As the number of recommended cat vaccinations increases, the whole question of whether to vaccinate your cat has become more and more controversial. A few decades ago, most cats were only vaccinated against one or two infectious diseases and people accepted that these vaccines were necessary in order to protect their cats and eradicate the disease.
But now, as vaccines are developed for more and more diseases, it is becoming clear that in a few cases vaccines can be more dangerous than the disease that they were designed to prevent. So should you vaccination your cat at all, and if so, which vaccinations should you choose?
There are five basic vaccinations which are recommended for virtually all cats. These are:
- Distemper (Panleukopenia virus)
- FIE (Feline infectious enteritis)
- FHV (Feline herpes virus, rhinotracheitis, ‘cat flu’)
- FCV (Feline calicvirus, another form of ‘cat flu’)
Beyond those, several other vaccines are available and may be offered to your cat. These include:
FIV (Feline immunodeficiency virus, or ‘feline AIDS’): recommended for aggressive cats, or cats living with an aggressive cat. However this virus is not always effective.
FeLV (Feline leukemia virus): recommended for cats who spend time outdoors and mix with other cats, or who have contact with a cat known to have FeLV.
Feline chlamydiosis: perhaps only necessary if the cat is known to be in contact with another cat who has the disease, although it may be given routinely in some geographical areas where there are many affected cats.
All of these vaccines can have side effects in some cases. The most common side effect is irritation at the site of the vaccine or minor health problems such as flu-like symptoms or cystitis, but occasionally cats suffer more serious side effects that can be fatal. These include anaphylactic shock and fibrosarcoma, a type of cancer that occurs rarely (approximately 4 in 10,000 cases).
If you decide to administer cat vaccinations yourself, it is very important to study the instructions and follow them closely. A badly prepared or administered vaccine can be dangerous and may even cause the disease that it was designed to prevent.
The vaccine companies recommend annual booster injections of many vaccines. Even if you decide to have your cat vaccinated once against a certain disease, you might decide not to follow up with annual boosters. Often, vaccines will protect a cat for life. Even if not, a vaccine should give protection for more than one year. Boosters of vaccines for either cats or people increase the risk of side effects and may not be as necessary as the medical profession used to believe.
Before making decisions about vaccination, check your cat health insurance policy. You may find that certain vaccinations are required in order for the insurance to remain valid. If you find that the policy requires vaccines that you are not comfortable with, you have a difficult decision to make. It may be time to change your pet health insurance company.
In the end, whether to vaccinate your cat is your own decision. Your vet will have recommendations and if you trust your vet you will want to follow them, but keep in mind that cat vaccinations are a subject on which nobody can be 100% certain.