The Importance of Feline Vaccines

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The Importance of Feline Vaccines

By Palmyra Animal Clinic, Apr 2 2015 03:03PM

~ FeLV, FIP, FIV- though appearing as alphabet soup, these combinations of letters actually represent abbreviations for the three most common killer diseases of cats in the United States. In fact, feline leukemia virus, feline infectious peritonitis, and feline immunodeficiency virus rank one, two and three, respectively, as infectious disease killers in this country. All three are contagious, incurable, and most often fatal. Each is caused by a separate virus, affecting the eat's immune system. To protect pets, concerned cat owners should be aware of each of these diseases and how they are spread.


~  Feline leukemia virus kills nearly one million cats per year, even though a vaccine has been available since 1985. The virus is contracted through close contact with an infected cat. It attacks and weakens the immune system, leaving it susceptible to many life- threatening infections, including FIP and FIV. Not all cats exposed to the virus become infected - some fight it off and become immune, and others become carriers, putting other cats at risk. Once a cat is permanently affected, though, FeL V shortens its life. It may cause tumors, blood abnormalities such as leukemia, or leave the cat open to infection from other diseases. About 83 percent of infected cats die within three years of exposure, and almost half of these die within the first year.


~Although identified a quarter of a century ago, the first big breakthrough for feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) did not occur until 1991 when the first vaccine was introduced. There is no cure for the disease and it kills nearly one-half million cats a year. Because there are no tests to distinguish it from other, less harmful, related feline viruses, FIP is easily misdiagnosed. Its symptoms - weight loss, lethargy and vomiting - are also misleading because they are common to many other diseases. Unfortunately, once symptoms are seen, it is generally too late for all but trying to ease the eat's suffering. There are several different forms of the virus, including a wet form resulting in fluid buildup in the chest or abdomen, a dry form which attacks more slowly with a general lack of observable signs, and a combination of these two forms. The FIP virus is especially hard on young cats six months to five years of age and on cats over eleven years old. Like FeL V, FIP is spread through direct contact between cats. Infection rates are also affected by stress, steroids crowding, malnutrition, and other infections such as FeLV or FIV.


~ Feline immunodeficiency virus belongs to the same subfamily of viruses as the virus that causes human AIDS (although no communicable to humans). FIV can lie dormant in cats for years before signs of illness appear. Two to six weeks after exposure to FIV, an infected cat may have a fever or swollen lymph nodes. The cat may then appear normal for years. But the last, and fatal stage brings on a weakened immune system and other infections such as FeLV and FIP. This can last for more than three years. FIV, as with FIP and FeLV, is spread through contact with an infected cat which, in the case of a kitten, may be it’s mother or father.

~What can be done to protect your cat from these three fatal diseases? Reliable tests are available for both FcLV and FIV. It is suggested that all new kittens and any cat not already tested should be tested for both viruses. If the tests are negative, the kitten or cat should be vaccinated for FeLV. An initial two doses, three weeks apart, followed by annual boosters are recommended. Since there is no FIV vaccine as of yet, protection can be maintained by keeping cats indoors, neutering male cats to reduce the urge to roam or fight, and having any new cat tested before introducing it into a household with other cats. The advent of the FIP vaccine for cats has aided cat owners in their fight against infectious diseases. Given as nose drops, the FIP vaccine should be given to healthy cats twelve weeks of age or older as two doses three weeks apart, followed by a yearly booster.


~ If you are unsure whether your cat has been tested or protected against FeLV, FIP, or FIV, or if you have any questions regarding these three major viral diseases of cats, check with your veterinarian, or feel free to call the Palmyra, Colonial Park, Silver Springs, or Pine Grove Animal Clinics for further information. Together we can make the lives of our pets longer and healthier.


Richard Hann, DVM


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