So what about the non-core vaccines for cats? The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has 7 vaccines on the non-core list: rabies, feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), Chlamydophila felis, Bordetella bronchiseptica, feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), and dermatophyte vaccines. As I have done with the other diseases, I will briefly cover each one before sharing the AAFP’s vaccine recommendations. For information about rabies, please read my previous post about this disease. Remember, rabies is required for cats spending any time indoors in the state of Pennsylvania, so even though AAFP lists it as a non-core vaccine, the law here says otherwise.
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV): this disease is caused by a retrovirus that is very common in the cat population but is unstable outside of the cat and can be easily killed with most disinfectants. It is passed from infected cats to non-infected cats by saliva (so sharing food dishes and licking), bite wounds, and from mother to kittens in the womb. Most cats exposed to the virus will fight it off and be immune. In cats that cannot fight it off, the virus invades the bone marrow and other tissues. It may lie dormant and become active during periods of stress. The virus makes cats susceptible to other infections and hampers the immune system’s ability to defeat invaders. Infection with the virus can also lead to a type of cancer called lymphoma. Most infected cats (85%) die within 3 years of being diagnosed. There is no cure for the disease, and ill cats are given supportive care for secondary infections or chemotherapy if lymphoma is present. A simple blood test can be done to determine if a kitten or adult cat is positive for the virus. If negative, a vaccine is available. The vaccine is not recommended for positive cats.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV): this cat-only virus is closely related to HIV, the human virus that causes AIDS. Unlike FeLV, FIV is not spread by casual contact such as sharing food bowls or grooming. The virus is usually spread via a deep bite wound or sexual contact. Mother cats will only transmit the virus to kittens during the initial phase of infection. A screening test can be done with a blood sample in your vet’s office. If your cat tests positive, a follow-up test called a Western Blot should be done to confirm the result. Cats that are confirmed positive live an average of 5 years from diagnosis. Because this virus suppresses the immune system, FIV-positive cats are more susceptible to infections. I want to stress again that this virus cannot be transmitted to people, just as people cannot transmit HIV to animals.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP): this is another cat-only virus that is very tricky. Most forms of the circulating feline coronavirus (FCoV) cause minimal illness such as mild diarrhea. Other forms of the virus are more dangerous and cause the disease we know as FIP. Cats shed the virus in their fecal matter, and cats become infected after contact with infected stool. Some cats infected with the virulent virus are able to fight it and do not become ill but are carriers of the virus. Other cats develop a waxing-waning fever, listlessness, loss of appetite, and weight loss. In addition, cats with the effusive or “wet” form of the disease develop fluid accumulation in their chest and abdominal cavities. Testing for this disease is complicated because many cats have been exposed to a FCoV and will test positive even though they may not have true FIP. Treatment is also difficult, and mostly we provide supportive care.
Chlamydophila felis and Bordetella bronchiseptica: both of these bacteria are sometimes involved in the upper respiratory infection. I discussed this complex last week, and you can review that information here.
Dermatophytes: this is an infection caused by a fungus, commonly known as “ringworm,” even though there are no worms involved! Many species of animals can develop skin infections from this group of fungi, including people. The fungus causes a round lesion with a red, crusty rim and normal skin in the middle in people. In animals, the lesion is usually more like a grey, dry, scaly patch. Cats with skin lesions are dropping hair with infectious spores on it into their environment, which can lead to infection in other animals or people. There are both oral and topical treatments for cats and people. The fungus can live in the environment for as long as 18 months, so it’s also very important to remove and clean bedding, toys, furniture, and other items with which the cat has come into contact.
AAFP Recommendations for Vaccination:
Dermatophyte vaccines are currently licensed for cats in Europe but not in the U.S. or Canada. The AAFP Guidelines state that there is little information about how well these vaccines prevent infection with dermatophytes. Therefore, they don’t currently recommend use of this vaccine. Likewise, although there is a licensed vaccine for FIP in cats, the advisory panel does not recommend its use due to lack of evidence the vaccine provides protection against disease. For the FIV vaccine, the panel advises use only in cats with high exposure risk, such as those living outdoors or in a home with an FIV-infected cat. It’s important to note that if this vaccine is given to a cat, the current tests will not distinguish between infection and vaccination.
FeLV vaccination: new recommendations in this version of the Guidelines state that a series of two vaccines given 3-4 weeks apart is suggested for ALL kittens. Cats that go on to live only indoors in an FeLV-negative home should receive a 1-year booster but then may discontinue the vaccine. Cats that live outdoors or with an FeLV-positive cat should receive the 1-year booster, then continue the vaccine yearly. The panel notes that in Europe, vaccination of cats after the age of 3-4 is recommended every 2-3 years.
Whew! We did it, made it through all of these tongue-twisting diseases! Later this week I’ll write about an exciting development in vaccine philosophy and practice, antibody titer tests.