Don’t Let Your Cat Become an Outcast. The Risks of Skipping Vaccines


Vaccinating your cat is one of the most important things you can do as a pet owner to protect their health and wellbeing. However, if your cat is overdue for their routine vaccines, you may be wondering if it’s too late to get them vaccinated. The good news is, it’s never too late to get your cat the protection they need through vaccinations. While kittens require an initial series of vaccines on a set schedule, adult cats also need booster vaccines throughout their lifetimes. Vaccines help prevent dangerous infectious diseases that could threaten your cat’s life. Even indoor cats that never go outside are still at risk and require routine vaccination. Work closely with your veterinarian to determine which vaccines make sense for your cat based on lifestyle, medical history, and other factors. While there can be risks if your cat is significantly overdue, your vet can help create a catch-up schedule to gradually get their immunity up-to-date. With some diligence and care, your cat can get the vaccines they need for a long and healthy life.

Core Cat Vaccines

There are three core vaccines that are recommended for all cats:

FVRCP – The FVRCP vaccine protects against three viruses: feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR), calicivirus (C), and panleukopenia (P). FVR is an upper respiratory infection, calicivirus causes oral and respiratory disease, and panleukopenia is a highly contagious parvovirus that attacks the intestinal tract and bone marrow. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, the FVRCP vaccine should be administered to kittens every 3-4 weeks until 16 weeks of age, with a booster 1 year later. After that, it should be boostered every 3 years.

Rabies – The rabies virus can infect any mammal and is fatal once clinical signs develop. All cats should receive the rabies vaccine by 12-16 weeks of age, with a booster 1 year later and then every 3 years per local regulations.

Feline Leukemia (FeLV) – FeLV is an immunosuppressive retrovirus that makes cats susceptible to other diseases. Kittens and cats under 1 year old should receive the vaccine according to manufacturer’s recommendations, with an optional booster 1 year later according to the AAHA guidelines. After 1 year of age, the vaccine is only recommended for high-risk cats with outdoor access.

Non-Core Vaccines

In addition to core vaccines, there are some other non-core vaccines that may be recommended for cats in certain situations. These include:

  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) – This vaccine helps protect against the fatal FIP viral disease. It may be recommended for cats going into a multi-cat environment. However, research shows it does not provide complete immunity and may interfere with routine diagnostic testing.

  • Chlamydia – The Chlamydia vaccine protects against feline pneumonitis, an upper respiratory infection. It is usually only recommended for cats at high risk like shelters, breeders, or multi-cat households.

  • Bordetella – This vaccine prevents bordetellosis or “kennel cough” and may be given before boarding. However, it provides only partial protection and is not routinely recommended.

In general, non-core vaccines are optional and given based on a cat’s risk factors and lifestyle. It’s important to discuss with your vet whether they are necessary for your individual cat.

Vaccine Schedule

The key vaccines for kittens are a series of FVRCP shots, which protect against feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia (distemper). According to PetMD, the FVRCP vaccine schedule for kittens is:

  • 6-8 weeks old – first FVRCP shot
  • 9-12 weeks old – second FVRCP shot
  • 12-16 weeks old – third FVRCP shot

Kittens may also receive the FeLV vaccine starting as early as 8 weeks old, with a follow-up 3-4 weeks later. After completing the full kitten vaccine schedule, WebMD recommends the following booster schedule for adult cats:

  • FVRCP vaccine – every 3 years
  • Rabies vaccine – annually or every 3 years depending on vaccine type
  • FeLV vaccine – annually for cats at risk of exposure

Indoor adult cats may only need the FVRCP and rabies boosters every 3 years. It’s best to discuss your cat’s individual lifestyle and risk factors with your veterinarian when planning an optimal adult booster schedule.

Risks of Overdue Vaccines

When core vaccines like rabies, panleukopenia, rhinotracheitis, and calicivirus are overdue, it significantly increases a cat’s susceptibility to contracting these dangerous diseases. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, adult cats who are overdue on their vaccines should receive booster shots regardless of when they were last vaccinated (1). Letting vaccines lapse puts the cat at risk of illness and creates opportunities for outbreaks. Unvaccinated cats are not only vulnerable themselves but also pose a community health risk if they contract and spread contagious diseases to other pets and wildlife.

