Annual Cat Booster Shots: Are They Necessary?

New perspectives hold that most cat booster vaccines need not be administered annually, as has been common practice. The reason is that vaccines have been shown to protect your cat for longer than a year. However, do not let vaccines lapse past a year without first confirming with your vet.

Series of Kitten Vaccines Considered Necessary

Cats transfer immunity to their kittens through mother's milk. That immunity fades as a kitten grows, necessitating a series of vaccines beginning at six to eight weeks of age (Orphaned kittens may need to begin vaccinations at two weeks of age, however). Vaccines then stimulate your cat's immune system to produce antibodies that are ready to attack pathogens that cause diseases if they enter your cat's body.

For each vaccine, a series of injections is given because it is expensive and difficult to determine the exact time a mother's immunity no longer protects her kittens. Timed correctly, one of the injections will work to protect your cat.

Core Feline Vaccinations

Initial vaccines are separated into "core" and "non-core" categories. Core vaccinations are given to protect against the following diseases:

  • Feline panleukopenia (FPV, aka feline distemper, feline enteritis)
  • Feline calicivirus (FCV)
  • Feline rhinotracheitis (feline herpesvirus-1 or FHV)
  • Rabies

Non-Core Feline Vaccinations

Diseases for which non-core vaccinations are given include the following:

  • Chlamydia psittaci (CP)
  • Feline leukemia
  • Infectious peritonitis (FIP)
  • Feline immunodeficiency disease (FIV)
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica (kennel cough)
  • Revaccination (Booster) Schedules Vary

Standard practice until recently has been for cats to receive booster shots annually during check-ups. Veterinarians began to report, however, that common vaccines seemed to last much longer. Veterinarians were concerned about giving too much of any one vaccine to patients, and thereby increasing any risks associated with it. The result has been for owners and vets to collaborate on customizing each cat's revaccination schedule based on lifestyle, risk assessment and health status.

Boosters for Core Vaccines

Revised thinking holds that cats should receive booster shots every three years for feline panleukopenia, feline rhinotracheitis and feline calicivirus. However, individual cats differ, as do different brands of vaccines in terms of potency. Some high-risk cats may need re-vaccination more often. As for rabies, many states require annual vaccinations by law.

What Are Higher-Risk Cats?

About one-third of all cats are classified as "higher-risk" category because they may be exposed to a wider range of pathogens due to lifestyle. Higher-risk cats roam unsupervised outdoors; play with other cats not living with them; come into contact with wild animals; or, swim in or drink from any outdoor water source, including pools, puddles, rivers, lakes and the ocean. Other cats are at greater risk because they may reside in large grooming and boarding facilities from time to time.

Risks Associated with Routine Vaccines

Mild side effects of vaccines include including lethargy, fever, weight loss, inflammation and swelling at the injection site. Severe but rare side effects are injection-site cancer as well as autoimmune disease. Moreover, some cats develop allergic reactions to vaccines, which can be life-threatening. Weighing protection against risks, you and your vet will strike a balance between vaccinating your cat too much or not enough.

Technology Makes Decision Boost Easier and Safer

Increasingly popular is a blood test to be performed by your vet to determine if your cat still has active antibodies against common diseases. In this case your vet would wait to give your cat booster shots. In addition, new nasal vaccines will help your cat avoid the side effects of injections.