Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Vaccinations for Your Kitten

Pet Column for the week of October 4, 1999

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Sarah Probst
Information Specialist

During its first few hours of life, your kitten receives natural immunity against most diseases
from its mother's first milk, the colostrum. But eventually your kitten's immune system will
have to fend for itself. Vaccinations provide your kitten good protection against some
life-threatening diseases. Here's an explanation of the vaccines you need or may want to
consider, according to veterinarians at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary
Medicine in Urbana.

FVR-C-P. The upper respiratory infection seen in cats is a complex clinical disease.
FVR-C protects your cat against the two viruses most likely to cause an upper respiratory
infection in your cat--feline rhinotracheitis (feline herpes virus) and feline calicivirus.
Infections with these viruses can cause discharge from the nose or eye, respiratory
problems, mouth sores, anorexia, and abortion. FVR-C-P also protects against
panleukopenia--feline distemper-- an acute gastrointestinal viral infection associated with a
sudden onset, depression, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and a high mortality. These
vaccines are 80 percent effective and require two doses three to four weeks apart; the last dose is
given at 12 to 16 weeks. Annual boosters are recommended.

FeLV. Feline leukemia virus vaccines are available for interested cat owners. This virus is
not highly contagious and is recommended only for those cats with high exposure potential,
such as outdoor cats and show cats. Before trying out the FeLV vaccine, have your cat
tested to see if he already has the disease. Half of all cats who get FeLV will die from
complications associated with the disease. Efficacy of the vaccine is debatable, so consult
with your veterinarian.

Be aware that side effects--ranging from local pain to diarrhea--occur in 14 percent of
patients (most likely in kittens). Clients at the Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital are
asked to remain in the clinic 30 minutes after this vaccine is given to make sure that the side
effects, if any, are not serious.

FIP. Feline Infectious Peritonitis, which is associated with anorexia, weight loss, growth
stunting, gradually developing potbelly, and fever, has a very high mortality rate. A vaccine
was developed six years ago and can be given to cats greater than 16 weeks of age. It requires two
doses three to four weeks apart. The effectiveness of this vaccine in preventing this fatal feline
disease is still being tested. Follow your veterinarian's recommendations.

Rabies. Most of us associate rabies with the mad dog frothing at the mouth, eager to bite
anything near it. Although this is a common presentation in countries where there is a very
high population of unvaccinated stray dogs, in the United States, rabies usually appears in
wild animals. Depending on which state you live in, it may or may not be the law to
vaccinate your cat, but many townships and counties do require it. Cat rabies is on the
increase and vaccination is recommended, especially if your cat roams outside. Rabies
vaccines can be administered at greater than 12 weeks of age in felines. All warm-blooded
animals--including you--can get rabies. The prognosis is fatal.

Few medical procedures are without risk; while trying to prevent disease in your cat, there
is a small chance that harm may be done. Veterinarians have observed a chance of
developing a vaccine-associated sarcoma at a rate of 20 per 100,000 cats. A veterinary task
force has been assigned to this problem. These officials make the following statement on
their Web site ( "Disturbing as this issue may be,
there is great concern that cat owners, attempting to keep their cats from harm, may forego
vaccination entirely. The result? Though well-intentioned, these owners may be placing cats
at far greater risk of acquiring a fatal infection than any risk the vaccine poses. And in the
case of rabies, human health is at risk as well."

After your vaccinations, ask your veterinarian to point out where the injections were placed
and then keep an eye on those sites. If you notice a firm, painless swelling located near a
previous vaccination site, contact your veterinarian.

Your local veterinarian can provide more information about vaccinations for your pet. What
is given often depends on the risk of specific diseases in your geographic area, your pet's
life-style, and whether your pet received its mom's first milk its first hours of life.

Protect your companion animals and yourself by paying a visit to your local veterinarian and
following the suggested vaccination protocol.