Did you know that cats are 30 percent less likely to see a veterinarian than dogs? Many cat lovers skip annual vaccines and checkups for their cats, especially if they have an indoor cat.
“Part of the problem is that people believe that cats are low maintenance,” says Jane Brunt, DVM, Executive Director of the CATalyst Council and owner of the Cat Hospital at Towson in Maryland. “Some cat owners think that their indoor cat won’t be exposed to disease. Indoor cats can get exposed to viruses and rabies.” (As odd as this may sound, it is true. I had a rabid bat in my house.)
It’s Not About the Vaccines
According to Dr. Brunt, “Having regular checkups with your cat’s veterinarian shouldn’t be about the vaccines. You and your vet should decide together about what is and what is not necessary for your cat’s health. Every cat is an individual and has different needs. Your vet can help guide you with the specifics of what your cat needs.”
Dr. Brunt believes annual visits are essential. “Have a relationship with your veterinarian,” she says. “Don’t just take your cat in for a visit when he’s sick. Your cat may seem healthy. However, that annual visit is important. Did you know that 68 percent of cats over the age of 3 have dental disease? Just like with us, it’s important to catch something before it develops into a bigger health issue. It’s better for your cat, and your pocketbook!”
Why Does My Cat Need to Be Vaccinated?
Vaccines protect against specific infectious diseases. Skipping vaccines can put a cat’s immune system at risk. Last year, after adopting my kittens, I took them to the vet to be spayed, microchipped, and vaccinated for rabies. Kittens get an initial rabies vaccine that must be boostered in one year.
I recently spoke to my vet who said that in my state (different states have different requirements) they will be able to get a three-year rabies vaccine (the vaccine is good for three years) a full year after receiving their first one. “Three-year vaccines are available, but many DVMs choose a non-adjuvanted vaccine. (An adjuvant is added to a vaccine to stimulate your cat’s immune system so it will make antibodies to protect your cat in the future. Historically, adjuvanted vaccines were suspected of causing a certain type of cancer in cats. More recent scientific studies report that not to be the case. Dr. Brunt says vaccine-induced sarcomas are very rare, occurring in fewer than 1 in 10,000 cats. She uses the canarypox-vectored rabies vaccine.)
Rabies Vaccines are Required by Law
In most towns a rabies vaccine is mandatory. Check with your local government to find out what is required.
Every Three Years
After the kitten series and a booster one year later, certain vaccines like feline distemper, Feline Viral Rhinotrachetis, and Calicivirus are recommended every three years, and instead of a shot, some veterinarians are using an intranasal vaccine.
Dr. Brunt also recommends that all kittens and at-risk adult cats get vaccinated for FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus). The one vaccine she questions is for FIV. “It is a consideration for high-risk cats, such as those who go outdoors,” she says. “My practice doesn’t stock the FIV vaccine because the virus is not easily transmitted and if the vaccine is administered it causes a false positive test for the virus, even when the cat is not infected.”
How to Decide
The best advice is to find a veterinarian that you trust, and have a dialogue to see what is necessary and what isn’t needed for your cat. Together you can both come up with a good health care plan for your cats.
This video from Veterinary News Network offers more helpful advice on caring for your cat.
Michele C. Hollow writes the pet lifestyle blog Pet News and Views. She also writes about interiors and travel for numerous publications, and is the author of The Everything Guide to Working with Animals and What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been, a biography of the Grateful Dead.