Your Cat & Vaccination:
What You Need To Know (Part 5)
Other Available Feline Vaccines
Dr. Fern Slack, UCVC Medical Director
The goal of vaccination is to create immunity in response to an infectious disease risk. In this 5 part series, we’ve talked about Immunity vs. Vaccination, Vaccination Risks, Minimizing Vaccination Risks and Important Feline Infectious Diseases. The last tool for your “decision toolbox” is learning about the Other Available Feline Vaccines and finding the right balance.
Other Feline Vaccines
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) vaccine
Immunity to FeLV is important for cats who spend time outside, or have other risk factors such as living with another cat who has the Feline Leukemia virus. The best FeLV vaccines available, however, even when administered following protocol and to healthy cats, provide only partial immunity to a strong viral challenge; it is absolutely possible for a vaccinated cat to become infected with FeLV. That said, some protection is better than none, and if your cat goes outside, FeLV vaccination is important to consider.
There is no vaccine titer test for FeLV.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) vaccine
FIV is not a significant risk for most cats. The disease’s natural reservoir is the feral cat population, estimated at about a 2% rate nationwide. The virus is extremely fragile and dies immediately upon exposure to air, and is most commonly passed via bite injuries between warring tomcats. Although pet cats who go outdoors are technically at risk, a cat truly has to be a fighter by nature to have a high risk. Most cats, especially neutered ones, use posturing to avoid fights, so bite wounds are a relative rarity; and it should be kept in mind that a) most cats who might bite your cat do not have the FIV virus, and b) exposure does not always equal transmission.
The FIV vaccine is a very poor one, providing little protection (some, but not much), and it creates one very serious issue: once a cat is FIV-vaccinated, most FIV tests will come back positive. Only a few, very expensive tests can tell the difference between a vaccinated cat and an infected cat.
There is no vaccine titer test for FIV.
Scenarios, where vaccination for FIV is a rational choice, are slim to none.
Chlamydophila felis vaccine
The antigen for this bacterial organism is a nearly useless component often included as the fourth ingredient in many of the commercially available “Distemper” vaccines. These will usually be labeled as “FVRCCP,” the additional “C” indicating the inclusion of Chlamydophila antigen.
There are two good reasons to generally avoid this vaccine. While inducing little or no immunity, the addition of the Chlamydophila antigen effectively distracts the cat’s immune system from the other three, vastly more important antigens, resulting in a lesser immune response. Second, Chlamydophila infections (which occur mostly in the conjunctiva and nose, and are rarely serious) can be treated and the organism cleared from the patient – this is not a deadly or even very serious disease. The one application for this vaccine is in helping to control the spread of the organism in cat colonies such as catteries or shelters. Unless you have a dense population of cats in your house, you should avoid this vaccine.
There is no vaccine titer test for Chlamydophila.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) vaccine
There is no measurable benefit from this vaccine for any individual cat. Like the Chlamydophila vaccine, it may aid in controlling the overall incidence in a cat colony, but even this is questionable.
There is no vaccine titer test for FIP.
Any other vaccine products that are recommended to you for your cat – Just Say No.
Finding the Right Balance
As we have learned, risk, immunity, and safety are the real issues; “vaccination” is only one means to that end.
Indisputably, every vaccination is an inflammatory event, and all inflammatory events have a systemic component, ripples from the stone thrown in the pond. These insults may be small, but they add up, and so vaccinations should be kept as few as possible. Conversely, a choice to avoid vaccines entirely leaves your cat at risk for some awful diseases. Vaccines are not all good or all bad. They are simply tools, to be used in an informed manner, with careful judgment, for the right purposes.
Your toolbox is complete. Armed with this knowledge, you can make informed vaccination decisions. The best vaccine plan for your cat is the one that achieves, FOR YOU AND YOUR CAT, an acceptable balance between disease risk and vaccine risk, and an acceptable cost/benefit ratio.