The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) published their latest cat vaccination guidelines in the September 2013 Journal of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery.
This is not an annual report. The AAFP produced the first vaccination guidelines in 1998. These were updated in 2000 and again in 2006. The 2006 report recommended that not all cats should be given all of the feline vaccinations available. They suggested that the cat’s lifestyle and general health should be considered when choosing whether to vaccinate or not.
Based on an increase in the number of sarcomas at injection sites, they also outlined a protocol showing where vaccinations should be injected. The current guidelines are even more stringent.
The 2013 report
The report suggests that all cats be given just three vaccines: the feline panleukopenia vaccine (FPV), the feline herpesvirus-1 vaccine (FHV-1) and the feline calicivirus vaccine (FCV).
Kittens under four months old should be given a series of vaccinations every three to four weeks until they are four to five months old. Cats four months and older should be given two vaccinations three to four weeks apart. After these initial vaccinations, a cat should be given a booster vaccination every three years.
Other vaccinations available for cats should only be given if the cat’s lifestyle and potential risk warrant it. These include: the rabies vaccine, the feline leukemia virus vaccine (FeLV), the feline immunodeficiency virus vaccine (FIV), the Chlamydophila felis vaccine, the Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccine, feline infectious peritonitis vaccine (FIP) and theDermatophyte vaccine.
There are two exceptions to these guidelines. The first is that the panel recommends that all cats under 1 year old be vaccinated against FeLV and receive a booster vaccination 1 year later. After 1 year of age, the need for additional vaccination is determined by the cat’s potential risk to being exposed to FELV. The second exception is that the panel did note that in some areas the rabies vaccine is required by law and so would be necessary for all cats living in those areas.
The injection sites
All vaccinations are injected subcutaneously – underneath the skin. In the past, vaccinations were injected by the cat’s shoulder or other parts of the cat’s torso. The panel now suggests that vaccinations be administered as low as possible on the cat’s legs. Specifically they suggest that the respiratory virus vaccines should be given below the right elbow, the FeLV vaccination should be given below the knee of the left rear leg, and if required the rabies vaccines should be given below the knee of the right rear leg.
In the included photo, areas indicated in green are okay for vaccination injections and those in red are sites that should be avoided.
What a cat owner needs to consider
We are often asked about vaccinations for cats – which ones do they need, how often do they need them. These guidelines give you the basic information you need to have a discussion with your veterinarian about vaccinating your cat.
Veterinarians are realizing that a cat’s lifestyle should be carefully considered when developing a vaccination protocol and deciding which type of vaccine (modified live, killed or recombinant) should be used. Additionally, research is showing that some vaccines have a longer duration of immunity than previously thought, making too frequent vaccination unnecessary.
Every cat has a different level of risk of exposure to contagious viral diseases. You and your vet should discuss your cat’s health and lifestyle and likelihood of exposure. Is your cat indoor only or indoor/outdoor? If your cat is indoor only, can they be exposed to free roaming cats through a screened window or door? Do you house your cat in a boarding facility while you are away?
Based on this discussion, your vet should come up with a recommended vaccination schedule. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Find out the potential risks of vaccinating your cat, make sure your vet is following the suggested guidelines regarding the type of vaccinations and the injection sites. It is up to you to manage your cat’s health care – they trust and rely on you to do so.