Breeding, Diseases, Pet Care Basics, Puppy and Kitten Care, Vaccines
Vaccinating Cats: Kittens and Breeding Cats
By Amy Hanson, DVM
September 21, 2021
Feline vaccinations are an important part of a cat’s health. In cat breeding programs, vaccinations help to maintain a healthy and robust line and keep kittens healthy.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recommends that kittens receive the core vaccines of Feline Herpes, Calicivirus and Panleukopenia starting at six to eight age weeks of age every three weeks until the kitten is 16 to 20 weeks of age, which usually means the kitten will get approximately three to four vaccines early in life.
The reason for the multiple vaccinations as kittens is two-fold: first, it takes at least two vaccinations to mount a proper immune response to a vaccine. The first “primes” the immune system to make proper antibodies while the second vaccination stimulates the primed immune system to make those antibodies in, hopefully, sufficient quantity to protect against disease.
Secondly, the presence of maternal antibodies can interfere with a kitten’s own antibody production. Maternal antibodies can be present in a kitten’s body for as long as 18 to 20 weeks of age, so the potential is there for vaccine interference. Vaccination until a kitten is 20 weeks of age will help ensure their own immune response will be in place.
After the kitten series of vaccinations, AAFP recommends vaccination approximately one year after the last vaccination. These can be 3-year vaccinations; however, AAFP does recommend yearly exams to make sure cats are healthy. The 3-year vaccinations have been tested and SHOULD create adequate antibodies in most cats for the duration of three years or longer. The key word in that sentence is “should”. The truth is, it’s the cat’s immune system that determines how long a vaccination will provide protective antibodies.
Vaccination in a Cattery
Adequate vaccination is very important to a cattery situation. Females that are going to produce offspring need to have robust immune systems to not only remain healthy through gestation, but also to impart adequate and robust maternal antibodies to their offspring. Cats impart maternal antibodies through colostrum during nursing, unlike dogs that impart maternal antibodies to puppies through the placenta in the womb.
A cat breeder will want to be sure that their queens have more than enough antibodies to the various diseases to pass along kittens so they are protected until their own immune systems can start protecting them. This may mean titer testing queens prior to breeding and possibly giving a booster vaccine several months before mating. But remember, never vaccinate a queen while she is pregnant.
Cat Immune System
Not all cat immune systems are the same; otherwise, a vaccine would provide the same amount of protection for the same amount of time in all cats. Most cats will mount an adequate immune response and produce sufficient antibodies to protect against disease. Some cats have immune systems that don’t produce as many antibodies after vaccination to protect fully against disease and may need to have more frequent boosters to be fully protected.
A breeder will want to be sure that their queens have more than enough antibodies to the various diseases to pass along kittens so they are protected until their own immune systems can start protecting them. This may mean titer testing queens prior to breeding and possibly giving a booster vaccine several months before mating. But remember, never vaccinate a cat while she is pregnant.
The only way to know if a cat is producing adequate antibodies is to have titer testing done. Titer testing measures the actual quantity of antibodies to a particular disease in a cat’s body. Cats with titers higher than a specified minimum amount have adequate protection. Those with titers lower than the minimum will need to have a booster vaccination. Titer testing can be done in lieu of vaccination for those that don’t want to “over-vaccinate”, but just know that a cat may still need a booster vaccine depending on what their levels are.
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Written by: Amy Hanson, DVM
Dr. Amy Hanson is an associate veterinarian at the Cat Clinic of Lawrence in Lawrence, Kansas. She is a 2010 graduate of Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Her special interests include felines, acupuncture and dentistry. Her hobbies include showing cats and she is a judge for the American Cat Fanciers Association (ACFA).