Vaccinations are one of the most effective tools at your disposal for safeguarding your cat's health. Like all medical procedures (for animals and humans alike), they carry a small risk. But their risks are outweighed by their benefits, given that they protect your cat from dangerous, potentially deadly diseases -- some of which can't be cured.
Your cat's first line of defense against disease is her immune system. When it's working well, this system fends off invasion by disease-causing organisms such as bacteria and viruses.
Each vaccine that's given to your pet "trains" the cat's immune system to fight off a particular organism. How? By introducing antigens, substances that resemble the disease-causing organism, but don't actually cause disease. These antigens stimulate the immune system into a protective response -- a kind of "rehearsal" that prepares the immune system to respond effectively if your cat ever comes into contact with the real disease-causing organism.
Vaccines go a long way toward protecting your pet from disease, but they can't guarantee 100-percent immunity. In some cases, vaccines don't prevent an animal from catching a disease, but can make the symptoms less severe if it does contract the illness. You can give your cat extra protection by:
Although vaccines haven't yet been created to address every possible threat to your cat's health, the list of diseases for which vaccines are available is a long one. It includes:
See the article "Common Kitty Health Problems" for more information on these diseases.
Just about every cat can benefit from being immunized against some illnesses, especially the ones that most commonly afflict felines. Not every cat needs to be vaccinated against every disease, however. You and your vet can decide which vaccines your cat needs, taking into consideration such factors as these:
Your cat will receive the majority of her vaccines during kittenhood, then get regular booster shots as an adult.
Kittens generally get two rounds of vaccines against the major diseases (upper respiratory diseases, FeLV, and panleukopenia); one at 6 to 8 weeks of age and another at 12 weeks. They also receive a rabies vaccine at their 12-week checkup. A third FeLV vaccine is administered between 2 and 4 months of age.
All adult cats need booster shots for different diseases at different intervals. Some vaccines must be given annually. Others confer protection for much longer periods, and may be given once every three years. Vaccines available on a three-year booster cycle include those for panleukopenia, herpesvirus, and calicivirus, and certain feline rabies vaccines (only those that are approved for triennial use).
If you adopt a stray adult, or any fully grown cat whose health history is unknown, chances are your vet will give her the regular roster of adult booster shots.
There is always a small chance that your cat may have a reaction to a particular vaccine. When reactions do occur, they are usually mild. Occasionally, however, a severe reaction takes place, presenting a serious risk to the cat's life or health.
Whenever your cat receives a vaccine, whether kitten shots or boosters, keep an eye on your pet afterward to make sure it doesn't have a reaction. Reactions can appear anywhere from hours to several days after vaccination. If you notice any signs of them, report them to your vet.
Here's what to keep an eye out for:
(Remember, these are rare!)