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Feline Fitness

By Leah Call

When you adopt a cat, vaccinations are probably the best thing you can do to ensure a healthy, long life for your new feline. 

Whether your cat resides indoors, outdoors, or a bit of both, two vaccines essential to the health of every cat are the rabies vaccine and the FVRCP, a feline distemper and upper respiratory combination vaccine, says Dr. Cathy Ortloff, a veterinarian at Purrfect Health Cat Hospital in Lone Tree, Colo.

“Those are what we think of as the core vaccines,” she says. For cats living outdoors, rabies vaccination is critical, but indoor cats need protection, too. 

“Rabies is not necessarily an outdoor-only disease,” Ortloff says. “Pretty much everywhere in the United States there are bats that are carriers of rabies, and bats can get inside homes ... and they are very attractive cat toys.” 

Kittens as young as 12 weeks should receive their first rabies vaccine. The second comes one year after. Frequency then varies by state, county and municipality. 

“Some states require sticking with the one-year vaccine. Other states will allow a three-year vaccine,” Ortloff says. “Follow your local regulations.” Because rabies also is life-threatening to people, keeping your cat vaccinated is necessary to public health, she notes. 

FVRCP vaccine protects cats from Feline Viral Rhinotrachetis and Clicivirus infection, both of which are upper respiratory viruses, and Panleukopenia, also called feline distemper. All can be deadly for cats and especially kittens.

Most veterinarians give a series of three FVRCP vaccines at 8, 12, and 16 weeks of age to gradually boost the kitten’s immune system just as the antibodies from the mother’s milk are dropping off, she explains. 

A booster is required every one to three years depending on age, lifestyle, and environment. The average house cat is safe with a booster every three years. Households with multiple cats or cats prone to respiratory issues may want to booster annually. 

Ortloff also recommends vaccinating against feline leukemia especially for outdoor cats. Feline leukemia is an infectious virus that depresses the immune system. 

Cat owners should talk to their veterinarian about an appropriate vaccination schedule. Like people, all individuals react differently to vaccinations, which can carry some risks. 

A very small percentage can develop tumors at the injection site, particularly with rabies and feline leukemia vaccines. Still, the safety offered by vaccinations is highly beneficial. 

“I do believe the risks of something like that happening are far outweighed by the health benefits both to the cat and to the public,” she says, “especially when you are talking about rabies.”