Until fairly recently, cats, like people and dogs, were subject to illness and possible death from what are now preventable diseases. The lives of millions of cats have been made healthier and longer through the use of vaccines that prevent or mitigate the effects of various pathogens. Even if your cat never goes outside or comes into contact with another cat, you can inadvertently bring viruses into your home on your shoes or clothing. Protecting your indoor, as well as your outdoor cat against serious illness is the mark of a responsible and caring pet owner.
The best way to make sure that your kitten or cat is well protected against preventable illnesses is to set up a regular schedule of vaccinations with your veterinarian. Always keep in mind that kittens will be much more susceptible to infections because their immune systems are still developing. Nursing kittens will receive some antibodies through their mother's milk. However, this natural protection will actually interfere with vaccinations, and this is why kittens will need a series of shots to provide them with the maximum protection.
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Veterinarians generally begin vaccinating kittens when they are between 6 and 8 weeks old. To assure that your kitten is well protected, he or she will receive subsequent vaccinations about once a month until they are about 20 weeks old. The rabies vaccine is often delayed until the antibodies from the mother cat are gone.
Adult cats require vaccine booster shots once a year for most diseases. While it is possible for you to administer most of these vaccines at home, by law rabies vaccinations will always have to be done by a veterinarian.
Vaccines work to prevent illness by programming the cat's immune system to recognize a pathogen and destroy it. When your cat receives a vaccination, dead or damaged live viruses are put into the animal. This allows the body to become familiar with the pathogen, so that should your cat be exposed to this particular virus, the body can destroy it before it has the chance to cause illness.
Respiratory viruses can cause not only sneezing and discharge from the nose, but also damage to the cornea of the eye. These viruses have a tendency to occur over and over, and in time can severely damage the eye, even causing blindness. Additionally, these viruses can lead to chronic breathing problems. Humans cannot catch these viruses from their cats.
Rabies is deservedly one of the most feared diseases on earth. Basically incurable and always fatal, this disease affects the central nervous system resulting in seizures, intense salivation, staggering, uncontrollable aggression or fear, and blindness. Spread by bite, rabies can be acquired by humans from an unvaccinated cat with the disease.
Panleukopenia is a nasty disease that will hit kittens the hardest. Death can result from this illness and the virus responsible attacks the bone marrow and gastrointestinal system. A kitten or cat that is lethargic and has fever and diarrhea could well be infected with this virus. Humans cannot catch this disease from their cats.
Feline leukemia mostly affects cats that go outside. However, if you have several cats and allow even one to roam outdoors, all the cats could become sick with this viral disease. Cats with feline leukemia will suffer weight loss, fever, anemia, and listlessness. Unfortunately, many cats with feline leukemia do not survive.
Feline calcivirus is a relative newcomer on the scene and often occurs in combination with other respiratory viruses. Calcivirus will cause, in addition to the usual respiratory symptoms of sneezing, coughing, and discharge, sores in the mouth and on the tongue; it has also been linked to arthritis. This disease will sometimes mutate to a more severe form that can affect and cause damage to multiple organs and systems in the cat's body.
Vaccines for the above illness are considered to provide 'core protection' for your cat. Unvaccinated cats are at the risk of chronic conditions or death from diseases that can be easily prevented. Caring for a sick cat at the veterinary hospital is costly, and home care to nurse a sick cat back to health is time consuming and emotionally draining.
It is quite true that side-effects can occur when your cat is vaccinated. Fortunately, in most cases, the cat may run a slight fever or be fussy for a day or two. At times, a knot will form at the site of the injection, and if this does not vanish within a few weeks, your vet should take a look at it. There is also a very slight chance of a severe allergic reaction to a vaccination, which is why your vet may ask you to remain in the clinic for a few minutes to make sure that no such reaction is occurring in your cat.
Rabies vaccines are the ones most likely to cause problems. It is possible for a mast cell tumor to develop where the vaccination was given. However, the severity of rabies and the possibility of your infected cat spreading the virus to you and your family should overrule any fears you may have about side-effects from the vaccine.