The vaccination protocol used by CCAC is chosen to maximize protection of the kitten against disease during its most vulnerable period—8 to 16 weeks of age. Ideally vaccines begin around 8 or 9 weeks of age right after weaning and are repeated every 4 weeks through 16 weeks. This is because weaning kittens start to lose the antibodies from “first” milk or colostrum. Those kittens with excellent immunities may not need their shots until 12 or 14 weeks of age…. the rest may fall in between 8 weeks and 12 weeks…but we simply don’t know how immuno-competent a kitten may be…so rather then gamble with the kitten’s health we vaccinate at four week intervals until the age of 16 weeks. What is magical about 16 weeks? At that age studies have shown most kittens have few maternal antibodies left to protect the kitten from disease and interfere with vaccination. 16 weeks also coincides with the eruption of the first permanent teeth. Coincidentally, four months is the age at which a mother cat (or queen) begins to forcefully evict her kitten from her territory.
CCAC immunizes all kittens for the upper respiratory and distemper viruses using the FVRCP vaccine. FVRCP stands for: feline rhinotracheitis (FVR) or cat flu (caused by feline herpes virus), calici virus or the limping virus (C) and feline distemper (panleukopenia virus (P). All kittens by state law must receive a rabies vaccine and if they are going to enjoy the outdoors, they also receive feline leukemia vaccines. (There are two in the initial series.) The actual vaccines and our reason for using them are discussed below.
Our feline vaccines have been chosen based on the safest effective products available. Merial Purevax are specifically designed for cats only and are adjuvant free vaccines. Adjuvants are compounds added to vaccines to cause inflammatory reactions at the injection site in order to stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies. They are found in killed virus vaccine products. Producing antibodies against a disease is the whole point of vaccinating. However felines have shown a special sensitivity (which may be, in part, genetic) to adjuvants and some studies have implicated them in the occurrence of fibrosarcomas at these injection sites in cats. By using Purevax adjuvant free vaccines and Heska intranasal vaccines, we have substantially reduced risk of this cancer. Our feline leukemia vaccine (also a Purevax product) is a special transdermal vaccine. This vaccine uses less volume and is delivered without a needle, by a very short high-pressure injection into the lower layers of the skin (dermis) directly to the cells designed to produce antibodies.
Two other feline vaccinations are available. One, for kittens going into households with other adult cats is the Primucell FIP (feline infectious peritonitis) vaccine. This is given as nasal drops two weeks apart before exposing a new kitten to the litter boxes of existing cats in a household. It is given only under these circumstances to protect naïve kittens against the Feline Corona Virus commonly shed by healthy adult felines, but with potentially deadly consequences for genetically predisposed kittens and their immature immune systems. Some controversy remains about the efficacy of this immunization.
Another intranasal vaccine used extensively at the clinic guards against the herpes and calici viral infections that produce cat flu or cat colds. This vaccine complements the ‘shot’ form given as part of the regular vaccine protocol, developing a different form of protection called ‘cell-mediated’ immunity, locally at the site of virus infection – the nasal passages. This vaccine is particularly effective for cats exposed to other kitties when boarding or going to the groomers or making frequent visits to the vet. It goes to work quickly once in a cat’s nose to guard against these airborne viruses.
During the lifetime of a cat, vaccination is recommended according to individual exposure but especially for young cats when the immune system is immature. Otherwise, Panleukopenia at three-year intervals as suggested by the American Feline Practitioners Association to maintain healthy titers against this disease may be appropriate for your cat. The upper respiratory viruses are more difficult to vaccinate against and the vaccination intervals need to be more closely tailored to the needs of the individual cat. Currently there is no adjuvant free rabies vaccine approved for two or three years. Therefore at CCAC rabies is given annually using the safer Merial Purevax adjuvant free product.