When knowing which vaccines are the most important, we need to understand that not all viruses are spread the same way and not all parts of our amazing country have the same rate of infection. Our decisions of what to vaccinate against will be affected by lifestyle and local risk. Your local veterinarian will be able to better discuss lifestyle risk and local disease rates to help you decide which vaccines your cat needs. However, we are guided by cat-expert approved vaccination protocols and guidelines.
All cats, regardless of lifestyle, should be vaccinated against our most common “cold” viruses (feline herpesvirus/rhinotracheitis) and calicivirus. Much like a flu vaccine in people, these vaccines help lessen the severity of infection. The other part of our core vaccine is against the feline distemper. Distemper is also called panleukopenia and is caused by a parvovirus. Much like parvovirus in dogs, cats with panleukopenia are very sick.
Cats that are more free spirited and have access to the great outdoors, including backyards and balconies, must be protected against rabies. Rabies is a direct contact virus spread by bats and other mammals such as raccoons or foxes. Rabies can also spread to people. By protecting our cats, we are helping to protect ourselves. In areas that have higher rates of rabies, such as Ontario, all cats should be vaccinated, as there is a chance of bats or other wildlife getting into our homes.
The other vaccine given to cats that roam protects against feline leukemia virus. This is also a direct contact virus and can be spread by saliva contact including grooming, sharing water bowls, cat fights and bites. Feline leukemia virus is an odd virus in that kittens and young cats are more at risk of developing infection, so protecting kittens – even if we are not sure they will be in contact with other cats – is very important.
Vaccinations are essential to protecting your cat’s health, and we know it is a very complicated subject, with many passionate opinions. As with any aspect of cat health, your veterinarian is always your best resource. From my heart, veterinarians are guided by cat love and love of medicine.