The expenses incurred due to cat ownership can sometimes take you by surprise. Of course, everybody anticipates paying for beds, toys, and food. In addition to these, however, the cost of veterinary bills for cats can add up – starting with the most critical vaccinations.
Annual vaccinations are required for rabies. Although shots are believed to last three years, many states require an annual booster by law. Check with your vet regarding other vaccines. Some vaccines can be updated every three years, while others need to be boosted annually. The latter is usually recommended for outdoor cats, who are at higher risk of disease.
Very few vaccinations need to be updated every year. This doesn’t mean that you can skip vet appointments, though. Your pet will still need an annual once-over. This guide covers what you need to know about vaccinating your cat, and why it’s so important for feline health.
What are Cat Vaccinations?
Feline vaccines protect against different conditions. Their purpose is to help your cat’s body to recognize unwelcome bacteria, and fight off any invasion.
Vaccines are made up of three core components:
- Live Organisms. This is a modified version of the disease being vaccinated against. The organism will not make your cat sick, but the exposure will build immunity.
- Dead Organisms. This will be a previous, outdated version of the disease. Other chemicals will be included to increase pep, and again boost immunity.
- Recombinant Vaccines. These vaccines are a comparatively new innovation. They involve combining two organisms to create one, core immunity enhancement.
Vets usually divide feline vaccines into two groups – core and non-core. The former is generally compulsory, and the latter advisory.
A vaccine will not necessarily prevent your cat from ever becoming sick. It will, however, minimize the impact of any condition. All the same, it’s best to limit any potential exposure to viruses.
How a vaccine is administered depends on what disease it is protecting against. Some will involve an injection, while others are inhaled.
What Vaccinations Does a Cat Need?
Core vaccinations are highly recommended and, in the case of rabies, often legally required. Non-core vaccinations are optional. This means that you can pick and choose which treatments you feel your cat requires.
Weigh up various risk factors here, including your cat’s location, age, physical health, and lifestyle. Discuss your findings with a vet, and make the appropriate arrangements.
Core Feline Vaccinations
There are four core cat vaccines. These protect your cat against:
- Rabies. This is a single vaccination, usually administered as a kitten. If your cat is older, it will be two vaccinations, twelve months apart.
- Feline Distemper, aka Panleukopenia. This vaccine is administered as early as possible, and boosted four times while your cat remains a kitten. If you have a senior cat, it will be two vaccinations, weeks apart.
- Feline Herpesvirus. This vaccine is administered straight away, and boosted four times while your cat remains a kitten. If your cat is older, it will be two vaccinations, weeks apart.
- Calicivirus. This vaccine is administered immediately, and boosted four times while your cat remains a kitten. If you have an older feline, it will be two vaccinations, weeks apart.
This sounds like a lot for your cat to go through, but the latter three vaccines are usually combined into one. This is known as the FVRCP vaccine.
The rabies vaccine will usually need to be boosted annually. The others could be anything from one year to every three. Follow your vet’s guidance on this schedule.
It’s essential that you undertake these vaccinations. Failing to do so is leaving your cat at wholly avoidable risk. Rabies is famously dangerous, and invariably fatal.
Feline herpesvirus is a highly infectious upper respiratory condition. Calicivirus is another respiratory condition, though it attacks the joints and causes early-onset arthritis. Panleukopenia, meanwhile, is as dangerous as rabies.
Non-Core Feline Vaccinations
Also, there are two further non-core inoculations. These protect against:
- Feline Leukemia Virus. This vaccine is administered as early as possible, and boosted after a month. If you have an elderly cat, it will be two vaccinations, weeks apart.
- Bordetella. This vaccine is administered straight away. If you have a senior cat, it will be two vaccinations, weeks apart.
These conditions, much like those covered by the core vaccines, can be dangerous to kittens. Feline leukemia virus, aka FeLV, attacks your cat’s immune system, leaving them vulnerable to infection.
As these vaccines are non-core, they are optional. Some breeds of cat, and individual lifestyles, are more vulnerable than others.
Do Kittens Need Vaccinations?
It is pivotal that kittens receive vaccinations. According to Pet Health Network, these should start at eight weeks and continue until four months.
Your kitten will not be venturing outside in the very first weeks of their life. They may, however, carry retroactive or hereditary diseases from their mothers.
As kittens are so young, they are also very delicate. Their immune systems have not had the time to develop yet. A condition that a healthy adult can shake off could be fatal to a kitten.
At the very least, a kitten requires the FVRCP vaccine, to protect against rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia. Your kitten will be examined at around eight weeks, and given the vaccination.
They will then be provided with boosters every three weeks, leading to four appointments in total. A rabies vaccine will also be administered with the final booster. This will ensure that the vaccine is effective.
Beyond FVRCP, it’s a matter of personal choice. Many vets will recommend vaccinating against Bordetella and feline leukemia virus at the same time.
Remember, these conditions can be extremely dangerous to a kitten. Just because your pet isn’t mingling with the outside world, it doesn’t mean they’re perfectly safe.
Do Older Cats Need Vaccinations?
Things get a little trickier when deciding whether a senior cat should receive vaccinations and boosters. Your vet will likely want to perform a full examination of your cat before deciding.
The reason for the possible indecision is your cat’s health. Vaccinations are rarely recommended in cats that are sick. They could react poorly with other medications, or worsen a pre-existing condition.
If your cat’s kidneys are failing, for example, a vet may prefer not to vaccinate. The same will happen if your cat has a heart condition, or even if they’re obese. The only exception to this, as always, is rabies.
Of course, the flipside of this is that older cats, like kittens, are more vulnerable. Once a feline ages past 7, they will struggle to shake off a cold quite so easily.
Keep taking your pet for regular check-ups, and follow professional advice. You can always seek a second opinion if your vet’s recommendation jars with your instincts.
