Cat Vaccines

Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR)

FVR is a herpes virus that causes the symptoms of sneezing, runny eyes and nose . Because herpes viruses do not go away, chronic infections are the rule. Periods of normalcy are followed by periods of infection, sneezing and fever associated with stress. The most common cause of this stress reaction is hospitalization, surgery, grooming or boarding. Outpatient care is advised because of the highly contagious nature of this airborne disease and reduced stress of the home environment. Cats that are severely affected however, require hospitalization. Cases requiring hospitalization, or suspected cases prior to diagnosis are kept in isolation. Treatment includes nebulization and antibiotics with correction of dehydration by fluid therapy. FVR may cause permanent damage to nasal sinuses causing long-term sneezing problems or runny nose. FVR may also cause ulcers in the eyes called dendritic ulcers, which are usually seen in animals that are chronically infected. FVR vaccine for cats usually prevents the disease, but is not 100% effective. Intranasal vaccination is used in kittens at three weeks of age in endemic catteries. Intranasal vaccination for cats is also used to abate the signs of chronic infections. Intranasal vaccines are used for all pet shop kittens and for older cats never previously vaccinated but being boarded. Intranasal vaccination will cause transient sneezing reactions in ten to fourteen days post-vaccination. This is usually not associated with fever or loss of appetite.

Feline Calicivirus

Feline Calicivirus is a virus that may cause the same signs as FVR above but usually affects the eyes and lungs more. It causes ulcers on the mouth and tongue. The first sign may be excessive salivation and reluctance to eat. This is followed within 24 hours by ulceration of the tongue that may cause the whole tongue to slough. Severe pneumonia may also be present. High fever is the rule. The cats will be very dehydrated with a painful and odorous mouth. Calicivirus may cause pneumonia that leads to death if not treated aggressively. Feline calicivirus vaccine usually prevents the disease but is not 100% effective.

Feline Leukemia

This disease is caused by a retrovirus, and is the most common cause of long-term illness in the cat. Diseases caused by Feline Leukemia Virus include: -lymphosarcoma, bone marrow suppression (causes anemia), reproductive failure in females, un-thrifty newborns, inflammations of the eye and neurological disorders. Other diseases associated with FeLV include bone, kidney and skin disorders with many more serious diseases occurring as secondary features to the initial FeLV infection. To implement prevention of the disease before it strikes is of utmost importance, since the vaccination is useless once the disease has been contracted by the cat. The animal is brought to the clinic to be tested as to whether it already has the virus (positive) or does not have the virus (negative). If the test is negative, the vaccine is given. A booster is required three weeks later. A booster is required once every year to keep the immunity of the animal high. A feline leukemia vaccine will not harm a FeLV positive cat; however, it is of no use and will have no beneficial effect on the animal.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis

F.I.P. is caused by coronavirus of cats, which is 100% fatal to cats. Transmission most likely occurs from asymptomatic females (queens) at weaning time to kittens. Coronavirus stimulates excessive immune reaction in the cat. This immune reaction is overwhelming and will kill the cat in an effort to kill the virus. Excessive cellular immunity will cause the “Dry Form” if the disease and excessive antibody production will cause the “Wet Form” of the disease. The dry form is more common in adult and older cats (over 7 years of age) it more commonly affects the nervous system causing wobbly gait, head tremors and eye problems. The dry form is very difficult to diagnose. Almost all cats that have the dry form have high total protein with excessive globulin fraction. Cats with the dry form may linger for one to two years before dying. There is no treatment that is effective, but, corticosteroids will lessen severity of signs. The Wet Form is more common in three to six month old kittens. It seems to be more common in pure bred kittens. The kitten will present with chronic diarrhea and fever at first. The mesenteric lymph nodes will be palpably enlarged. The diarrhea may respond to medication and may wax and wane for some time. Then the abdomen will fill with fluid. This effusion will be seen as a “water belly” and is easy to diagnose. Older cats with the wet form are harder to diagnose they usually have fluid in the chest cavity as well as the abdomen. There is no good test for F.I.P. there are many types of coronavirus and only a few will cause F.I.P. Many of the other coronaviruses will infect cats and cause them to have diarrhea or other mild illness but they will not cause F.I.P. Therefore, the test which is just for coronavirus will only determine coronavirus exposure but not F.I.P. infection.

Many veterinarians and clients are misinformed by faulty coronavirus testing. Since there is no treatment for this disease it is necessary to vaccinate for it. Vaccination development has been very difficult since the immune system is involved in the production of the disease and vaccines are usually made to stimulate the immune system. The development of vaccines has actually, in the past caused F.I.P. to become more severe. For this reason many people, both veterinarians and breeders, have considered vaccination unlikely. This has recently changed. The F.I.P. vaccine for cats was thought to be a breakthrough. The vaccine is a temperature dependent vaccine. This means that it theoretically cannot live at the body temperatures found in the cat. It must exist below 99°F. The normal body temperature of the cat is 101-103°F. The vaccine is given as nose drops. The nasal passages are cooled to below 99°F by air currents generated by breathing. The virus vaccine is a live vaccine. The vaccine virus actually grows in the nose, but not supposedly in the rest of the body (see note below). The vaccine confers immunity to the rest of the body in a manner that should not allow the animal to come down with F.I.P. (see note below). We previously recommended F.I.P. vaccine to any multi-cat household and any outdoor cat, or any cat exposed to catteries or cat shows. The vaccine is given to kittens over 3 months of age and is repeated in three weeks. Yearly boosters are necessary.

NOTE: Recent evidence has shed some controversy on the F.I.P. Vaccine for cats — At this time we are not recommending the vaccine, but we are also awaiting further information on possible occurrences of vaccine induced sensitization to F.I.P. development.