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Vaccinating Your New Cat

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Diseases for which cats must be vaccinated:

Diseases for which most cats should be vaccinated:
Rhinotracheitis (Feline Herpes)
Calici virus
Panleukopenia (Feline parvovirus)

Vaccines to use infrequently, if at all:
Bordetella (Kennel cough)
FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus)
FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) 
FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis)

We used to think vaccinating was like praying—the more the better, but now we know this is not true. Cats develop a fatal cancer called a fibrosarcoma especially if vaccinated for several diseases at the same time. Vaccines for feline leukemia and rabies cause greatest problem. In addition to causing cancer, vaccines cause other more subtle illnesses. For example, many veterinarians believe there is a correlation with being vaccinated and developing allergies, autoimmune disease, epilepsy, loss of the ability to smell (anosmia), and hyperthyroid disease. To help prevent unnecessary vaccine-induced illness, limit the number of vaccines your cat receives.

Titer Tests

Always work with your veterinarian to choose the best vaccination schedule for your new cat. Your veterinarian may recommend titer tests to help determine which vaccines are needed. While titer tests are useful, they are not a definitive measure of protection:

  1. All laboratories don’t measure titers the same way so that your pet’s blood could go to one lab who finds your pet has a protective level of antibodies and go to another lab that finds the same blood sample did not have a protective level of antibodies.
  2. For some diseases, low antibody titers don’t mean a pet can’t resist the disease.
  3. For some diseases, high antibody titers don’t mean a bet is able to resist disease.
  4. For some diseases, immune factors that labs are not able to measure are more significant in predicting your pet’s resistance to disease than factors the lab can measure.
New kitten in the home and vaccines  

Core and Noncore Vaccines
Cat vaccines have been divided into core and noncore groups. Core vaccines are for diseases that cause serious illness and may be fatal: Rhinotracheitis (Feline Herpes), Calici virus, Panleukopenia (Feline parvovirus), and Rabies. These vaccines should be used in most cats. Noncore vaccines protect against diseases that are not normally serious, infect only a limited number of cats, or are not highly effective. Examples of noncore vaccines, which should not be used routinely, are FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus), FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus), FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis), and Bordetella (Kennel cough).

Core Vaccines


is a fatal disease and the law requires that your cat be vaccinated. Because rabies is a public health concern—this is a zoonotic disease that can spread from animals to people—most counties require that the vaccine be administered by a veterinarian. The veterinarian will issue a rabies tag and will keep your cat’s record for several years. If your cat is lost, anyone finding it with a collar and rabies tag will be able to locate the clinic that gave the vaccine, and the clinic will have your name and address. If your cat strays and bites a person or another animal, authorities won’t be forced to test for rabies if they see the rabies tag. If you are concerned that the vaccine may have side effects, your holistic veterinarian can prescribe a homeopathic remedy, such as Thuja or Lyssen, to encourage your cat’s system to have a healthy vaccination response.

If your new cat was previously vaccinated, have your veterinarian test its blood for protective levels of antibodies to infections like panleukopenia. If the level of antibodies is high, your cat may not need additional vaccines.

Rhinotracheitis (Feline Herpes)

This virus affects the nose (rhino) and trachea (trachea) so that cats cough, sneeze, and have nasal discharge. The eyes are infected and most cats have red eyes due to conjunctivitis; some develop ulcers on the cornea of the eye. Pregnant cats will abort or have infected kittens that die young. Rhinotracheitis is a herpes virus, and like all herpes virus, the organism remains within the cat the rest of its life. Symptoms may reappear when your cat is stressed.


Calicivirus causes a respiratory disease in cats and their noses run. Some cats have conjunctivitis and some have ulcers on the tongue. The virus can progress to pneumonia and cause difficulty breathing. Calicivirus infection is much worse in cats simultaneously infected with other diseases, such as leukemia or panleukopenia. Often the disease is spread from the queen to kittens, especially in cats raised in breeding catteries. The vaccine itself can cause lameness due to arthritis and joint pain for several weeks following vaccination. The vaccine does not prevent calicivirus from infecting a cat, but does lessen the severity of symptoms caused by the virus.

