Feline Vaccines

Core vaccines:

Vaccines which every cat should have as part of a healthy preventative plan are referred to as Core Vaccines. These vaccines are started as a kitten and continued throughout the life of the pet. Cats have historically been more sensitive to vaccines, with a higher incidence of vaccine induced cancers (fibrosarcoma). Taking this into consideration many companies have created vaccines that have less risk. Feline specific vaccines are recommended.

Rabies (RV)

  • This is a fatal disease that affects carnivores and bats, though any mammal can be affected.
  • At this time the virus is found worldwide with the exception of a few island countries due to their rigorous quarantine regulations.
  • Sources of rabies in the wild, in the United States, are raccoon, foxes, skunk, and bats.
  • The virus is spread from saliva into the tissue from a bite wound; cats, dogs, and ferrets may spread the virus in the saliva several days prior to showing clinical signs.
  • Rabies has been isolated in the musk (spray) of a skunk.
  • The incubation period is variable. On average clinical signs will begin 21-80 days after exposure.
  • Clinical signs are varied but those that can be seen across all species are: acute behavioral change (aggression, anorexia, hyper-excitability) and progressive paralysis.
  • Three phases are noted (prodromal, acute excitative, and paralytic or end stage) and two forms, the Furious (aggressive behavior) and the Paralytic (comatose and docile).
  • There is no definitive diagnostic test to be run while the pet is alive; the diagnosis is made from testing the brain tissue post-mortem.
  • Due to the fatal nature, and the risk to humans, all bite injuries must be reported and if needed quarantine is established.
  • Prevention is accomplished through vaccinations. The initial vaccine is given between 12-16weeks of age. It is given again 1 year later. After that the pet may receive a 1 year or 3year vaccine. 
  • Titers are available but have limitations such as cost and the legalities of coverage when dealing with an exposure case.

Feline Panleukopenia (parvovirus)

  • This is a highly contagious systemic virus found worldwide. It is found in many species such as, but not limited felines (large and small), Mustelidae (ferret, mink, otter, and badger), and Procyonidae (raccoon).
  • Canines are not at risk of contracting this virus.
  • Most infections are subclinical, where there are no outward signs of illness. But those that become clinically ill are usually less than 1 year of age. Sudden death is not uncommon in acute onset of illness.
  • Clinical signs can include high fevers, depression, and anorexia about 2-7 days after exposure. Vomiting can start in 1-2 days and is typically independent of eating.  Diarrhea is not always present.
  • Neurologic signs may develop in a few cases. Neurologic signs are related to coordination; kittens become wobbly and have tremors.
  • Treatment is symptomatic for clinical signs and should include addressing dehydration, secondary bacterial infections, and anticonvulsants.
  • Diagnosis can be made from clinical signs, history, and the canine parvovirus fecal test.
  • Prevention is achieved through vaccines using a Modified Live Virus (MLV).
  • Vaccines should be started at 6 weeks of age and be given every 3-4 weeks until 16 weeks.
  • Vaccines are administered annually or every 3 years depending upon the vaccine and the prevalence of the virus in the environment.
  • This virus is highly contagious and can be passed through footwear and contaminated laundry as well as food bowls. Isolation of all infected animals is very important and sequestering all exposed items is necessary.
  • There are vaccines for ferrets, and some wildlife, that uses a recombinant canary-pox vector which carries a safer route of administration to these animals.

Feline Herpesvirus-1

  • This virus causes an acute upper respiratory infection. This is a host specific virus and does not affect humans.
  • Clinical signs include sneezing, salivation, nasal discharge and conjunctivitis. Fevers can accompany the illness, but are typically not extreme.
  • Clinical signs can last 5-7 days in most cases, but in some the signs can persist for up to 6 weeks.
  • This virus can be shed intermittently over a period of many months making reoccurrence of illness possible with additional stressors.
  • Diagnosis is typically presumptive based upon history and clinical signs. There are viral testing that can be done on the ocular and nasal secretions, but often these are cost prohibitive.
  • Treatment is varied depending upon the clinical signs. Antiviral medications and antibiotics can be used to help reduce the clinical signs.
  • Lysine, a medicine to help reduce viral replication, is often prescribed to reduce clinical signs.
  • Prevention is multi-focal though reduced exposure and vaccinations.
  • Vaccines should be started at 6-8 weeks of age and given every 3 weeks until 16 weeks of age
  • The vaccine should be administered at a 1 or 3 year interval depending upon the breed and the risk of the pet’s exposure to the virus.
  • This virus is contagious and can be passed through footwear and contaminated laundry as well as food bowls. Isolation of all infected animals is very important and sequestering all exposed items is necessary.

Feline Calicivirus

  • This virus causes an acute upper respiratory infection. This virus is species specific.
  • Clinical signs include sneezing, salivation, nasal discharge and mucoid conjunctivitis. Fevers can accompany the illness, but are typically not extreme.  Anorexia is more common with calicivrus than other components of feline rhinitis complex (chronic upper respiratory infections).
  • Calicvirus has been linked to severe oral ulcerations (stomatitis), lymphocytic-plasmacytic gingivitis, and an increased risk of pneumonia.
  • Clinical signs can last 5-7 days in most cases, but in some the signs can persist for up to 6 weeks.
  • More than one strain of the virus can be found; the less common strain can cause lameness and does not have the upper respiratory signs. This occurs in kitten 8-12 weeks old and resolve without treatment.
  • The virus can remain in the host for weeks to months and is shed continuously, making this virus highly contagious.
  • The definitive diagnosis is made by running a PCR test, which is tends to be cost prohibitive, therefore treatment is often initiated based upon history, risk of exposure, and clinical signs.
  • Treatment is symptomatic and supportive for the clinical signs. The goal of treatment is to maintain hydration and provide nutritional support.
  • Since calicivirus can cause pneumonitis, there is potential that it can be fatal.
  • Prevention is accomplished through the use of vaccines. Using a modified live vaccine starting at 6-8 weeks of age and giving every 3 weeks until 16 weeks of age.
  • Vaccines should be given every 1-3 years based upon the pet’s exposure risks.
  • This virus is highly contagious and can be passed through footwear and contaminated laundry as well as food bowls. Isolation of all infected animals is very important and sequestering all exposed items is necessary.

