Vaccinating My Cat
There are a number of highly infectious and potentially
fatal diseases which can affect your cat.
However, for many of these conditions there is a simple protection in
the form of vaccinations. Ensuring that
your cat completes an initial course of vaccinations and then receives regular
booster jabs is important if you want to keep your cat fit and healthy. Just as
important as vaccination is the opportunity it gives us to examine your pet
before we administer the vaccine - obviously your pet must be in good health
before it can be inoculated. At the same
time, we are also very happy to advise you at this time regarding such matters
as feeding, worming, neutering and house training.
How do vaccines work?
Most vaccines are given by injection under the skin. A few vaccines may be given as a spray up
your cat’s nose. They all work by training
the white blood cells in your cat’s body how to recognise and attack the
viruses or bacteria contained in the vaccine.
This should prevent infection with that particular bug if your cat is in
contact with it again. Current vaccines
fall into two main categories:
• Live vaccines: these contain a strain of the bug which has
been altered so that it cannot cause disease but does stimulate immunity
• Dead vaccines: the bug in these has been killed by heat or
chemicals. Each type has their pros and
cons – live vaccines generally give better and longer-lasting protection but
they can sometimes cause more side effects.
Live vaccines are not recommended for certain groups of cats, such as
Which vaccinations does my cat need?
There are many vaccinations available for cats but not all
cats need all the vaccinations every year.
Nowadays, vaccines are classed as either ‘core’ or ‘non-core’. In general, ‘core’ vaccines are considered
those that should be given routinely to most cats because of the highly
infectious, widespread distribution and potential severity of the disease. ‘Non-core’ vaccines are considered those for
diseases against which, not every animal needs to be protected. The decision to use a ‘non-core’ vaccine
should be based on assessment of individual lifestyle and risk.
Lifestyle influencers are key to the risks of infectious
disease and useful questions to consider include:
What is the age and background of your cat?
Are there any other pets in the home?
Does your cat live in an urban or rural area?
Will your cat stay in a boarding cattery or attend cat
Does your cat live in a multicat household?
Is you’r cat a ‘stay at home’ cat or a gregarious, outdoor
These questions may have a direct relevance to determining
the appropriate vaccination program for your cat.
Almost regardless of the individual lifestyle of a cat, UK
vets recommend vaccination against herpesvirus, calicivirus and panleucopenia –
these are generally seen as ‘core’ vaccines.
The vast majority of UK cats spend some time outside and are therefore
at risk of catching feline leukaemia. As
a result, many UK experts regard leukaemia(FeLV) vaccination as ‘core’, and it
is certainly recommended. However, there
are a number of cats that never go outdoors and so can never encounter other
cats that carry the leukaemia virus. If
your cat is an indoor cat discuss the vaccination issue with your vet.
What vaccinations can my cat have?
Feline Panleucopenia (also called Feline distemper or Feline
Before the development of a safe vaccine, Feline
Panleucopenia was one of the biggest causes of death in cats. It is particularly dangerous for kittens and
young cats, when severe vomiting and diarrhoea can cause fatal dehydration
within 2-3 days of symptoms starting.
The virus is spread in infected faeces (droppings) and it can survive
for long periods in the environment.
Cat Flu (also called Feline viral rhinotracheitis, caused by
Feline calicivirus and herpesvirus)
Nearly all cases of respiratory disease in cats are caused
by one of two viruses; herpesvirus and calicivirus. Cat flu is only rarely fatal except in very
young or old cats and those which are already ill with some other disease. The effects are the same as in human flu – sneezing,
a runny nose and eyes – but mouth ulcers may also occur. Once infected a cat may carry the virus for a
long time and pose a risk to any unvaccinated cat it meets. Cats carrying the virus may not have any
symptoms or may have mouth ulcers or ‘snotty noses’ which never get
better. The protection given by
vaccination may be short-lived and sometimes your cat may need to be vaccinated
at six month intervals.