Are Cat Vaccinations Dangerous?
Every feline will react differently to a vaccine, and there are certainly some inherent risks. However, most vets will claim that these are outweighed by the rewards.
The Cornell Feline Health Center lists some of the risks associated with vaccines. Allergies are chief among these. Although very rare, impacting upon less than 1% of all felines vaccinated, allergies can happen. The symptoms of a cat suffering from an allergy to their vaccination include:
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Breaking out in hives
- Itchy skin
- Muscle weakness and lethargy
- Swelling around the neck, eyes, and lips
- Fever (body temperature over 100OF)
- Trouble breathing
- Pale gums
Keep a close eye on your cat after they’ve been vaccinated. If they display any symptoms of a potential allergy, return to your vet ASAP.
It is crucial that you check for any persistent swelling. The most dangerous side effect of vaccination is a type of cancer known as Feline Injection Site Sarcoma, or FISS.
This is a very rare side effect. As the name suggests, FISS sees a tumor develop around the area your cat was injected. This will need to be surgically removed ASAP.
For your cat’s protection, a vet will always administer a vaccine in an area with substantial tissue. The around the tail is a popular choice. This is because amputation may be necessary, if the FISS is particularly aggressive.
Cats can bounce back from a tail amputation and live a full life. The same can also be said if they lose a limb, so some vets will vaccinate around the leg.
This all sounds very worrying, but remember, these side effects are rare. Your cat will have to be very unfortunate to experience such a complication. It can happen, though.
Some pet parents prefer to take a holistic approach to vaccinations. The American Veterinary Medical Association explains this in more detail. It’s up to you if this is a route you’d like to take.
Bear in mind, however, that vaccines provided by a vet are evaluated by the FDA. This is not the case with homeopathic remedies. This, coupled with the lack of compelling evidence of effectiveness, suggests that caution is advisable.
Do Cats Need Boosters Every Year?
Opinion varies on whether cats need to be vaccinated every year. Most manufacturers design vaccines to last three years, not one. Where rabies is concerned, however, this rarely matters. Most local authorities will insist that cats are boosted every year.
Follow your vet’s advice when it comes to the schedule of your cat’s vaccinations and boosters. If your cat roams outdoors, they are likely to require annual boosters.
This is because viruses can change and mutate over time. Your vet will likely perform a risk assessment on your cat’s lifestyle, and advise accordingly.
Some pet owners would prefer to use a booster as when it’s necessary. Unfortunately, the only way that this can be determined is through a blood test. Why put your cat through this, and pay the corresponding bill, when you could re-vaccinate?
How Much Do Cat Vaccinations and Boosters Cost?
The cost of vaccinations and boosters will vary from vet to vet. A veterinary practice is a business. This means that they will need to price their services according to location and local taxes.
What is certain is that an initial course of vaccines will cost more than boosters. Expect to pay about $100 for the initial course. After this, boosters will cost half of this – or maybe less.
Your pet insurance will not cover the cost of vaccinations. These procedures are considered part of your responsibilities. However, choosing to vaccinate may reflect positively on any future claim against your policy. Discuss vaccines with your insurer, and see what treatments they value.
Do Indoor Cats Need Vaccinations?
Just because a cat does not leave the house, they are not exempt from vaccination.
Some of the diseases that vaccinate protect against are airborne. This means that even opening a window can allow access and make your pet sick.
It’s possible that an indoor cat will escape at some stage. If your cat has never been outside, they’ll be very curious about the wider world.
It’s also quite possible that your cat has never had a bad experience. They’ll assume that every cat they encounter is friendly – and that’s always not the case.
Stress can also bring on a bout of feline herpesvirus. This condition never leaves a cat’s body, merely lying dormant. You may think that your pet lives a charmed life, but cats are easily stressed.
Any alteration to their routine, no matter how trivial it seems to us, upsets their biorhythms. If your cat has been vaccinated, they will suffer less with the condition.
Consider also whether your cat will always be at home. Are you never planning to take another vacation? Because if you are, somebody will need to care for your cat.
This could include placing your pet in a cattery. In such a location, your cat will be rubbing faces with countless other felines. There is no way of knowing their medical status, and your cat may be at serious risk.
Even if you place your cat with a friend or family member, they may have pets. This, again, means that your cat will face potential exposure to disease.
How about other animals, too? Just because your cat stays home, they are not necessarily safe. If you have a cat flap, all kinds of wildlife could gain access to your home. Predators of cats such as raccoons, bats, and skunks could all enter and wreak havoc on your cat’s health.
My Cat Has Never Been Vaccinated
Vaccination isn’t for everybody. Some pet owners consider vaccinations too dangerous, and prefer not to take any chances. There is also the chance that your cat was not vaccinated by previous owners. If you adopt a cat from a shelter, try to learn their medical history.
It’s never too late to start a healthy cat’s vaccination program. Discuss how to proceed with your vet, and draw up a schedule. Remember, if your cat is not vaccinated against rabies you are likely breaking the law. Failing to vaccinate may also impact upon your pet insurance.
If a cat has never been vaccinated, they may also not have received other treatments. If you adopt a new pet, ensure that they are protected against fleas and internal parasites.
Your first port of call should be to register with a veterinarian, and follow their advice. Protection for your cat is the most important thing of all.
Vaccinations are a subject that seems destined to divide people forever. Some will claim that failing to offer your cat every available vaccine is irresponsible. Others will say that vaccines are just scaremongering and profiteering. The truth, as always, tends to lie somewhere in the middle.
You know your cat best. Think about their lifestyle, and what risks they may be exposed to. This includes your geographic location, and how much interaction your cat has with other animals.
Aside from rabies, the law does not dictate that you must vaccinate your pet. It’s a wise move to do so though, for their protection.