 to 16 weeks old), your kitten will not be fully vaccinated. After all of their initial round of kitten shots have been completed, your furry little friend will have the ideal protection against a variety of contagious and potentially fatal diseases.
If you plan to let your kitten outdoors before they have been fully vaccinated against all the diseases listed above, take precautions to ensure that they cannot leave the backyard and that you monitor them the entire time.
Potential Vaccine Side Effects
The vast majority of cats will not experience any side effects as a result of getting their shots. If reactions do occur, they are usually minor and short in duration. That said, in rare cases more serious reactions can occur with both kitten and puppy shots, including:
- Loss of appetite
- Redness or swelling around the injection site
- Severe lethargy
If you suspect your pet may be experiencing side effects from a vaccine contact your vet immediately! Your vet can help you determine any special care or follow-up that may be required.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.