Saturday, April 27, 2019

World Veterinary Day: Value of Vaccination

Those who follow our blog know how strongly we support care from veterinarians for both wellness checkups and illnesses. Today is World Veterinary Day and we want to take a moment to honor those individuals who devote their time, love, and expertise to help keep us healthy.

Dr. Strom examines Brulee on one of her wellness visits

The World Veterinary Association created World Veterinary Day in 2000 to promote the veterinary profession around the world. Each year there is a different theme for the day to help remind pet owners of the importance of animal care and how veterinary technicians can help. This year's theme is: Value of Vaccination.

Vaccinations are an essential tool for preventative medicine and one of the most valuable tools in any veterinarian's arsenal to help "protect the health of animals and the livelihood of farmers." (World Veterinary Association, 2019)

I am a firm believer in vaccinations unless there is a medical reason for not giving it to your feline (or other pets). Even if cats are indoor-only cats, they need certain vaccinations because some diseases can be spread through airborne germs that may come in through a window or door. Vaccinations help protect cats against specific infectious diseases that are caused by some viruses and bacteria. They work by stimulating the body's immune system to destroy the organism and "remember" it so it can fight against infection again (AAFP, 2013). Without vaccinations, your cat may become extremely ill or die.

Vaccinations for Felines

Brulee receiving her annual Rabies vaccination at her recent wellness checkup


All kittens need vaccinations to help keep them healthy. Vaccinations are given to protect kittens from getting specific diseases. Feline vaccinations are divided into two types: Core and Non-core (PetMD.com, 2019). Core Vaccinations protect against common and/or dangerous diseases and are recommended for all kittens and adult cats. The two types of Core Vaccinations given to cats are FVRCP and Rabies vaccinations. The FVRCP vaccination (aka "distemper shot) protects against feline rhinotracheitis, feline calicivirus, and feline panleukopenia which are pervasive in nature and frequently found in the general cat population. Rabies is a fatal disease that can affect cats, other animals, and humans.

Kittens can receive their first FVRCP vaccination as early as 6 weeks of age. They are then vaccinated once every three to four weeks until they are 16 weeks of age or older. Most veterinarians tend to recommend boosters at 8 weeks, 12 weeks, and 16 weeks of age to avoid over-vaccination. Kittens can receive their rabies vaccination as early as 12 weeks of age, depending on state laws and the recommendation of the veterinarian.

Non-core Vaccinations include feline leukemia (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), Chlamydophila felis, and feline Giardia vaccines. Non-core vaccinations are usually given at the discretion of the veterinarian. 

  • FeLV. Some veterinarians believe all kittens should receive the FeLV vaccination while other believe this vaccination should only be given to kittens who are at risk of contracting the disease. Cat care givers should discuss the need for this vaccination with their veterinarian and a decision should be made based on your cat's lifestyle (indoor vs. outdoor) and history. Kittens should be tested for FeLV prior to being given the vaccination. The first vaccination can be given at 8-12 weeks and requires a booster vaccination repeated 3-4 weeks later. 
  • FIV. The FIV vaccination is only given to cats who are at high risk for contracting the disease. Cats should be tested for FIV prior to a vaccination because the FIV vaccination produces a positive FIV test which is indistinguishable from an infection. The FIV vaccination can be given at 8 weeks of age and requires a booster at 2-3 week intervals for a total of three initial vaccines. It should be noted that the FIV vaccine is not 100% effective.
  • Chlamydophila. This vaccination is only given in multi-cat environments where an infection is known to exist. This vaccine is given at 9 weeks of age or older and a booster should be given 3-4 weeks later.
  • FIP and Giardia. These vaccinations are not usually recommended because of their questionable efficacy and safety concerns. Many in the veterinary community do not give these vaccinations because they are still being tested.


Cats need boosters on the core vaccinations one year following the initial kitten vaccination. Once the adult booster vaccine is given, cats are usually administered the vaccines every one to three years, based on the specific vaccine and lifestyle of your feline. Non-core vaccinations are given annually, but only for cats at risk for a particular disease.
Communication with your veterinarian about your cat's health status, age, lifestyle, state regulations, and other information will determine how frequently and what type of vaccinations your feline should receive. Re-vaccination schedules (after initial kitten vaccinations and first adult vaccination) may vary from cat to cat, home to home, and with different diseases. Your vet will customize a vaccination schedule for your cat based on history, lifestyle, diseases common in your area, state laws, and discussions with you.

Risks of Feline Vaccinations

As with humans, the benefits of vaccination greatly outweighs the the possible risk of vaccinations for your cats. Some cats may experience mild and short-lived reactions such as poor appetite, lethargy and fever that tends to resolve without treatment. You should take your cat back to the vet if any symptoms last more than a day or two. It is uncommon for a cat to experience more severe allergic reactions such as vomiting, diarrhea, facial swelling, or difficulty breathing. If your cat experiences any of these reactions, they require immediate care from your veterinarian. A rare reaction to a vaccination may be a tumor  (VAS or FISS) at the injection site that develops months or years after a vaccination. 

Truffle and Brulee in their Sleepypod® Mobile Pet Beds waiting for their wellness examinations

Vaccination Schedules for Truffle and Brulee

Truffle and Brulee receive their required vaccinations on a regular basis as required by South Carolina law and their age. South Carolina requires the rabies vaccination each year (we have had a few recent reports of rabid raccoons in our area). Even though the girls are indoor-only cats, I'd rather have them safe and protected than to contract this deadly illness. The girls were administered all of their core vaccinations as kittens and have continued to get the annual FVRCP and Rabies vaccination until last year.

