Several infectious diseases common in cats are caused by airborne organisms that can waft into your home on a breeze through open doors and windows. Even your hands, shoes, and clothing can serve as transmission modes, silently tracking in deadly disease-causing organisms. Fortunately, highly effective vaccines exist to combat many feline diseases, and that's why it's important to keep recommended vaccinations current, even if your British teddy bear stays inside all the time.
Vaccinating Your British Cat
What is Vaccine?
Vaccines are agents that, when administered properly to a healthy animal, cause that animal to develop immunity to a disease. Some vaccines are prepared from killed bacteria, viruses, or other microscopic pathogens (disease-causing organisms). Those killed products are usually considered to be safer to use, especially in very young and very old animals. They are probably inferior to the live vaccines in terms of protection because they do not replicate in the vaccinated animal's tissues and the immune response is slower and less complete.
Other vaccines are made from microscopic pathogenic organisms (primarily viruses), that have been treated in some way to modify or attenuate them. Modification allows the infectious agent to remain alive, and when it is introduced into a healthy animal it replicates in the tissues of that animal, but it is unable to cause disease. Those are modified live-virus (MLV) vaccines, and they are generally considered to confer more reliable immunity than killed-virus vaccines. Replicating vaccine viruses may be shed from the vaccinated animals.
Recent technical advances involve the preparation of vaccines from particles of viruses. Fragments of a virus are split away from the disease-causing organism. When administered to a healthy animal, they stimulate an immune response in the vaccinated animal, but it is impossible for the fragments to cause disease.
The administration of a vaccine is intended to stimulate a dynamic, ongoing process called an immune response. That response involves the production of white blood cells and antibodies that attack and destroy invading pathogens before they can cause disease.
Immune response includes the establishment of a memory process (anamnesis) that hastens the response to future exposures to the infectious agent.
The level of immunity that develops from a vaccination is dependent upon the cat's health, its age, its existing passive immunity, its prior vaccination history, and past exposure to the pathogen. The degree or quality of immunity conferred by a vaccine is also related to the particular infectious agent involved, its antigenicity, the vaccine concentration, and the route of vaccine administration.
When a cat has some degree of immunity to a disease, and is subsequently vaccinated for that disease, its immunity will normally be boosted. Without boosters or exposure to the disease, its immunity gradually decreases.
A strong, healthy cat will resist disease by virtue of its good health. A healthy, active cat will respond well to vaccinations and will develop more complete immunity to disease. Vaccinations given to cats suffering from poor nutrition, disease, or other stresses may be a waste of good biologics and may give owners a false sense of security.
How a Vaccine Works
Traditionally, veterinarians have given yearly booster shots to maintain adequate immunity. But recent studies suggest that immunity with certain vaccines may last much longer than once thought. This new knowledge, combined with heightened concerns about soft-tissue tumors occurring at common vaccination sites, prompted some practitioners to revisit their views on vaccine protocol.
Core vaccines protect against severe or easily transmitted diseases and are recommended for all cats. The core diseases include rabies, feline distemper, and two upper respiratory illnesses, rhinotracheitis and calicivirus. According to the new guidelines, most cats should get core vaccine boosters once every three years. However, cats with a greater risk of exposure may still need booster shots once a year, or as recommended by your veterinarian. Noncore vaccines are recommended for cats at highest risk of exposure to feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), chlamydia (feline pneumonitis), and ringworm. These vaccines are considered optional and should be administered based on the risk of exposure. In addition, yearly boostering for cats receiving this protection is still recommended.
Most experts still agree that the ideal vaccination schedule begins with giving kittens their first combination core shot for upper respiratory infections and feline distemper at approximately 6 to 8 weeks of age. Between 8 and 12 weeks of age, the first in a series of two shots for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) may be given. At 12 weeks of age, another shot for upper respiratory infections and distemper is administered. Then, between 12 and 16 weeks, kittens get a rabies shot, plus the second shot in the FeLV series. A year later, all vaccinations should be repeated and thereafter followed up with periodic boosters on a schedule recommended by your veterinarian.
Establishing Initial Immunity
Side effects from vaccines are minimal in most cases, British Shorthair are not sensitive to certain shots than others. However, recent research has raised con-cerns about a low incidence of tumors, called fibrosarcomas, developing at the injection sites of FeLV and rabies vaccines. While not caused by the vaccines directly, the tumors appear to result from a profound localized inflammation some cats experience, perhaps in reaction to the aluminum compounds used in the vaccine suspension. As the matter remains under investigation, more veterinarians are recommending FeLV vaccination only for cats at greatest risk of contracting the disease, which is why the vaccine is considered noncore, or optional. Cats allowed outdoors or frequently exposed to other cats have the highest risk of FeLV exposure and certainly should be vaccinated. Regardless of breed, it is fairly common for some cats to experience mild lethargy for a day or two after receiving their shots. But some vaccine reactions can be serious, causing convulsions, labored breathing, and even death. It is important to talk to your veterinarian about which vaccines your British Shorthair may not readily tolerate.