Tiny kittens bring big smiles to our faces. If you have a new cat at home, vaccines are important for keeping them healthy for many years with your family. In this episode, Dr. Alina Barland, family veterinarian, discusses core vaccines for kittens and common questions from new kitten owners.
Welcome Back, Dr. Alina Barland
[00:01:05] Dr. Lancellotti: Welcome, everyone, to today’s episode of Your Vet Wants You To Know. I am joined, again, by the lovely Dr. Alina Barland, who is not only a fantastic veterinarian, she also is my sister-in-law. Thank you very much for joining us, Dr. Barland.
[00:01:19] Dr. Barland: It’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me back.
[00:01:22] Dr. Lancellotti: Can you tell our listeners a little bit about your background and what it is that you do on a daily basis?
[00:01:28] Dr. Barland: Yeah. So I’ve been a veterinarian working in general practice for over eight years, both in corporate and private practice. Currently, I am doing relief for several veterinary clinics. Originally, I come from New York, but have since relocated to Los Angeles with my family. I love to travel, did a really great cross country trip when we moved out to California, and I just really enjoy practicing small animal medicine.
[00:02:00] Dr. Lancellotti: I’m really happy that you’re in Los Angeles and so close by. It makes me really happy.
[00:02:06] Dr. Barland: Me too.
We Love Kitten Visits!
[00:02:08] Dr. Lancellotti: We talked a little bit about puppies, on the last episode, and what their core vaccines are. And now we’re going to be talking about kittens.
[00:02:16] Dr. Barland: Yes. Last time, we talked about how much I love puppy vaccine appointments. Well, I also love kitten vaccine appointments. I just love watching these tiny little kittens grow from little gremlins to adult cats with personality. Each one is always so different, and there’s really nothing that you can’t like about a kitten appointment. Everyone looks forward to it.
[00:02:40] Dr. Lancellotti: How many times do you try to fit kittens into your pocket of your scrubs or your lab coat?
[00:02:46] Dr. Barland: Oh, on the daily. If they fit.
Why are kitten vaccines important?
[00:02:52] Dr. Lancellotti: I know you don’t just have fun snuggling the kittens when they come in for their appointments. It’s also important for us to take care of them, so we’re going to be talking about vaccines. Tell me a little bit about why it’s so important for them to get their vaccines.
[00:03:05] Dr. Barland: We’re going to go over the importance of kittens getting vaccinated and the appropriate timing of the vaccines. I’ve encountered and treated many cases of preventable infectious disease in young un-vaccinated kittens, and even in adult cats. And while most of these diseases cause treatable illness, some of them can actually be fatal. This is why it’s always so heartbreaking, as they are completely preventable with proper vaccination.
[00:03:35] Dr. Lancellotti: Are there any particular cases that stick out in your mind when you think about the importance of these kitten vaccines and why we’re working so hard to prevent these diseases?
[00:03:47] Dr. Barland: Yeah. When I was a new graduate, working in rural Pennsylvania, I saw a staggering amount of infectious disease coming from pet stores, breeders, catteries, transport and rescue operations, etc. And even just from strays being picked up off the street. You could tell. You would take one look at these kittens, with their crusty faces and mucusy noses, and be able to tell that there was something going on there. The majority of the kittens actually did pretty well with treatment, but some did have long-term complications from latent viral disease. Even still, some unfortunately did not survive, despite treatment- especially, those that advanced to bone marrow suppression or had contracted feline leukemia virus- which can be deadly.
[00:04:36] Dr. Lancellotti: And I see you have a picture for us of a kitten with that kind of crusty face and squinty eyes that you’re describing.
[00:04:46] Dr. Barland: Exactly. It’s a pretty telltale sign, when you see one of those kittens, that something’s going on there and that it’s probably an infectious disease.
Kitten Vaccines Protect Against Preventable Disease
[00:04:56] Dr. Lancellotti: Do any of those kittens that you saw really stick with you?
[00:04:59] Dr. Barland: Yes. There was one Sphinx cat that I remember very well. It was a cat named Lulu, a patient of mine here in Los Angeles. Lulu was a male cat who was loved very much, but would end up at the hospital about every month with a flare up of his feline herpes virus that he’d been diagnosed with as a kitten. Originally, it was just mild upper respiratory tract infections, but as he kept getting them over and over, they would just get worse and worse. He was such a sweet kitty and such a trooper. He went through so many diagnostics and treatments, to try to figure out what the best way to treat him would be. There really is no cure for herpes virus. Many cats have it and only have mild respiratory signs, but sometimes, it can become very severe. In Lulu’s case, it had reached the point where even the specialists could not keep the infections from returning. Actually, he ended up being admitted to the ICU with respiratory distress and eventually passed away from pneumonia. So that was a really sad case and really highlighted, for me, the importance of proper vaccination early on.
[00:06:16] Dr. Lancellotti: Yeah. It’s really heartbreaking when we lose these animals to a preventable disease.
[00:06:21] Dr. Barland: That’s right.
