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    Vaccines have been an integral part of preventive health care programs for several decades. In fact, no other medical development has been as successful as vaccination in controlling deadly diseases in companion animals. Vaccination is a medical procedure, and the decision to vaccinate is made based on the risks and benefits for each individual cat. Although vaccination should not be considered a totally benign procedure (see Vaccine-Induced Sarcomas sidebar on this page), choosing not to vaccinate our pets is not an option. The threat of their contracting infectious, often fatal diseases is too great. The goal is to devise a reasonable strategy for vaccination that maximizes our ability to prevent infectious disease while minimizing the occurrence of adverse events associated with vaccination.

    Vaccine-Induced Sarcomas

    Certain types of vaccines contain a chemical substance called an adjuvant. Adjuvants cause a strong inflammatory response at the injection site, and this enhances the immune response to the vaccine. In rare instances, however, the exuberant inflammatory reaction can give rise to a cancerous skin tumor called a sarcoma. Other factors, such as genetic susceptibility, may also play a role in some cats. The incidence of vaccine-induced sarcomas is low-approximately 1 or 2 per 10,000 vaccines administered.

    Core vs. Noncore Vaccines

    Vaccinations can be divided into two broad categories: core vaccines-those recommended for all cats, and noncore vaccines-those that may or may not be necessary, depending on the individual cat's lifestyle and circumstances. Currently, vaccines against panleukopenia, herpesvirus, calicivirus, and rabies fall into the core vaccine category. The most commonly used vaccine against panleukopenia, herpesvirus, and calicivirus is a multivalent vaccine: it contains viral antigens for several diseases together in the same dose, and it is commonly abbreviated as the FVRCP vaccine. The rabies vaccine is usually a monovalent vaccine: it contains viral antigens for one virus, the rabies virus.Vaccines against feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), ringworm (a skin fungus), Chlamydophila (a respiratory pathogen, formerly called Chlamydia), and Bordetella (another respiratory pathogen) are considered to be noncore. Some of the noncore vaccines have questionable efficacy and are not generally recommended.

    Pediatric Vaccination Protocol

    Kittens are the main target population for vaccination because they are more susceptible to infection than adult cats, and they tend to develop more severe disease than do adults. The currently recommended vaccination protocol is as follows:

    • The kitten vaccination series should begin at six to eight weeks of age. Kittens should initially receive an FVRCP vaccine, with additional boosters given every three to four weeks until sixteen weeks of age. Kittens older than twelve weeks of age should receive an initial FVRCP vaccine, followed by an additional FVRCP booster three to four weeks later.
    • Kittens should receive a rabies vaccine at twelve to sixteen weeks of age.
    • The FeLV vaccine is a noncore vaccine in adult cats; however, all kittens should be vaccinated against FeLV because the lifestyles of kittens may change after adoption, potentially increasing their risk for FeLV exposure. A booster vaccine should be given one year later in cats who remain at risk for exposure to FeLV.
    • One year after the last vaccination, an FVRCP vaccine and a rabies vaccine should again be administered.

    Vaccines against infectious diseases have done much to reduce sickness and death in companion animals, and vaccination is the cornerstone of preventive veterinary medicine. As with any medical procedure or decision, the advantages must be balance against the risks, and you and your veterinarian should discuss all of the options available to determine the best vaccine protocol for your cat.

    The vaccination regimen for kittens normally starts when they are six to eight weeks old.

    Adult Vaccination Protocol

    Cats older than sixteen weeks of age who have never been vaccinated against panleukopenia, herpes virus, and calici virus should receive two doses of vaccine, three to four weeks apart. A single booster against panleukopenia , herpesvirus, and calicivirus is given one year later, and then every three years thereafter. How often the rabies vaccine should be given depends on the vaccine. Some are labeled for annual revaccination. Others are to be given every three years. The FeLV vaccine is given annually in cats determined to have continued risk of exposure. Healthy older cats, and those with chronic but stable conditions, should be vaccinated in the same fashion as if they were younger adults. Sick cats, however, whether kitten or adult, should not be vaccinated until they have recovered from their illness.

    From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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