Understanding Feline Vaccinations

Call them "shots" if you want, but vaccinations deserve a lot of respect for cutting the rates of infectious disease in cats. A series of vaccines for kittens and annual vaccines for cats are still believed to be one of the best ways to ensure good health for your cat.

Be aware that the need for annual boosters beyond the initial kitten series and the first annual booster is being reevaluated for many of the vaccines given today. The right regimen for each vaccine is not yet known, although the law dictates what must be followed for rabies in each state. Let your veterinarian know that you are interested in discussing the pros and cons of vaccinations and how often they should be repeated. Recommendations for each vaccine will likely change over the next few years.

Vaccines work by putting a tiny amount of a disease-causing virus or other microorganism into your cat, challenging her immune system to create disease-fighting antibodies. Should your pet ever come in contact with the actual disease-causing body, her system can recognize it and is prepared to fight it. Many vaccines are killed, meaning that the disease-causing organism has been rendered lifeless before injection, or modified-live, which means it has been altered so that it no longer produces the signs of the disease. Although each acts slightly differently in the body, the result, ideally, is the same: an immune system ready to fight the "real" infectious agents should they ever turn up.

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An occasional cat will develop an "allergic" reaction to a vaccine, and these usually become apparent quickly and are managed by your veterinarian. To ensure that this very uncommon complication does not become serious, keep your cat confined and observe her for a few hours after the vaccine is given. If you have any questions or concerns, call or return to your veterinarian.

Another concern about vaccines: Some cats may develop a malignant tumor at the site where certain shots are given (generally in the area between the shoulder blades) The incidence of this complication is low — about one cat per 10,000 vaccinated — and is currently thought to be associated with the feline leukemia (FeLV) or rabies vaccines.

Remember the following regarding vaccines:

  • Do not use cancer or allergic reactions as a reason to avoid getting your cat vaccinated. You are much more likely to lose your unvaccinated cat to one of the diseases you vaccinate against, than you are to ever see a tumor in your cat because of vaccination.

  • Pay special attention to your kittens. Young cats are especially fragile — do not even consider skipping the kitten series and first annual booster.

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