There is a lot of initial health maintenance care to address in your kitten’s first six months, but things calm down after that. As we move through the life stages, I will be mentioning vaccine recommendations. Keep in mind that, as with all of the markers listed, these are generalized recommendations. Vaccine recommendations change from cat to cat, and in some situations we will recommend against vaccinating altogether (usually in the case of health issues).
Junior: This stage is similar to adolescence in humans. Junior kitties usually still have the playful attitude of a kitten, but they are starting to look more like an adult cat every day. The junior stage lasts from 7 months to 2 years of age. During this time your cat will finish their physical growth, and starting at this stage we recommend wellness exams on a yearly basis.
The major factor in maintaining wellness at this age is continuing on the path of healthy diet that you started on in the kitten stage, or getting there if you adopt your cat in the Junior stage and they’re eating a less than ideal diet. Again, we would prefer that these cats eat an entirely moist diet that is free of carbohydrates (canned or fresh frozen raw food), or a combination of dry and canned foods rather than a purely dry food based diet. This will help them stay hydrated and slim as they finish their growth.
If your kitten didn’t receive its first Rabies vaccine at 6 months, we recommend doing that in the first month or two of this life stage. Also, during this stage they will be due for their 1 year booster on their upper respiratory vaccine. The rabies vaccine we use here needs to be repeated yearly, and after the first one year booster the upper respiratory vaccine is every three years. The same is true for feline leukemia for cats who get this vaccine (a one year booster followed by boosters every three years), and cats who are never exposed to other cats should not receive this vaccine. Unless there are health issues or other concerns, these are our general vaccine recommendations for young, healthy cats. As your cat ages, we will potentially talk about reducing vaccine frequency or running titer tests in lieu of vaccines. Titer tests measure the level of antibodies to a particular disease within your cat’s bloodstream. If the antibody levels are at a certain level, we assume they are protected and forego vaccination.
The other important considerations are deworming and combo (Feline leukemia/FIV) testing. If your kitty is an indoor only cat that does not get into fights and had a negative combo test as a kitten, there is no need to continue routine screening. If your cat goes outside, we do recommend yearly combo testing since they have a chance of being exposed. We also recommend regular deworming for both your and your cat’s health. Some intestinal parasites can be transmitted to humans (particularly the very young, the very old, and the immune compromised), so it is important to keep your cat free of parasites for that reason. Indoor cats generally only need to be dewormed once yearly, but cats who hunt in or out of doors, and cats who spend time outside should be dewormed every six months as their chances of getting worms are much greater than their indoor peers.
Prime: As your cat enters the prime of their life at 3 through 6 years of age, one of the primary ways you can keep them healthy is weight management. Over half of the pet cats in this country are overweight which can have serious health consequences. Being overweight contributes to diseases such as diabetes in cats and dramatically increases wear and tear on the joints. Cats will often have arthritis in their elbows as they age, and a significant contributor to this is increased landing forces on their forelegs from being overweight. If you’ve already been following the guidelines of feeding a carbohydrate free raw or canned diet, you are well on your way toward healthy weight promotion.
We continue to recommend yearly or biannual deworming depending on your cats lifestyle, and yearly combo testing for cats with outdoor access. It is in this stage of life where we start to discuss performing titers over frequent revaccination to help decrease your cat’s overall load of reactive substances in their body. If you didn’t know already, vaccines work by inciting the body to react to a substance that we inject or otherwise expose the body to. Through this reaction we incite the body to form antibodies in the blood stream or on a mucous membrane that will help to protect them from the disease should they come in contact with it. This is an excellent practice in moderation and when applied discerningly, but there is little need to continue to vaccinate if the body is continuing to produce antibodies. The schedules that we use to recommend revaccination are based on a general idea of how long the antibody production from vaccines usually lasts, but my own experience with using antibody titers has shown me that many of my patients hold an immunity to the diseases for which we are vaccinating for much longer than one or three years.
At this stage we continue to recommend yearly wellness exams to make sure we intervene before small issues become big problems as well as to assess risks and properly recommend preventative therapies such as deworming and any necessary vaccines or testing.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns about your cat, please call us!
To be continued!
– Dr. Erika Raines, DVM, CVA, CVSMT