What Vaccinations Does my Cat Need?

When trying to decide what vaccines to give your cat, it is best to have a discussion with your veterinarian. The big thing to talk about is the type of lifestyle your cat leads. For example, does your cat go outside or is it an inside only cat? If the cat is an “inside only” cat then I determine if the cat has any type of exposure to other cats. I have had issues with “inside only cats” that get to go out on the screened in porch and they talk to the neighbor’s cat or even worse stray cats in the neighborhood. Another important question: did the owner get a new kitten or cat or are they bringing multiple foster kittens and cats into their home? I have treated numerous cases of upper respiratory infections of “inside only cats” that have been exposed to other cats.

Another thing that is really important to me as a veterinarian when owners bring their cats in is not only giving vaccines to prevent disease, but doing an actual physical exam. I don’t like finding problems, but if your cat does have an issue such as dental problems or heart disease, then it would be best to address the problems so your kitty can have a longer healthier life. It is a well-known fact that cats are the number one pet in the United States, but it is also true that the majority of these cats do not see their veterinarian on a yearly basis. In my practice I probably see four dogs to one cat, and of those cats, I am likely to see them only when their owners notice a medical issue.

There is an actual advisory board in my veterinary world called the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) that has an actual report about feline vaccinations. This is a great thing for me as a veterinarian, as the AAFP board is comprised of a lot of very smart people who are specialists in the field, and they give their opinion about which vaccines would be best for your cat.

The AAFP breaks down vaccines into core and non-core vaccines. Core vaccines are the vaccines that are recommended for all cats and non-core vaccines should only be administered to cats that are in an at-risk category. The recommended core vaccination is against feline panleukopenia, feline herpesvirus-1 and feline calicivirus. There is a combo vaccine – HCP – against these diseases.. Non-core vaccines include rabies, feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), Chlamydophilia felis, Bordetella bronchiseptica, feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) and dermatophyte (ringworm). The advisory board does acknowledge that vaccination against rabies is necessary where it is required by law or where the virus is endemic.

Of all of the above-mentioned vaccines, the ones commonly given are for rabies, feline panleukopenia, herpesvirus-1, calicivirus and feline leukemia. The majority of the other vaccines, if needed, are mostly used in shelters or breeding facilities. Here in Georgia, state law requires that all cats (and dogs) be vaccinated for rabies, even though it is considered by the advisory board as non-core. I certainly agree with this, as there are numerous reports yearly about cats testing positive for rabies in Gwinnett and surrounding counties. Rabies is important even for “Inside only cats” because you never know when your cat might escape to the “outside” world, and it is not worth taking a chance with your cat's life.

With all my clients I do ask them about their cats’ lifestyle and go from there on what their cat needs. For the inside only cats I recommend giving rabies and the combo vaccine for feline panleukopenia, herpesvirus-1 and calicivirus. The main reason for both of these vaccines, as mentioned above, is that never know when your kitty might escape outside or you might get a new cat or even have some exposure through a screen door with the neighbor’s cat.

For outside kitties, of course I recommend rabies and HCP vaccinations, but it is also important to consider one for feline leukemia. Feline leukemia is a disease that is very easily spread between cats and is not an easy disease to treat. Find out more about feline leukemia here.

Also I have many clients who have a mixture of inside and outside cats that mingle with each other. It is important to understand that cats that go outside can transmit diseases to the inside only cats. Then the vaccination recommendations for the inside only cats will change, based on the exposure to outside cats in the household.

I hope this information helps you in deciding to vaccinate your cat but the big thing to remember is to talk to your veterinarian about what vaccinations your cats need, and how often.