So you have just adopted a kitten and have purchased a cat bed for it to snuggle in, a cat tree for it to clamber about and claw on, a litter box together with kitty litter for it to do its business, and have stocked up on an assortment of tasty kitten foods to ensure its energy needs are met so that it can frolic about playfully and grow into a healthy cat. However, as a pet owner, your responsibilities don’t end there. You also need to ensure that the new addition to your family receives all the necessary shots to keep him safe from diseases that could potentially pose a risk to his or her health. Let’s have a look at some of the most important vaccines a kitten requires to reduce this risk.

Vaccines for cats can be divided into two categories: 1) core vaccines that offer essential protection against diseases that are common, easily transmitted, or have high fatality rates; and 2) non-core vaccines that may benefit some cats, but not necessarily all.

Core Vaccines

Core vaccines for cats include vaccines that offer protection against panleukopenia (feline distemper), rhinotrancheitis (feline herpes) and calicivirus (the latter two virus both cause upper respiratory infections in cats).

Arguably the most important vaccine for kittens is protection against panleukopenia, a devastating viral disease that results in a deficiency of white blood cells necessary for fighting infection, which ultimately leads to their death. The vaccine (FPV) offers effective protection against this dreadful disease and is typically combined with vaccines that offer protection against feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1) and feline calicivirus (FVC) into the core vaccine FVRCP (3-in-1 vaccine) that will benefit all kittens by protecting them from all three viral diseases.

Non-core vaccines

Non-core vaccines for cats include feline leukemia (FeLV); feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), commonly known as feline aids; and chlamydiosis. While neither FeLV or FIV are core vaccines, protection against these viral diseases is recommended for kittens and for cats that venture outdoors or who are likely to mingle with outdoor cats.

As feline leukemia is spread via the saliva, cats are most likely to be exposed through friendly mutual grooming (licking) and sharing litter boxes and food/water bowls, but in rare cases can also become infected if bitten during an aggressive encounter with an infected cat. Kittens can acquire the feline leukemia virus from their mothers, causing them to become severely ill, typically exhibiting neurological symptoms. As the disease is easily spread between cats, pet owners with more than one cat may find that multiple cats are infected. To protect against the disease, kittens should receive a two-part booster vaccine when they are 9-12 weeks old, and if your cat’s risk of exposure is high (which it is if the cat roams freely outdoors, or if new cats are frequently introduced to the environment) it should be re-vaccinated annually.

Like feline leukemia, the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is also spread through contact with the saliva of an infected cat. However, while FeLV is transmitted primarily through mutual grooming, FIV is more likely to be transmitted when a cat is bitten by an infected cat, for example when fighting over territory. Consequently, pet owners with more than one cat will often find that only one of their cats is infected with FIV, while the remaining cats test negative for the disease. However, a pregnant cat can pass the disease on to her kittens in the womb and also through her milk. The vaccination schedule for FIV consists of three initial doses, administered two week apart.

While pet owners often wonder and may be concerned whether FIV is linked to HIV, there is no need to worry. While FIV and FeLV belong to the same family as the HIV virus, they only infect cats and pose no health risk to humans.

Ensuring your pet receives the core vaccinations, and that they are kept up to date according to the recommended vaccination schedule, is a key part of responsible pet ownership. Maintaining a regular vaccinating schedule will protect your kitty cat against these common and potentially harmful diseases should it come into contact with an infected animal.

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