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Vaccination – Are Booster Vaccines Necessary for Cats

Primary vaccination is essential in order to prevent the return of the once common infectious diseases that caused high levels of fatality in kittens and cats. Recent research indicates that not all vaccines require yearly boosters. However, there is no evidence that annual booster vaccination is anything but beneficial to the majority of pets. Published research has shown conclusively that omitting to re-inoculate against some of the major diseases can put your pet at risk.

"Just because your cat has a high serum antibody, these antibodies may not ensure adequate disease protection if your cat is exposed to a virulent strain of disease."

To establish whether boosters are necessary for your pet, blood tests to measure the amount of antibodies (antibody titers) are sometimes recommended. Unfortunately, these tests are often more expensive than revaccination and may be stressful to your cat. In addition, just because your cat has a high serum antibody, these antibodies may not ensure adequate disease protection if your cat is exposed to a virulent strain of disease.

Government regulatory bodies have strict guidelines for vaccines, and manufacturers must prove that a vaccine is safe and effective before it can be used in your pet. Through vigilance and high standards, the veterinary vaccines used today are the safest and most protective ever.

I would prefer my pet to have boosters only when necessary. Is this okay?

vaccination_catsIt is possible, but in order to determine when boosters are necessary for an individual cat, it is necessary to test the cat's blood to determine the antibody titers, or actual level of immunity against each specific disease. If a specific antibody titer is found to be low, your pet will require a booster vaccine. Currently, few monovalent vaccines, or vaccines that protect only against one disease, are available; when they are available they are likely to cost as much, if not more, than a multivalent vaccine that protects against multiple diseases. From your pet's point of view, it is preferable to receive one injection against the common diseases rather than a series of single disease inoculations.

In the past, veterinarians recommended booster vaccinations for cats on a yearly basis. However, as research into vaccines progresses, recommendations for frequency of boosters continue to evolve. The appropriate interval for boosters will vary with individual circumstances. Recent studies have demonstrated that some viral vaccines may convey at least three years' immunity. This is not the case with bacterial vaccines, which usually still require annual boosters.

"Most adult cats .... re-vaccinated every one to three years based on lifestyle risk assessment."

Most adult cats that received the full booster series of vaccines as kittens should be re-vaccinated every one to three years based on lifestyle risk assessment. Current AAFP (American Association of Feline Practitioners) vaccination guidelines recommend that low-risk adult cats that received the full booster series of vaccines as kittens can be vaccinated every  three years for the "core" vaccines (Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Feline Calicivirus, Feline Panleukopenia and Rabies), and then as determined by your veterinarian for any "non-core" vaccines such as Chlamydia, Feline Immunosuppressive Virus (FIV), Bordetella, or Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). Some members of the AAFP consider feline leukemia virus (FeLV) to be a "core" vaccine while other experts classify it as a "non-core" vaccine.

A cat that is totally indoors and lives in an apartment building would be a reasonable candidate for less frequent vaccination, while a cat that goes outdoors or is in frequent contact with other cats would be considered to be at high-risk and should be vaccinated more frequently.

Some vaccine manufacturers have developed approved three-year vaccines for many of the core antigens; these vaccines are not available in all countries. It is important to note that administering a vaccine that is labeled for annual administration at a different interval such as every three years is an "off-label" and may violate government regulations. Before adjusting your cat's vaccination booster schedule, it is important to thoroughly discuss your cat's lifestyle with your veterinarian and determine which vaccines are appropriate for your cat and how often they should be given.

"Ultimately, how frequently your pet should be vaccinated is determined by your pet's lifestyle and relative risk."

Ultimately, how frequently your pet should be vaccinated is determined by your pet's lifestyle and relative risk. The issues are complex and often contentious.

Are there any other advantages of annual vaccination?

vaccination_cats2Not all vaccines confer protection for a year. In particular, vaccines that protect against non-viral diseases such as Chlamydia and Bordetella confer immunity for less than a year. Some experts also recommend annual revaccination with Feline Leukemia vaccine if your cat is exposed to other cats on a regular basis. You and your veterinarian should decide which vaccinations your pet receives annually based on your pet's lifestyle, age and health status.

Your veterinarian performs a health or wellness examination prior to administration of a vaccine injection. You are asked specific questions about your cat's health status, and the veterinarian checks your cat's head, neck, chest and abdomen, muscles, skin, joints and lymph nodes. During this consultation, veterinarians frequently detect infections of the teeth or ears, and sub-clinical problems such as an underlying heart condition, metabolic problem or organ dysfunction.  Early diagnosis allows more effective and successful treatment and may improve the quality of your pet's life.

If we decide to use a less frequent vaccination schedule, how often should my cat get a health or wellness examination?

Cats age at a more rapid rate than humans do. Therefore, it is important to ensure that they receive a complete physical examination on at least an annual basis. As they approach their senior years, they should receive a complete physical examination more frequently, such as twice a year. In general, a cat that is more than 10 years old is considered to be a middle-aged to senior cat. Regardless of the vaccine schedule that is deemed to be appropriate for your cat, if you want to ensure that your pet receives the highest standard of care and protection, he or she should be seen by your veterinarian for a "wellness examination" on at least an annual basis.

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