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Poke, Inject, Vaccinate

When we take our cats to the vet it is almost an expectation that our cats are going to get a shot and be vaccinated. Vaccinations are important in our feline friends in order to prevent spreading diseases from cat to cat as well as from cat to people. But what vaccines are our cats actually being vaccinated for when they go in for their annual visit to the veterinarian?

Before jumping right into what vaccines cat need, what is the actual definition of a vaccine? A vaccination helps prime the body’s immune system in case of an invasion of a disease causing organism. This occurs through an antigen that in the vaccine that the body recognizes as a disease-causing organism, but it does not actually cause the disease. Thus, if the animal comes into contact with the disease-causing organism after being vaccinated the body can recognize the invader and respond to it accordingly.

In our pets the antigen in a vaccine can be in two common forms, modified-live vaccines or killed vaccines. A killed vaccine may contain parts of the disease causing bacteria, pathogen, or virus that has been killed and it is then injected. This then requires a stimulant for the immune system since the antigen is dead and this is called adjuvant. These vaccines are safer for immunocompromised and pregnant cats as well as it is less likely to cause vaccine induced diseases. However, these vaccines do need to be boosted since the don’t stimulate the immune system to the same extent. They are suspected to be more likely to cause vaccine induced sarcomas which are tumor in the tissue that cause cancers due to the presence of the adjuvant. On the other hand, modified-live vaccines mean that the virus, pathogen, or bacteria is alive, but is unable to cause disease anymore. These vaccines fool the body into thinking that it is being attacked so it stimulates a higher quality immune response so it does not need to be boosted, but it can be more dangerous in immunocompromised or pregnant animals.

Rabies is one of the vaccines that cats are vaccinated for and it is often considered the most important which is why all cats should be vaccinated for it. This vaccine is required by many towns, counties, and residences due to the fact that this is a zoonotic disease that can be transmitted to humans through the saliva when bitten by an infected animal. This is a disease that targets the brain and nervous system resulting in death so it is very dangerous and hence the strict laws and legislation around it. There are three main options for rabies vaccines. There is a one year non-adjuvant vaccine, which is beneficial since it decreased the risk of vaccine related sarcomas, a three year non-adjuvant vaccine, which has the same benefits as the one year vaccine, but it can cost more or the three year rabies vaccine that is also given to dogs which still has adjuvant. It is important to know the difference and select the vaccine that works best for you and your feline companion given your set of circumstances.

Possible presentation of rabies in cats

FVRCP is another core vaccine and it protects cats against Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia. This vaccine is beneficial in cats since the components that vaccinate against Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis and Calicivirus help protect against respiratory viruses like feline herpes which can be passed from cat to cat. The most important part of the vaccine though is the aspect that protects cats, especially kitten who are very vulnerable from 8 to 16 weeks, against Panleukopenia. This virus targets the cells that rapidly grow and divide such as the ones in the intestines and once infected the prognosis is poor and often results in death. This vaccine is always recommended for kittens as well as cats that are outdoor, but it is very strongly encouraged in indoor cats as well, especially if there are multiple cats.

The last of the core vaccines is FeLIV or feline leukemia. This is a disease that can only be transmitted from cat to cat through blood, saliva, or bodily secretions. This disease inhibits the immune system of cats, causes blood disorders, and frequently results in cancerous growths. It is always recommended that cats be tested for this prior to being vaccinated and it is always recommended for outdoor cats since they are the most likely to come in contact with other cats and for kittens who may end up sneaking out and becoming an outdoor cat who encounters other cats.

Vaccinating our feline friends is essential for their health as well as ours. It is paramount to vaccinate cats when they are young for their health and for them to live longer, healthier lives it should be continued into adulthood. Owners should also be well educated about vaccine options so that they know that our feline friends are in tip-top shape!

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Veterinary students volunteering with wildlife zebra in Africa
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