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Vaccination frequency for free roam shelter cats-Best Friends

post #1 of 3
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Question from Beth:

For 20 years we have vaccinated our shelter cats (free roaming facility) with the FVRCPC each year. Recently we were told as long as the adult cats had at least 2 vaccinations in their past, that it would be fine to vaccinate every 3 years with the FVRCPC. We have many unadoptable cats that live at our facility for most of their lives. Is it ok to vaccinate them every year of their life instead of every 3 years? Which is best?

Response from Dr Kate Hurley:

That’s a good question. I’m going to give a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is, after the initial vaccine series, adult cats should be given this vaccine every three years. Adult cats (4 months and older for the purposes of immunity) should receive a vaccine, then a “booster†2-4 weeks later, then a vaccine one year later, then be revaccinated tri-annually. (There is a little more to it than this, but this is the simplest version.)

Here’s the longer version:

First let’s break down this particular vaccine. An FVRCPC vaccine contains four different “antigens†(parts of an infectious agent).

FVR stands for Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, otherwise known as feline herpesvirus.

The first “C†stand for calicivirus.

The “P†stands for Panleukopenia.

The second “C†stands for Chlamydophila (formerly known as Chlamydia).

Feline herpesvirus, calicivirus, and Chlamydophila felis are part of the feline upper respiratory complex. Of these three, feline herpesvirus and calicivirus are by far the most important. (Chlamydophila felis probably causes less than 5% of all feline URI.). The feline upper respiratory vaccines in general do not prevent infection, but can reduce severity of disease in some cases. The feline herpesvirus and calicivirus parts of the vaccine, to the extent that they provide protection at all, have been shown to provide that protection for at least three years once a cat is fully vaccinated (complete kitten series, or 2 vaccine adult series). The Chlamydophila felis component works less well, and if you use this vaccine it is recommended that you booster it yearly. However, this is not recommended as a vaccine for routine use in pet cats or shelters unless laboratory diagnostics have confirmed that Chlamydophila felis is an ongoing problem in your shelter.

In moderate to high risk shelters (fair amount of infectious disease) kittens should be vaccinated every two weeks from 6-16 weeks. Again, err on the side of vaccinating out a little further. In low risk shelters (very low intake and very low infectious disease) or private homes, kittens should be vaccinated starting at 8-9 weeks, every 3-4 weeks, until 16 weeks.

Panleukopenia (sometimes called feline distemper) is closely related to canine parvo and can cause outbreaks of fatal illness in shelters. Unfortunately, some of you probably realize that from painful experience. Fortunately, this is an excellent vaccine, and disease is very rare in fully vaccinated cats. Another piece of good news is that this vaccine, like the vaccines against respiratory viruses, has been shown to provide solid protection for at least three years, if not longer. This vaccine gives us a great tool for protecting cats against this terrible infection, but there is no need to give individual cats the vaccine more than once a year – the real benefit for shelters comes from making sure ALL cats in the shelter get immediately vaccinated at intake, and kittens receive suitable boosters.

The two respiratory viruses (herpes and calici) along with panleukopenia comprise what we generally consider the “core†shelter vaccines, that are indicated for use in virtually all shelters and rescue groups (and pet cats for that matter). Our guidelines for both pet and shelters cats at UC Davis, the American Association of Feline Practitioners, and many others now agree these vaccines should be given every three years to adult cats.

Why not just give the vaccines every year to be on the safe side? For one thing, there is the consideration of cost, although that may be minor in a small shelter. More importantly, however, every vaccine carries a small risk of causing an adverse reaction. This is especially a worry with cats because of the risk of vaccine-induced tumor formation. This risk is far, far outweighed by the benefit of vaccinating as often as necessary in a shelter. However, vaccinating more often than necessary would needlessly increase this small risk of a devastating consequence.

Note that the time interval between vaccines is not the same for all infectious agents, which is why I went into that whole spiel about what this particular vaccine contains. Some vaccines, like the FeLV vaccine, have not been shown to give as long of immunity, and thus are still often recommended to be given at more frequent intervals (I do not generally recommend FeLV vaccine for use in shelters, just giving it as an example).

By the way, all this applies to pet cats belonging to shelter and rescue workers as well. There is no benefit to vaccinating pet animals at any more than the recommended intervals.

post #2 of 3
i worked at a shelter around the time that they started changing vaccine protocols. i vaccinated my crew annually for FVRCPC. the shelter i worked at did not have roaming cats, but a high incidence of URIs. it was a pretty rare cat that didn't eventually pick up the URI that went around.

editted to add:
i haven't worked at a shelter for several years now, and my cats are now at low risk. and with 2 being allergic to the distemper shot, i was advised by our vet to discontinue the distemper shot.
post #3 of 3
To tell you the truth I have some questions to Dr Kate Hurley about the cats
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