If your cat spends time exploring outdoors, several vaccines can help protect your feline friend against a host of serious illnesses they may be susceptible to. Our Fort Collins veterinarians explain.
Are vaccines safe for cats?
Vaccines and the need for vaccinating our pets is certainly a contentious topic.
Our veterinarians believe vaccinations are safe for cats and that vaccinating your outdoor cat can help to protect your feline friend against several 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.
What are the core vaccines for cats?
Core vaccines 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, which is why 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 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.
What 'lifestyle vaccines' do my outdoor cats need?
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 veterinarian 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, it gradually weakens the cat's immune system and increases its 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 veterinarian to learn whether your cat is susceptible to this condition.