Why do I need to get my cat vaccinated?
They never leave the house.
Vaccinations are one of the great things about medicine that have drastically reduced illnesses that years ago were fatal to numerous animals and humans. No, they are not without risks, no medication is ever 100% safe. But the risks are minimal, and the benefits far outweigh the risks.
Vaccinations that we recommend:
Rabies. This is not only protective for your cat, it is required by law by the state of Nebraska and by the city of Lincoln. Rabies is a 99.9999% fatal disease that is also a zoonotic disease, which means that you can get it from your cat. Even if you say that your cat never leaves the house, that doesn't mean that wildlife will never ever get into your house, or that your cat might not slip out the front door and interact with other cats, dogs, or wildlife before you can get them back into the house. Every year animal control gets thousands of calls just in the city of Lincoln about bats, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, and other wildlife getting into homes. All of these animals can carry rabies. If your cat is bitten by an animal that has rabies, and your cat is not vaccinated, they have a very high risk of contracting the fatal disease. If your cat is vaccinated, they have a 99% chance that they will be protected.
RCP. This stands for Rhinotracheitis (also known as herpes virus), Calici virus, and Panleukopenia (also known as distemper). We will commonly refer to this vaccination as the distemper vacation, but it also includes the herpes virus and calici virus vaccinations. Distemper is a disease that is highly fatal in cats untreated, and even with treatment, unless it is caught early, has a high fatality rate. It is a parvo virus that causes its damage by attacking rapidly growing cells such as the intestinal tract, bone marrow, lymphatic system, and neurological system. Kittens are the most susceptible, but adult cats can contract the virus as well. There is no cure, but if caught early enough an anti-viral known as Tamiflu can stop the virus in its tracks giving the immune system a chance to suppress the virus. It is spread through bodily fluids and waste. Vaccination is virtually 99% protective. This virus can also live for long periods outside of the body, and can be spread by indirect contact.
Calici virus is a nasty little upper respiratory virus that can cause ulcers in the mouth, throat, on the tongue, and the nasal passages that are very painful. It is not a fatal virus by itself, but cats that are not vaccinated will stop eating and even drinking because their mouth hurts so much, and so need to be intensively nursed through it. While vaccination does not completely prevent a cat from getting calici virus, it does work similarly to flu vaccination in people, and drastically reduces the symptoms to just cold like symptoms with a runny nose, sneezing, and congestion for a few weeks.
Herpes virus (not the same strain that people get, and so not contagious to people from cats or vice versa), is an upper respiratory virus that settles in the nasal passages and in the eyes. Cats that are not vaccinated can get severe eye infections to the point even of losing their eyes if untreated. Antiviral eye drops for herpes virus are incredibly painful to the cat when administered. In the nasal passages, if herpes virus is not minimized with expensive anti-viral medications, it can cause permanent damage to the delicate nasal tissues resulting in permanent nasal congestion and secondary infections. This vaccination also works in cats like a flu vaccination works in people. It does not prevent cats from getting herpes virus, but if they are vaccinated, it drastically minimizes their symptoms to mild cold like symptoms. Once a cat gets herpes virus, they have it for life, but if they are kept up to date on their vaccinations, and if they are vaccinated when they are first exposed, then they may only show cold like symptoms when their immune system is heavily stressed, and even then, it will go away fairly quickly, often without treatment.
Leukemia. This vaccine is only recommended for cats that are at high risk for exposure to cats with leukemia. This includes cats that live outdoors, cats that go outdoors regularly, cats that tend to escape outdoors often, and cats that live with a leukemia positive cat. Leukemia is a fatal virus, but it does not live for more than a few minutes outside of the body, and so must be transmitted by exchanging bodily fluids such as fighting, grooming, or even drinking out of the same water bowl at the same time. For cats that never leave the house, and do not live with a leukemia positive cat, it is a completely optional vaccine, and not one that we necessarily recommend unless a cat falls into a risk category. Kittens are extremely susceptible to this virus, while adult cats with a healthy immune system have only a 5% chance of acquring it even if exposed, so we do recommend vaccinating kittens for this virus even if they never leave the house. However, if your adult cat goes outside regularly, do you really want to gamble that they won't be that 1 out of 20 that is susceptible to it and not vaccinate them?
Those are the three primary vaccines that we use at our clinic. There are multiple other vaccines available, none of which are considered "core" vaccines, and none of which we recommend unless living in a high risk environment.
Vaccinations we do not routinely recommend unless in a high risk situation:
FIV. FIV stands for feline immunodeficiency virus, and yes, it is similar to HIV in people, although not transmittable between people and cats, it is species specific. FIV does not live outside of the body, and much like leukemia, it is only spread with the exchange of bodily fluids such as cat fights. That being said, it is a little harder to acquire, and very few cats actually develop this virus. The most common cats that we see with FIV are the tomcats that are not neutered, don't necessarily have a home, and fight pretty much every cat they come into contact with. That doesn't mean a regular cat can't get it, but the risk is so low that we don't feel that the vaccine, which has not been shown to be 99% protective, is worth the risk of side effects unless a cat is living in a home with an FIV positive cat. In addition, once a cat is vaccinated with a FIV vaccination, they will test positive on a FIV test for 2-3 years after the vaccination. So, if you do choose to vaccinate your cat with an FIV vaccine, we also strongly recommend micro chipping them at the same time on that off chance that they lose their collar and are picked up by animal control. If they don't have identification and they test positive at an animal shelter, they will be euthanized. But, all animal shelters scan for microchips.
Chlamydia. Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that can cause upper respiratory symptoms and eye infections. However, Chlamydia vaccinations have very high rate of allergic reaction, and except for cats in catteries and shelter situations, the risk of contracting Chlamydia from another cat is low. In addition, Chlamydia can be treated with antibiotics.
Giardia. This is not really even a true vaccination. This is more of a treatment for cats with active giardia infections. Giardia is a protozoal parasite that can be spread through feces. We do not recommend this as a preventative vaccination because it has not been shown to have any real preventative effects.
FIP. FIP stands for Feline Infectious Peritonitis. This is actually a mutation of a common virus, corona virus, which is found in the intestinal tract of a high percentage of normal healthy cats. Why this virus mutates in certain cats, no one yet knows, not even after years and years of research. However, while this is a horrible fatal disease, the vaccine has not been shown to be highly protective, and in some cases has been implicated in causing the disease. Because of this, we do not recommend this vaccination unless a cat is in a high risk situation living with FIP positive cats, or in a shelter or cattery that has had FIP positive cats recently.
Bordatella. Bordatella, commonly known as kennel cough in dogs, causes upper respiratory infections in cats. However, cats tend to be more resistant to bordatella infection than dogs do, and this is a disease that does respond to antibiotic treatment. Because of this, we do not feel that the benefits of this vaccine outweigh potential side effects, and so do not recommend it except for high risk situations.