Why do kittens require a series of vaccinations?

Young kittens are highly susceptible to infectious diseases because their immune systems are not fully mature. While nursing, their mother’s milk contains antibodies that provide some immunity to diseases. However, these maternal antibodies do not last long, and there may be gaps in protection as the milk antibodies decrease and the kittens’ immune systems aren’t yet capable of fighting off infection. To keep these gaps in protection as small as possible, a series of vaccinations are scheduled, usually 3-4 weeks apart. For most kittens, the final vaccination in the series is administered after 12 weeks of age. Remember that an incomplete series of vaccinations may lead to incomplete protection, making your kitten vulnerable to infection.

What vaccines does my kitten need?

 

Every kitten will need a series of 2 distemper-combination vaccines for upper respiratory and GI viruses (panleukopenia, calicivirus, and rhinotracheitis). Once the kitten is old enough, it should be vaccinated against rabies as well. These two vaccines are considered "Core Vaccines" because every cat should receive them regardless of lifestyle (rare exceptions apply).

Another vaccine we offer for cats that will be going outside is:

  • Feline leukemia – this infection causes immunodeficiency and cancer. The infection spreads in saliva from bites, grooming, or shared dishes. Kittens can become infected from their mother. Signs of disease can occur several months to years after acquiring the infection. Cats that go outside unattended or come in contact with unknown cats should first be tested for the presence of the virus and then vaccinated to prevent infection. If any cats in your household go outside unattended, they could spread the disease to the indoor cats, so all of the cats in your household should be tested and then vaccinated.

What are possible side effects that I may see?

Although <1% of the population will develop a vaccine reaction, it is important to monitor your cat after it receives a vaccine. The most common adverse responses are mild and include fever, lethargy, and reduced appetite. Pets may also experience temporary swelling at the site of vaccination. Most adverse reactions will resolve within 12-24 hours.

Rarely, more serious adverse reactions can occur. Allergic reactions can appear within minutes or hours of vaccination and may include vomiting, swelling of the face or legs, difficult breathing, or collapse. Injection site tumors (sarcomas) may occur weeks or months after killed vaccine administration. Contact your veterinarian immediately if any of these symptoms are seen.

 

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