Feline Leukaemia (FeLV)
Feline Leukaemia is probably the most important viral
disease in cats. Not all cats that are
infected with the virus get the disease.
But, in those that do, it is almost always fatal and treatment can only
prolong the cat’s life. The disease
destroys the cat’s defences against other diseases and may cause fatal cancers. The virus is spread by direct contact with
other cats so any cat that goes outside or mixes with other cats is at risk.
Chlamydia is a disease which causes painful inflammation
(conjunctivitis), ulcers and discharge from the eyes. It may cause infertility in some female
cats. Young kittens with the disease may
have sore or runny eyes from a few weeks old.
It is mainly a problem where a large number of cats live together and
once a cattery is affected, the disease often keeps coming back. Cats living on their own are at low risk of
catching the disease. The disease can be
treated with a long course of antibiotics.
Vaccination against Rabies is compulsory in many countries
because of the risk of the risk of passing this horrible fatal disease to
humans. Vaccination is unnecessary for
cats in those countries which are free of rabies – the UK, Ireland, Australia,
New Zealand and Japan – except in those animals which are going to be exported
abroad. Cats in the UK may now be
vaccinated against rabies for travel to some European countries and can return
to the UK with waiver of the 6 month quarantine period under certain prescribed
conditions. Contact your vet for details
if you plan to travel abroad with your cat.
When should my cat be vaccinated?
Kittens are protected against many infectious diseases
through compounds called antibodies, which they receive in the first few hours
from their mother’s milk (colostrum).
Early vaccination is pointless because these antibodies prevent vaccines
working properly. However, by about
seven weeks, the immunity provided by the mother begins to wear off. Some kittens do not have good protection from
their mother and these may benefit from early vaccination. For most of the above diseases, kittens
should be given their first vaccination at about 8-9 weeks of age and then
given a second vaccination at about twelve weeks. Until your kitten has received all its
injections and for a few days after, it should not mix with other cats unless
you can be certain that they are free of disease.
Why do cats need repeat vaccinations?
Most vaccination courses start with two separate injections
about three weeks apart. This course
must be completed before your kitten is fully protected by the vaccine. The protection given by most vaccines wears
off in time and at different rates for each particular vaccine. The level of infection in the environment of
many of the diseases against which we vaccinate is low. This means that it is unlikely that a
vaccinated animal will come into contact with the wild strain virus
sufficiently frequently to receive natural boosts to its immunity. Repeated
vaccination is necessary to maintain adequate antibody titres in these cases.
If your cat has not been given a booster for more than two or three years, your
vet may think it is safer to start from scratch with a new course of
injections. It is particularly important
to make sure boosters are up to date in cats that fight regularly with other
cats. Most catteries will insist on
seeing proof of regular vaccinations before looking after your cat.
How often are vaccines given?
Protection afforded by vaccination is not necessarily
lifelong. The duration of immunity
varies depending on the circumstances of the individual animal and the vaccine
used. Long-term protection afforded by
vaccinations varies according to the manufacturer and the antigens
contained. This varies according to the
disease for which protection is required and the brand of vaccine used so ask
your vet to explain the specific requirements for your cat.
Do vaccines always work?
The quality of vaccines available today is very high but
occasionally an individual cat may not get the full protection from the
vaccine. This may be because the cat was
already ill or was stressed when it was vaccinated and it’s immune system
wasn’t working properly. Your vet will
examine your cat before vaccination and if any signs of illness are detected,
will delay vaccination until your cat is well again.
Can vaccinations be dangerous?
Often your cat may seem ‘off-colour’ for a day or two after
its vaccination and the injection site may also become tender or swollen. If these effects do not wear off it is worth
taking your cat back to see your vet.
If you are concerned about any symptoms in your cat do not
hesitate to contact your vet for reassurance or advice.
Infectious disease may not seem very common in cats because
most cats are protected by vaccination.
Your cat must receive regular vaccinations to be fully protected against