Our veterinarian began administering a 3-year FVRCP vaccination last year. Unfortunately, Brulee had a severe reaction to her 3-year vaccination which required 4 days stay in the emergency animal hospital. Both the vet and I agree that she will no longer get this vaccination. She's been vaccinated for 7 years and we both believe her risk for a severe reaction outweigh the dangers of contracting the illnesses. Truffle isn't due another FVRCP vaccination until 2021 and I'll discuss the need for her to be administered this vaccination again because she'll be 10 years old at that time. 

Because South Carolina is known to have active rabies cases in the state and because it is a state law to vaccinate pets, both Truffle and Brulee receive annual rabies vaccinations. I discussed the possibility of the 3-year rabies vaccination with their vet on their last wellness visit and he explained they don't like to give that vaccination (every 3 years) because it contains 
adjuvants. An adjuvant is a substance that is added to a vaccine to enhance the body's immune responses to the vaccine. Adjuvants have been associated with injection site reactions, injection site granuloma, and chronic inflammation in cats (Purevax, 2017). Brulee is administered a shot of Benadryl prior to her rabies vaccination because she's had reactions in the past.

There appears to be a lot of controversy among pet owners and humans about the need for vaccinations recently. There is always the possibility of side effects (some severe), but I believe those are rare and the benefits of a vaccination far outweigh the probability of a reaction. I have a very close and trusting relationship with the vets Truffle and Brulee see and value their expert advice and treatments.


American Association of Feline Practitioners. Vaccinations for Your Cat: Pet Owner Guide. 2013. https://catvets.com/public/PDFs/ClientBrochures/ClientHandoutVaccination.pdf.

American Veterinary Medical Foundation. World Veterinary Day 2019 Promotes Value of Vaccination. JAVMA News. March 13, 2019. https://www.avma.org/News/JAVMANews/Pages/190401i.aspx

Flowers, Amy, DVM. What to Know About Cat Vaccinations. WebMD. February 2, 2019. https://pets.webmd.com/cats/cat-vaccines 

PUREVAX for the Protection of Felines. Purevax, 2017http://vaccinateyourpet.net/purevax.

Vaccinating Your Kitten. PetMD. https://pets.webmd.com/cats/cat-vaccines.2019.  https://www.petmd.com/cat/centers/kitten/health/evr_ct_kitten_vaccination_schedule.

Would you like to comment?

  1. Oops, I know where I’m going, I am late for some of my shots.

  2. Excellent post. I skip the non core because my cats are all inside and FELV/FIV negative.

  3. We do vaccines and titer testing so we avoid over vaccinating, but make can get da vaccine if we need it.

  4. Great post ! We're firm believer in vaccinations just like you because, as you say, the benefits far outweighs the possible risk. Purrs

  5. We, too, are very careful to stay up to date with Gracie and Ava's vaccinations. We'd rather be safe than sorry.

  6. I'm not sure what Daisy Mae's shots are but I'm sure the vet has them on record.

  7. Shots are important, there's no doubt about that. The housekeeper makes me get mine amid curses upon her head! - Tom x

  8. Ours get vaccinations every year (because they are insured) Harvey gets them bi-annually as he is a senior and could not be insured (dammit!)

    We always stay up to date - we care for our cats.

  9. I agree about the importance of having a vet to rely on to help us care for our animals. Red would not have been with me as long as she was if not for my amazing vet. I know there differing opinions when it comes to vaccinations, but the one thing my animals always get is rabies because we travel and it's a requirement.

  10. My vet and I have decided to not give Layla all her shots as she is 12 years old, as she said Layla has had them all her life and most probably is immune to them by now. She does have her rabies though as it is a law in SF especially if she goes to dog parks. As for my vet, love her, love the clinic and I am very fortunate to have her medical file on line which I can access from anywhere plus I can email them to ask questions before I rush her in.

  11. I appreciate this article. My dog's vet is very good about keeping the vaccines on a yearly schedule and sending me cards and e-mail reminders when they are due.

  12. Vaccinations are such a heated subject; aren’t they? Vaccinations can save lives. Overvaccination can ruin lives. It is important to use sound judgment.

  13. Our vet said, when we took senior Harvey down for his six monthly check, that he really doesn't need the injections as often as the youngsters do. He is not insured and he never strays far from home, so we are running his shots every two years with the vets agreement.

    Protection is important, and if your cat is insured the insurers may require proof of this every year (ours does). It's all about blance, and correct care.

  14. I should send my vet's office a belated card of appreciation! I have so much respect for people who work at any level in the vet's office. I know that it can be a very stressful field, but I'm so grateful that we can expect good veterinary care. My vets advise us about vaccinations, but also listen to our concerns and let us decide what is best. We have to keep them vaccinated against rabies because it is state law (and also common sense), but we skip some of the vaccines that aren't necessary for their lifestyle.

  15. Here is our nod to the amazing vets and vet techs out there, especially our beloved team. I am with you, a believe in necessary vaccines (not over-vaccinating) for both humans and pets...unless a specific health reason. Common sense needs to prevail. Anti-vaxers have created another whole health concern out there and putting so many at risk...every day we read a new headline that hits closer to home and it has become a nervous time indeed. Thankfully, when it comes to my Huskies, I have a trusted team who do not believe in over-vaccinating, will do titers if age or health issue is a question, and listen to any concerns I may have prior to vaccinating.

  16. It's so frustrating to me because I've gotten so many different stories about what's necessary and what's not. And the worst part is that most cat people don't know about the danger of FISS until they have a cat with a tumor - like with Bear. If I, as a cat writer and somewhat informed cat owner, can't make sense of all the information, how will new cat owners? I really need to sit down with my vet because he seems to take the approach to vaccinate unless told otherwise - without taking into account cat lifestyle, risk of infection, etc.

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