Kitten and Adult Cat Vaccines
Core vaccines are recommended for all patients, as they cover diseases that are either common in our area or may be uncommon but have very serious consequences.
1. Feline rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia
Common abbreviations: RCP, FVRCP, "feline annual", "distemper combo", "distemper respiratory combo"
Rhinotracheitis (feline viral rhinotracheitis, FVR) is a viral upper respiratory infection caused by a herpes virus. This is a species-specific virus, so it is not infectious to humans. It can affect cats of any age, but kittens are particularly vulnerable. In addition to respiratory signs (cold-like symptoms like sneezing, coughing, nasal congestion) was can also see conjunctivitis (inflammation of the tissues lining the whites if the eye, the eyelids, and third eyelid). Once infected the cat will become a carrier of the disease, with a latent infection. If the infection is reactivated the cat will show the clinical signs again, especially nasal disease and conjunctivitis. This is a life-long infection.
Calicivirus causes cold-like symptoms such as sneezing and congestion, but it can also cause fever, drooling, oral ulcers (think, severe canker sores on the lining of the mouth and the tongue), loss of appetite, and lameness. Most cats recover, but some develop a chronic gingivitis (gun inflammation) that makes eating painful. It affects kittens and geriatric cats more severely. There is also a virulent strain that causes mote severe signs like swelling of the head, crusting sores, bleeding under the skin, and intestinal bleeding. This strain is fatal in 60% of cats that develop this disease. Calicivirus is easily spread in nasal and oral secretions from infected cats.
Panleukopenia is what we used to refer to as "cat distemper", but the virus is in the same family as the dog parvovirus. The word "panleukopenia" means "low numbers of all white blood cell types". As with parvo-infected dogs, these cats develop vomiting, diarrhea, fever, depression, anorexia (they stop eating) and dehydration, but their infections and symptoms are far worse than dogs tend to get. Intensive therapy in hospital is required to try to save these cats. This virus is spread by exposure through the mouth or nose to any infected secretions (nasal, oral, fecal). It can be shed in the feces of survivors for up to 6 weeks. It can also be carried on shoes an clothing from home to home.
Frequency of vaccination: Kitten series of 2 or 3 vaccines every 3-4 weeks, depending on age. Boosted 1 year later. Subsequent boosting depending on lifestyle factors, but is generally no more frequent than every 3 years.
Titer testing: Titers are a measurement of the antibody levels each pet has to the three components of the vaccine. Titers are readily available and quite affordable, and will let us know whether a pet has adequate antibody levels or needs a booster vaccine. Titers can be done at any age. They are especially useful for pets with "mystery history", where we don't have any vaccine records. If you are hesitant to get a booster, titer testing will tell us whether that's a good decision or whether it's leaving the pet open to infection. This is something you can discuss with the veterinarian.
Common abbreviations: none, It's just rabies.
Rabies is fatal in pets and is "zoonotic", which means that it is transmissible between species, including to humans. All warm-blooded animals are capable of carrying rabies (except, oddly, opossums). It is spread through the saliva of infected animals into wounds (ie. through a bite) and causes progressive neurological damage. Rabies is fairly well controlled in North America due to excellent vaccination habits. Rabies vaccination is strongly recommended for all cats, regardless of lifestyle, because of the risk to both pets and humans and also because the animal reservoir in the lower mainland is bats. We have bats everywhere, and indoor cats are actually slightly more at risk for bat exposure than outdoor cats due to the bat's predilection for coming in windows at night.
Frequency of vaccination: Once as a kitten, once a year later, then every 3+ years depending on lifestyle.
Titer testing: Is available, but is very expensive ($300+). It is not usually used to determine vaccine frequency. Titer testing is required before a cat can enter certain countries, and that is where it is most practically useful.
Non-core vaccines are those that not all cats need, but some might due to lifestyle.
1. Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
Common abbreviations/alternative names for disease: Leukemia, feleuk
This virus is shed in saliva, nasal secretions, urine, feces and milk of infected cats. Transfer between cats is usually from bite wounds. In theory, mutual grooming can be a transmission method, though there are many cases of a FeLV-positive cat living with FeLV-negative cats that never become infected, so we generally say bite wounds are the main transmission route. We also commonly see transmission from mother cat to kittens. Kittens and young cats are MUCH more susceptible to FeLV than older cats.
We should test kittens for FeLV if their mother has not tested negative (or hasn't been tested at all).
Who should get this vaccine: All cats that will be going outdoors unsupervised should be vaccinated for FeLV as kittens, and then yearly until they are 5-6 years of age, at which time we stop vaccinating due to the difficulty in infecting older cats with this virus (ie. the risk is very low in cats over 6 years of age). Indoor cats do not need this vaccine as they are not going to be exposed to cat bites from "strangers".