Cats who are overdue on rabies vaccines are especially concerning from a public health standpoint. Rabies is zoonotic, meaning it can transfer from animals to humans. Keeping rabies vaccinations current is critically important. According to Today’s Veterinary Practice, while core vaccine immunity may persist beyond 3 years, cats overdue by more than 3 years should be promptly revaccinated (2).

Titer Testing

Titer testing checks a cat’s antibody levels through a blood test to determine if vaccines are still providing protection. It can test for core vaccines like panleukopenia, calicivirus, rhinotracheitis, and also for non-core vaccines like rabies.

Some benefits of titer testing include avoiding unnecessary vaccinations for cats with adequate antibody levels. It can also identify cats that may need a booster vaccination if antibody levels are low. Additionally, for elderly cats, titer testing may be preferred over automatically revaccinating.

Drawbacks are that the test costs more than a vaccine, ranging from $40-$75 typically. The test must be requested specifically and is not a routine vet procedure. Some vets disagree on how to interpret titer results, so discussing with your vet is advised. Also, knowing antibody levels does not guarantee full immunity.


Lifestyle Factors

A cat’s lifestyle plays a big role in determining what vaccines they need. Indoor cats generally have a much lower risk of exposure to infectious diseases compared to outdoor cats who roam freely. According to PetMD, core vaccines are usually sufficient for a strictly indoor cat.

Outdoor cats or those with outdoor access are at higher risk of contracting diseases through other animals, insects, or the environment. Additional non-core vaccines may be recommended for these cats to protect against diseases like feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and Lyme disease. The AAHA guidelines provide a lifestyle-based vaccine selector tool to help determine appropriate vaccines.

For households with multiple cats, infectious disease risks are higher, especially in multi-cat environments like shelters. More frequent core vaccines and additional non-core vaccines may help provide herd immunity. It’s important to discuss your specific situation with your veterinarian to develop an appropriate vaccination schedule.

Age Concerns

As cats age, especially once they reach 7 years old and beyond, their immune systems may not respond as robustly to vaccines. Senior cats and geriatric cats often have weaker immune systems and may be at higher risk of side effects from vaccines. According to Keeping Your Senior Cat Healthy, many senior cats with chronic diseases may be better off without vaccination, especially if exposure risks can be mitigated.

Immunocompromised cats, whether due to age, illness, or medication, may also have a reduced immune response. The immune response generated by a vaccine may be less effective in these cats. As noted on Preventive Care for Senior Cats, all cats need a distemper (FVRCP) vaccine every 3 years and a rabies vaccine as required by law. However, for cats over 8-10 years old, annual revaccination should be discussed with a veterinarian according to Vaccinating Your Senior Cat.

Before revaccinating senior or immunocompromised cats, a veterinarian can run antibody titer tests to help determine if existing immunity levels are adequate. Reduced vaccine dosages may also be an option to decrease risks. The benefits and risks should be weighed carefully for geriatric cats.

Costs of Cat Vaccinations

The average cost for core cat vaccines like rabies, distemper and respiratory disease is between $15-$30 per vaccine according to the LA Times. Non-core vaccines like leukemia and FIV average $25-$45. So in total for the first year of shots you can expect to pay $100-$200.

Here are some ways to save on cat vaccinations:

  • Check for low-cost vaccine clinics through local shelters, humane societies or pet stores.
  • Ask your vet about package discounts for multiple vaccines at once.
  • Only get non-core vaccines if your cat is at high risk.
  • Price shop between vets or clinics as costs can vary.
  • Consider pet insurance with wellness coverage for vaccines.

With some planning, you can get critical vaccines for your cat while minimizing the costs through vaccination packages, price shopping, and utilizing low-cost clinics when available.

Next Steps

If your cat is long overdue for vaccines, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian right away. They will examine your cat and determine which vaccines are necessary based on your cat’s health, lifestyle, and risk factors. Core vaccines like rabies and distemper are critical to protect your cat from deadly diseases. Your vet may recommend spreading out vaccine doses over several visits, especially for older cats, to avoid overwhelming their immune system. Ask them to run an antibody titer test first, which measures your cat’s existing immunity levels. This will help avoid unnecessary vaccines. But ultimately, regular vaccines are vital for your cat’s health and safety. Don’t delay – call your vet today to get your feline friend back on a healthy vaccine schedule. With the right preventative care, your cat can live a long and happy life.

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