FPV Feline Panleukopenia Virus (Feline Parvovirus)

Panleukopenia means all (pan) white cells (leuko) are decreased (penia). Because white blood cells (WBCs) protect cats from disease, cats with panleukopenia have no protection and are easily infected by invading bacteria and viruses. The panleukopenia virus also attacks cells in the cat’s the digestive system, just as the canine parvo virus does, and that is why this disease is nicknamed feline parvovirus. Symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea, fever, and severe dehydration. Some adult cats will have mild infections with no symptoms, but kittens often become acutely ill and may die. Feline panleukopenia virus is difficult to kill and persists a long time in the environment. Cats that have been vaccinated or have had the infection often have a protective level of antibodies and require no further vaccination.

Noncore Vaccines

Bordetella (Kennel cough)

Bordetella causes a respiratory disease with coughing and runny nose. This infection is mild in most older cats and they clear it within a week or two. In kittens and cats infected with multiple diseases at the same time, bordetella can lead to pneumonia. The disease may occur in catteries, animal shelters, boarding facilities and vet hospitals, but studies have shown it is very rare. The vaccine for cats is not the same as the bordetella vaccine for dogs because the carriers are different. The vaccine is not recommended by most veterinarians.

FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus)

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) can cause immune suppression and cancer. Kittens under 4 months of age are susceptible to FeLV, but older cats do not develop this infection unless they are immune suppressed. Symptoms include fever and widespread infections because the virus affects the immune system’s white blood cells. Cats can have swollen lymph nodes, mouth infections and sore gums, upper respiratory infections, diarrhea, ear and skin infections, and swollen lymph nodes. Many cats with FeLV are also infected with FIV. These cats are prone to develop cancerous tumors. Veterinarians do not recommend the FeLV vaccine for cats over 16 weeks of age. Cats less than 16 weeks of age that have already been exposed to FeLV do not benefit from the vaccine. This vaccine is not routinely recommended because it causes some cats to develop a fatal cancer called a fibrosarcoma, especially if the vaccine is given along with a rabies vaccine.

FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) 

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is somewhat similar to human HIV and infects about 2% of the cat population. Because FIV suppresses the immune system, cats are easily infected with “opportunistic” infections—the bacteria and viruses normally present in the environment, but not generally a threat to healthy cats. Almost any symptom can occur depending upon opportunistic infections. For example, cats can have mouth infections and sore gums, upper respiratory infections, diarrhea, ear and skin infections, swollen lymph nodes, cancer in the lymph nodes (lymphosarcoma), and behavioral changes. Most veterinarians do not recommend this vaccine because if a cat is vaccinated and becomes ill, it is difficult to know if the cat actually has an FIV infection or if it has antibodies as a result of being vaccinated.

FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis)

FIP is a viral disease that can cause problems in every area of the body: heart, brain, eyes, lungs, kidneys, liver, and intestines. Some cats have fluid surrounding the lungs or abdominal organs and internal organs and the fluid compresses the organs until they no longer function. Most cats have a fever, and many will also develop multiple other infections, such as feline leukemia and feline herpes virus. The FIP vaccine is not recommended because if a cat is vaccinated and becomes ill, it is not always possible to tell if the cat actually has an FIP infection or if it has antibodies as a result of being vaccinated. Instead, veterinarians recommend removing kittens from FIP-infected queens at 5-7 weeks of age. This prevents transmission of disease. Routine cleaning will inactivate the virus.

The articles here were answered by a variety of pharmacists and veterinarians
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  • Vaccines can be helpful and they can cause harm.
  • Work with your veterinarian to choose core and noncore vaccines to help protect your cat.
    This information is for educational purposes only and is intended to be a supplement to, and not a substitute for, the expertise and professional judgment of your veterinarian. The information is NOT to be used for diagnosis or treatment of your pet. You should always consult your own veterinarian for specific advice concerning the treatment of your pet.

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