Does my cat need vaccines every three years?

By: Ask Dr. Watts – Dr. Michael Watts | Culpeper Star Exponent
Q: I have heard that my cat may only need vaccines every three years. Is that true?

A: It is impossible for anyone but your veterinarian to answer this question accurately. Vaccines are one of the main reasons pets are living longer today than ever before. Many serious or fatal diseases are rare today solely due to the widespread use of vaccines. However, not every cat or dog needs every existing vaccine each and every year.

Veterinarians must weigh the benefits of each vaccine against potential side effects. People work hard to become veterinarians in order to help animals. The thought of one of our vaccines causing harm is terrifying to most of us. As a result, the profession periodically evaluates existing vaccine protocols and recommendations. Years of study and debate have led to even more study and more debate.

One thing all veterinarians agree upon is that your pet should be seeing the doctor every six to twelve months for an examination and health consultation. An important part of these visits should be formulation of a disease prevention strategy. This way, your pet can benefit from the latest knowledge on vaccine benefits and risks. The information contained in this column does not substitute for an individual consultation with your family veterinarian.

All pets need a set of core vaccines. In cats, these core vaccines are panleukopenia (feline distemper), upper respiratory viruses (FVR-C), and rabies. In dogs the core vaccines are distemper/hepatitis/parvovirus (DHP or DAP), and rabies. If a pet has completed an initial series as a puppy or kitten and has received booster vaccines at one year of age, these core vaccines protect most pets for three years or more. However, your veterinarian may recommend more or less frequent boosters based on your pet’s particular risk factors and lifestyle.

Which non-core vaccines are right for your pet? After an examination and a detailed discussion of your pet’s lifestyle, your family veterinarian can formulate the best vaccine protocol for your particular pet. Cats that spend time outdoors are at high risk for being exposed to FeLV. Dogs that visit parks, groomers, kennels, or pet stores are at high risk for being exposed to bordetella and parainfluenza. The incidence of Lyme disease and leptospirosis is rising in Virginia. Some veterinarians may also recommend FIV, FIP, canine influenza, coronavirus, giardia, or other vaccines. For all non-core vaccines, annual boosters are important – sometimes more frequently for very high risk individuals.

Be prepared for vaccine recommendations to change from year to year. Weather patterns, emerging diseases, and advancing medical knowledge frequently change the risk to benefit ratios. As a pet owner your focus should be on developing a close relationship with your family veterinarian. Pet wellness depends upon so much more than vaccination. Proper nutrition, exercise, laboratory screening tests, parasite prevention, and dental care should also be individually tailored to your pet. The benefit is a happier, longer life for your pet… and maybe even for you and your family.

Q: Why does my veterinarian require a heartworm test every year? I am religious about giving the preventive medication.

A: Your veterinarian is following the published recommendation of the American Heartworm Society and all major manufacturers of heartworm preventives. The main reason is to detect heartworm infection in its earliest stages. Tests only pick of female heartworms that are six months of age or more. In actual use, no preventive product is 100% effective. Late doses and missed doses are common. Even “religious” use can be impacted by a dog vomiting a dose without the owner knowing, variability in absorption, or improper medication storage or shipping conditions. Just this month I diagnosed a dog with heartworm infection that had been negative last November (that’s only eight months ago if you’re counting). When paired with annual health screening bloodwork, the heartworm test is usually very inexpensive or even free. I would suggest following your veterinarian’s advice. He is looking out for the best interest of your dog.

Leave a Reply