Vaccinating Your Cat
Frontier Veterinary Services recommend vaccination against herpes/ calicivirus (cat flu), panleucopenia (feline parvovirus) and the feline leukaemia virus. The leukaemia vaccine is not necessary for cats that live indoors and have no contact with other cats that go outside. In certain situations vaccination against Chlamydophila and Bordetella is advisable. Vaccination against rabies is only required for cats travelling abroad.
Which diseases do we vaccinate against?
• Herpesvirus and calicivirus disease (cat flu)
Feline herpesvirus and calicivirus are responsible for the majority of cases of cat flu. Clinical signs include fever, lack of appetite, sneezing, nasal discharge, coughing, conjunctivitis and mouth ulcers. Although most patients recover, the virus remains latent within the body resulting in recurrent bouts of cat flu, especially during periods of stress. Feline herpes virus can manifest itself in many painful and protracted ways on a cat’s eye when it flares up. Infected cats can continue to spread the virus and thereby infect other cats. The virus is unable to survive long periods in the environment therefore close contact with infected cats is required for virus transmission.
• Feline infectious enteritis (feline panleukopenia)
This virus causes a severe and often fatal disease characterised by severe vomiting, diarrhoea and immuno-suppression. When young or unborn kittens are infected permanent brain damage is usually seen. The virus is very resistant and can survive for several months in the environment and therefore be transmitted without direct contact between cats.
• Feline leukaemia virus (FeLV)
Cats infected with the feline leukaemia virus will frequently carry the virus for several years without showing any sign of disease. Despite the name of the virus, infection does not necessarily lead to leukaemia, but more often to a variety of fatal diseases such as anaemia, tumours and secondary infections. Feline leukaemia virus can only be transmitted through direct contact with another cat via saliva during mutual grooming, sharing of food bowls, mating and fighting. Unborn kittens may become infected via placental transmission.
• Chlamydophila felis
Chlamydophila felis is a bacterial infection causing conjunctivitis, sneezing and nasal discharge. Young kittens are most susceptible. Most cases are managed with appropriate antibiotics, rather than vaccination, but vaccination may be appropriate where there is an endemic problem within a multi-cat household.
• Bordetella bronchiseptica
Bordetella bronchiseptica is another bacterial infection causing respiratory disease such as coughing and pneumonia. In dogs this bacterium plays a role in kennel cough. Cats most at risk are those in multi-cat households, or cats that share their environment with dogs. Vaccination of ‘at risk’ cats may be done routinely or before boarding in a cattery (especially if the cattery also boards dogs). This vaccine is instilled into the nostrils, rather than given by injection, as it stimulates a local immunity in the respiratory passages.
Rabies vaccination is only indicated for animals travelling abroad, as the infection is not an endemic disease within the UK.
When should kittens be vaccinated?
All kittens and cats need a primary vaccination course consisting of two vaccinations three weeks apart. The first vaccination is usually given from nine weeks of age. Full protection starts about seven to ten days after the second vaccination has been given.
The two vaccinations are given to ensure a good immune response resulting in strong protection against the diseases mentioned. It also makes sure that maternal antibodies (antibodies received by the kitten from the mother’s first milk) do not stop the vaccination working. The maternal antibodies give the kitten some protection during the first few weeks of life until its immune system has matured, but unfortunately they interfere with the response to vaccination. The maternal antibody levels usually start to drop after six weeks. Giving two vaccination injections helps to catch the kitten at the times when it begins to need protection and can respond to the vaccine.
IT IS CRUCIAL THAT KITTENS RECEIVE A BOOSTER VACCINATION 12 MONTHS AFTER COMPLETION OF THEIR PRIMARY COURSE OF VACCINATIONS.
How often should cats be vaccinated?
The licensed duration of immunity is longer for some components of the vaccine than others. Feline herpesvirus, feline calicivirus and feline leukemia virus can be vaccinated against annually. Feline parvovirus can be vaccinated against every three years.
Why is a health check necessary before vaccination?
A cat responds most successfully to a vaccination if they are healthy at the time of vaccination.
The annual health check itself is important, as this allows us to detect any health problems early and to give advice with any healthcare issues you may have.
What are the risks of vaccination?
Vaccination is a very safe procedure and problems are only rarely encountered. Unusual reactions of the immune system (‘vaccine reactions’) are rarely reported and the risk of encountering one of the diseases we vaccinate for is far greater than the risk of a reaction to the vaccine.
Occasionally a small skin lump appears at the site of the vaccination, but this usually disappears within a few days or weeks. Other side effects of vaccination include lethargy, poor appetite and fever. These signs are usually mild and resolve with no treatment within a few days.
Very rarely the development of a tumour (fibrosarcoma) at the injection site can occur. This has been associated with FeLV vaccination. However as FeLV is common in ordinary domestic cats, our advice would be to vaccinate any cat which goes outdoors against FeLV.