Non-Core Vaccines:

These vaccines are recommended based upon the individual pet and the life-style the pet.  Geography, travel activity, grooming and boarding will all be contributing factors as to which additional vaccines are recommended for a pet.  Many of the non-core vaccines are still strongly recommended to be given annually to help avoid the severity of infection in the face of exposure.

Bordetella Bronchiseptica

  • This is a BACTERIA, not a virus, which is highly contagious and has been isolated from many species including, but not limited, to cats, dogs and rabbits.
  • Bordetella is transmitted through direct contact of nasal secretions, air borne (coughing or sneezing), or through contaminated materials (fomites).
  • Transmission is not species dependent and can be passed from cats and dogs and other species.
  • Clinical signs include a sneezing, coughing, fever, ocular and nasal discharge. Signs can develop 5-10 days after exposure and last for 7-10 days.
  • Some pets can be severely affected with fevers, anorexia and nasal discharge; these pets are at a high risk of developing life-threatening pneumonias.
  • A diagnosis is made through pharynx (throat) swabs and PCR testing.
  • Treatment is symptomatic and includes antibiotics and respiratory support (cough suppressants, bronchodilators and sometimes oxygen support).
  • Prevention is through vaccination. A single vaccine as early as 4 weeks is protective. This is an intranasal vaccine.  The vaccine should be administered yearly to high risk pets.
  • Pets that are a high risk are those that board at kennels, participate in competitions, get groomed frequently, and live in multi-pet homes.
  • This is a bacteria that humans can contract and resembles whooping cough.

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

  • This virus is one of the most important infectious diseases worldwide. It can cause a wide array of potentially fatal diseases.
  • This virus belongs to the family of Ocovirinae, which include other leukemia and lymphoma virus. They crease degenerative and immunologic disorders.
  • There are four sub-groups: FeLV-A (the most common), FeLV-B (increased risk of cancer), FeLV-C (severe anemia), FeLV-T (immunodeficiency). All four are detected by the common FeLV testing, but cannot be differentiated without additional testing.
  • Transmission occurs through contact of infected urine and saliva. It can be transmitted through placental fluids and milk as well.
  • Testing is recommended for all newly acquired cats. Testing should be performed after exposure to FeLV infected cats, bite wounds, or if the pet has routine access to the outdoors.
  • There is no cure for Feline Leukemia virus.
  • Some affected cats can live without clinical disease for years with proper veterinary care, good husbandry, and minimal stress.
  • Clinical signs will depend upon the animal (species, age, and health status). Unfortunately there is no set signs that every infected cat will show.
  • Treatment is supportive and symptomatic.
  • Prevention is achieved through vaccinations with the understanding that the vaccines are given every 1-2 years after the initial two vaccine series 2-3 weeks apart.
  • Prevention also includes limiting exposure and risk.
  • As of 2014 has been found that the feline leukemia virus can be experimentally grown in human tissue, making this a potential zoonotic disease.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

  • This is a retrovirus that can be found worldwide.
  • Transmission of the virus is accomplished through bite wounds. Casual contact is not an efficient means of transmission.  Occasionally the virus can be transmitted from queen to baby during a difficult and traumatic delivery.
  • Infections may be subclinical for years, allowing cats to live unaffected lives. Over time the virus will compromise the host’s ability to protect itself against other infections.
  • Acute infections can create enlarged lymph nodes and fever.
  • Other signs of persistent infection can be, but are not limited to, poor hair coat, weight loss, reoccurring oral or bladder infections, ocular disease, and persistent diarrhea.
  • A test for antibodies can be done from a few drops of blood. The test is not fool proof and should be evaluated closely.  Kittens born to an FIV positive mother should be tested after 12 weeks of age to determine if a true infection exists.
  • Negative tests in severely ill animals may indicate that the body is no longer able to produce detectable antibodies.
  • Diagnosis is based upon history, clinical signs and supporting laboratory data.
  • In areas with high risk of disease, a vaccine can be given. This vaccine will cause a positive test result for the remainder of the pet’s life.  The vaccine should be given in a series of three vaccine 2-3 weeks apart and then annually.

Chlamydia felis

  • Chlamydia is a bacteria that can affect many different species. Some subspecies are zoonotic (able to be transmitted from animals to humans).
  • Chlamydia felis is known to cause acute conjunctivitis, rhinitis and bronchopneumonia.
  • Transmission is through direct contact. The bacteria is not hardy and will not exist in the environment for long periods of time.
  • Clinical signs are varied and may be misdiagnosed or missed altogether. Though cats with rhinitis and no conjunctivitis are likely to have chlamydia.
  • Treatment is through the use of antimicrobials and should be started as early as possible in the course of infection.
  • The use of vaccines as prevention of chlamydia is controversial, since their effectiveness is still unknown. The vaccine will likely reduce clinical signs but not prevent them.
  • Vaccine should be given as early as 9 weeks of age. A series of two vaccines are given initially 2-3 weeks apart.  The vaccine should then be given yearly for those pets at risk.
  • Guinea pigs are another source of infection and should considered as a possible source of infection in young cats.

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