For our friends in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s almost springtime! With the upcoming warmer days, many of us will be spending more time outdoors, raising windows, throwing open the doors, and welcoming the warm fresh air. Also, Sauerkraut and her siblings will be spending more time out on the catio, and that reminded me it’s nearly time for their annual checkup and vaccinations.
I got to wondering about vaccinations - what’s necessary? How often? Why do we even need them? I mean, when I think about when I was a kid, I don’t remember taking the family dog or cat to the vet or getting them vaccinated. So what’s the big deal?
So I set an appointment with Sauerkraut’s vet, Dr. Alisha Rogers at Swaim Serum Vet Clinic to get some answers. She gave such great information and advice, I wanted to share it with everyone.
However, I want to make sure you know that this is general information, and not intended to be veterinary advice, product recommendation, or what’s right for you and your pet. Always consult with your own veterinarian to determine a proper course and treatment for your animals.
I always thought that spring is the best time for vaccinations, but Dr. Rogers said that isn’t necessarily true. “Any time is a good time for vaccinations. They’re mostly based on your pet’s age. The first shots come when they’re kittens - around 6 weeks, and then a booster about every three weeks until 16 weeks of age. Regular veterinary check-ups should take place every year, even though some vaccinations are once every three years, depending what your pet receives.”
The initial vaccines and boosters are most important because kittens, like young human children, are most susceptible to illness until their immune systems can better develop.
Just what *are* the important vaccinations, you may wonder? “There’s a combo vaccination,” Dr. Rogers said, “that covers the three core elements: Feline Panleukopenia (Feline Parvovirus), FHV-1 (Feline Herpesvirus-1, also called Rhinotracheitis), and FCV (Feline Calicivirus).
“Interestingly, rabies isn’t considered to be a ‘core’ vaccination,” Dr. Rogers went on, “but it’s important to know that almost everywhere, vaccination against rabies is required by law.”
The non-core vaccinations include rabies, Chlamydiosis, Bordetella bronchiseptica, FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus), FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus), FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis), Giardiasis, and dermatophyte vaccines.
“Although a non-core vaccine, FeLV is a highly infectious virus and depending on risk and exposure, your cat should be vaccinated for FeLV. Prior to vaccination, a FeLV/FIV/Heartworm Snap Test should be performed. FIP and FIV vaccinations are controversial and risks versus benefits should be discussed with your veterinarian.” (If your cat was vaccinated for FIV and a FeLV/FIV/Heartworm Snap Test is run, the cat will test *positive* for FIV - the doctor/shelter will not know if your cat tests FIV-positive due to the vaccination or from exposure to the virus.)
Different cats have different needs for these vaccinations, somewhat depending on their risk factors. For example, if your cat doesn’t have outdoor access, or isn’t ever boarded, then it has lower risks. Check with your vet to determine which vaccines are right for your cat based on their environment.
I’d heard that there was a danger of sarcomas at the site of a vaccine injection, so I asked Dr. Rogers about that. “Fortunately, the incidence of sarcoma at the injection site has gone way down, mostly because some vaccines are non-adjuvanted. However, there still have been some risks associated with vaccinations which you should discuss with your veterinarian.”
According to the Humane Society of the United States, “An adjuvant is a substance added to a killed-virus vaccine to enhance the immune system's reaction. In the case of cat vaccines, the adjuvant was aluminum salts, and aluminum has been found in excised tumors.” However, now vaccines have been developed that contain no adjuvants, such as Merial’s PUREVAX® family of vaccines, which is what Sauerkraut receives, and they are just as effective in the preventative care of your cat.
Please tell me they don't need to check my temperature, Pops.
There are signs of possible infection that you can look for, including (but not limited to) weight loss, loss of appetite, lethargy, pale gums, discharge from the eyes or nose, labored breathing, or vomiting/diarrhea.
Once a vaccination has been administered, it’s important to look also for reactions to the shot, including loss of appetite, fever, lethargy, swelling at the injection site, facial swelling, or vomiting/diarrhea.
If any of these symptoms occur, it’s best to consult with your vet as soon as possible.
There are a lot of great resources out there for pet owners. For information, check the American Association of Feline Practitioners website, which has a lot of great links and articles. Also, Cornell University also has some great resources about vaccinations.
Of course, meeting with a veterinarian is great because they have the most recent information available, and they can help you determine the best course of care and treatment for your pet by engaging in a conversation with you about their habits, risks, and routines.
If you're having trouble with affording vaccinations for your pets, discuss it with your veterinarian to find what local resources might be available. For example, here in Oklahoma, the Central Oklahoma Humane Society offers low-cost spay/neuter surgeries and vaccines.
As I indicated at the beginning of the post, I don’t ever remember getting vaccines for our pets when I was a kid. It’s very possible my family did get our pets regular veterinary care and vaccinations, and I just don’t remember it. But I also know that regular vaccinations and veterinary care is much more common now than it was even 20 years ago (and I’m way older than 20…)
So, why *is* it important to vaccinate your pet (and yes, even your indoor cat)?
First, some vaccines are required by law. So, there’s that.
Second, it helps to slow or stop the spread of illness to keep your pets properly vaccinated. Just as with human vaccines, we can significantly reduce the instance of certain illnesses if proper vaccinations become routine.
Third, if your pet, heaven forbid, ever seriously bites someone, they will want to know that you have kept your pet up to date on all their shots.
The most important reason though is that it provides the best chances for your pet to live a long, healthy and happy life. I know it’s what they’d want for me, so why not do the same for them? :)
A special thanks to Dr. Alisha Rogers for taking the time to visit with me and gather some resources to share. Sauerkraut loves you, and Cassy, and the whole staff at Swaim Serum! <3