Which Vaccines Should My Kitten Get?
[00:06:22] Dr. Lancellotti: So how does a veterinarian determine which vaccines a kitten should receive and when they should receive those vaccines?
[00:06:30] Dr. Barland: The vaccine schedule is created considering the kittens’ age-based immunity, lifestyle, and risk factors. There’s no universal vaccine protocol. However, many practices reference the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) vaccination guidelines, so we typically go based off of those.
[00:06:53] Dr. Lancellotti: And we’ll have a link to those AAHA vaccination guidelines, for pet owners who are interested in learning more about what the vaccine recommendations are and what it is that veterinarians are using to guide their treatment plan for your pet. We typically divide our vaccines into core vaccines and non-core vaccines. Can you describe to pet owners what those core vaccines are and why almost every cat (regardless of what their lifestyle is, whether they’re indoor only or indoor/outdoor) should receive those core vaccines?
[00:07:29] Dr. Barland: Yeah. Core vaccines include the vaccination for feline panleukopenia (feline distemper or feline parvovirus), feline viral rhinotracheitis (herpes virus type 1), feline calicivirus, feline leukemia virus, and the rabies virus. These infectious diseases can cause severe respiratory and neurologic clinical signs, among others. Since rabies is a deadly disease that can be transferred to humans, vaccination is required, by law, in many states. And it is imperative for every cat to receive these vaccines (even if they’re just indoors), if they’re not medically exempt, in order to obtain immunity to these sometimes fatal, but completely preventable viruses.
[00:08:21] Dr. Lancellotti: And I think a lot of people here in the United States don’t think about rabies as much as veterinarians do. We get drilled in vet school about just how destructive and awful this virus is, if an animal does contract it, because there is literally no treatment for rabies. And I’ll have a guest on next week to be talking more about rabies and go into detail about why it is so important for these animals to be protected from that particular virus.
When Should My Kitten Get Vaccinated?
Dr. Lancellotti: How old would you recommend that a kitten is when they’re receiving their first core vaccines?
[00:08:59] Dr. Barland: Core vaccines are usually started at 6-8 weeks. However, it can be initiated after this age. One of the most important things to remember, when you have an un-vaccinated kitten, is to restrict the kitten’s environment to your home and restrict their contact with all other unknown or potentially un-vaccinated animals- as well as their eliminations (poop and pee). That means no mingling with the local kitty strays and it’s best to just keep them inside of your home.
[00:09:29] Dr. Lancellotti: No late night cat parties. Huh?
[00:09:30] Dr. Barland: That’s right. The other thing to remember is to stick with the timing of your vet’s vaccine schedule. It’s so important to keep getting those booster vaccines every 2-4 weeks, until after they’re old enough to have developed the appropriate immunity- usually, between 16-20 weeks. After the last vaccine booster, they’ll be due about every 1-3 years.
When Should My Kitten Meet Other Pets?
[00:09:55] Dr. Lancellotti: You talked a little bit about keeping the kittens separate from potentially un-vaccinated animals. What about other animals in the household that the pet owner knows are vaccinated?
[00:10:08] Dr. Barland: That is actually a question that a lot of pet owners ask me. “Is it safe to introduce my older cat to my new kitten?” It is best to wait until they’ve at least been tested for some of the infectious diseases (especially, feline immuno deficiency, virus, and feline leukemia virus). Behaviorally speaking, it is also best to do a slow introduction, in order to successfully acclimate them. Generally, it is safe to introduce them, once the kitten has received the initial core vaccines, supposing that the older cat is free of infectious disease. But we may want to prolong that introduction period.
[00:10:48] Dr. Lancellotti: It sounds like that would be a great question for pet owners to talk to their family veterinarian about and figure out, for their specific situation, the best way to introduce older animals to the new animal in the household.
Which Non-core Vaccines Should My Kitten Get?
Dr. Lancellotti: So we talked a little bit about the core vaccines, but a pet’s individual lifestyle can also influence the veterinarian’s recommendations for additional (non-core) vaccines, based on what diseases that animal may be at risk of acquiring. What are some of those lifestyle factors that the veterinarian thinks about and what diseases might they be concerned for?
[00:11:25] Dr. Barland: The vaccine for feline leukemia virus is part of the initial core vaccines. However, after the kitten stage, it is considered a non-core vaccine and is only recommended every year for those cats that will have ongoing exposure to feline leukemia-positive cats (usually strays). Or, every 2-3 years as a precaution, if that’s not the case. Sometimes, we just don’t know when our cats are going to get out. So for those cats that are real ‘Houdinis’ and try to escape often, it’s probably best to keep them updated with feline leukemia vaccine.
[00:12:02] Dr. Lancellotti: And have them microchipped, too.
Can I Do Vaccine Titers for My Pet Cat?
Dr. Lancellotti: What about for pet owners who are considering doing antibody testing, to see if their pet still has a level of immunity to those diseases that they’ve previously been vaccinated for? Can you tell us a little bit about antibody testing and which diseases this can be used for to determine protection?
[00:12:25] Dr. Barland: Yeah. While antibody testing has increased in demand in recent years, unfortunately, it’s not a feasible option for determining immunity, with most of these feline infectious diseases, like it can be, in dogs. In cats, not so much.
[00:12:40] Dr. Lancellotti: That’s very good to know.
Vaccines and Wellness Visits are Important
Dr. Lancellotti: As far as vaccination and keeping our little kitties as safe as possible, what are some of the big takeaway points that you’d like pet owners to remember?
[00:12:51] Dr. Barland: Vaccination is so crucial to the health and wellbeing of our pets. If you cannot afford vaccination for your cats, there are many low cost options. You can search for your local animal shelter, humane society, or SPCA and find something fairly easily. There are other advantages besides protection. Bringing your kitten in regularly is so important, in order to acclimate them to the veterinary hospital and staff. Some hospitals will do happy visits, where the kitten comes in just to get familiar with our surroundings (and the people in the hospital) without receiving any treatments. The kitten stage is just so important and such a crucial time for doing those regular vet visits. It’s just to help socialize them, desensitize them, and create those desired behaviors that will be ingrained in your kitten for life.
[00:13:46] Dr. Lancellotti: I love ‘happy visits.’ I think they’re just the best thing for our patients. But also, when you have a kitten come in for a happy visit, it’s not just a happy visit for that kitten. It’s also a happy visit for all of the veterinary staff, as well. They really do bring so much joy to our day, when we see a happy and healthy animal come in, get to know us, and get comfortable with us, so that they’re not afraid when something is wrong and we need to take care of them when they’re sick.
Ask Your Veterinarian About Your Kitten
[00:14:13] Dr. Barland: The other thing is to please listen to your veterinarian and vet staff regarding the appropriate vaccine schedule for your kitten. I say this because I do often see that pet owners are told different things by their breeders, their friends, Facebook groups, and even pet-store clerks. Veterinarians are trained professionals and they are only looking out for your pet’s best interests and would love to see them live a long, happy, and healthy life. I think it is just best to follow their recommendations.
[00:14:45] Dr. Lancellotti: Yeah. You’ve given pet owners a lot of really good information here, to be able to go back to their family veterinarian and ask those questions about what’s right for their specific kitten.
[00:14:54] Dr. Barland: Absolutely.
[00:14:55] Dr. Lancellotti: Are there any other words of wisdom that you want to impart on our listeners today?
[00:15:00] Dr. Barland: Yeah. I do want to say that when you’re looking for a new family member, it’s so important to look for those cats that are in need of homes. The whole “adopt, don’t shop” statement fits in here. There are so many dogs and cats in need of homes right now. Rather than buying your pet from Craigslist, I think it is really worth considering adopting them from a reputable organization or shelter. You can definitely avoid a huge risk with unknown medical history or exposure that way too.
[00:15:31] Dr. Lancellotti: Yeah, there are a lot of really amazing shelter veterinarians working so hard to keep these animals healthy, while they’re waiting to find their forever homes. Please check out your local animal shelter to find out what animals are available in your community that need a good home. If you have already adopted a kitten and brought it into your home, I would love for you to join the Facebook group and share your kitten pictures and videos. One thing that just makes me smile from ear to ear is videos of kittens doing zoomies around the house, running as fast as they possibly can at some invisible, imaginary, ‘whatever.’ When they just get so nuts, it just makes me smile uncontrollably. So please join the Facebook group and share all of that joy with everybody else out there who’s got those little kittens.
Scratching the Itch
[00:16:38] Dr. Lancellotti: I like to end each episode of the podcast with a segment called Scratching The Itch. It’s a segment that highlights something, whether it’s a human interest story, a product, a website- something that just provides relief or makes you feel good. Hence, scratching the itch. Dr. Barland, do you have a ‘scratching the itch’ for us today?
[00:16:57] Dr. Barland: I do. When I have a full schedule, which is every week, as a mom to a toddler, I (understandably) get very tired at the end of the day. Something that helps me unwind and ‘scratch the itch’ is doing a 15-20 minute yoga routine at the very end of the day, right before heading to bed. My husband actually started doing this and got me into it. So I joined in. It just helps to reset my brain, stretch my fatigued muscles, and generally, it makes me feel good.
[00:17:29] Dr. Lancellotti: Oh, that’s a nice thing to do. Yeah. A good stretch right before bed is a great way to wind down and just tell your body, “Okay. That’s it. It’s time to rest.” Well, thank you very much for coming on the show today and telling everybody about our kitten vaccines. I hope that people got some really good information about this, and that they’re able to go back and talk to their family veterinarian about the particular recommendations for their cat.
[00:17:52] Dr. Barland: Thank you for having me.
[00:17:54] Dr. Lancellotti: And for everyone listening, I look forward to your next visit with Your Vet Wants You To Know.
- 2020 AAHA/AAFP Feline Vaccination Guidelines