Vaccinations For Cats
Kittens should be vaccinated from 9 weeks old and need two doses to be completely covered. A yearly booster vaccination is then required to ensure they remain protected, though not all parts of the vaccine are given every year as protection for some diseases lasts longer. The yearly vaccination appointment is also a great opportunity for a full examination to make sure your cat stays in the best shape possible.
Feline Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (Calicivirus + Herpesvirus type 1)
Calicivirus and herpesvirus are the two most common causes of upper respiratory tract infection in cats, known as "cat flu". They cause a wide range of symptoms including eye infections and ulcers, inflammation of the mouth and gums, ulcers in the mouth, snotty nose and sneezing. These symptoms can reduce the cats’ ability to smell and taste leading to weight loss. "Cat flu" is spread by direct contact between cats (via saliva, tears, discharge from the eyes and nose) and by shared resources (such as food bowls). Once infected, cats are never cured, but often experience relapses of infection through their lives especially in times of stress.
Panleukopenia virus causes severe diarrhoea and dehydration as well as a dangerously low white blood cell count (weakening the immune system). It is highly infectious and challenging to treat, but thankfully is very rare due to widespread vaccination.
Feline Leukaemia (FeLV)
Feline leukaemia virus infection causes severe depression of the immune system, anaemia, and can cause some types of cancer (such as lymphoma and leukaemia). Infected cats may not become ill straight away, but the majority die within a few years of diagnosis as there is no cure. Leukaemia virus is shed in saliva, and spreads through sharing food bowls, grooming, or fighting (via bite wounds). Vaccination is strongly recommended for outdoor cats, but all cats benefit from being protected. FeLV is easily diagnosed on a blood test, and this is advised for all stray cats with unknown vaccine history.
Rabies is not present in the UK, but vaccination is a requirement for any cats travelling abroad.
Do vaccines always work?
Vaccinations work by stimulating the immune system to make antibodies that protect against infection. For various reasons a small number of cats will not create a full protective response. Giving two doses to kittens helps increase the chance of a full immune response, as do yearly boosters throughout their life.
What if we don’t want to vaccinate?
Blood tests used in dogs to measure immunity (known as titre testing) are unfortunately unreliable in cats so are not recommended. The only way to be sure your cat is protected against disease is to have him or her vaccinated.
Are there any risks?
The most common side-effects from vaccination are lethargy and mild discomfort, sometimes accompanied by a mild fever. These usually resolve without treatment within 12-24 hours. Some cats may have mild irritation at the injection site or develop a small lump under the skin. This usually goes away within a couple of weeks.
Allergic reactions to vaccinations are very rare but can happen. Symptoms can include vomiting, difficulty breathing, swelling and collapse. Allergic reactions usually occur within an hour or two of the injection. If your cat appears unwell after a vaccine, please contact your practice immediately.
Injection-site sarcoma is a tumour that appears to be triggered by injections, including vaccinations. It is a rare phenomenon that is estimated to affect 1 in every 10,000 vaccinated cats. These tumours can be challenging to remove if not caught early, so please speak to your vet if you find any lumps on your cat.
Essential annual cat vaccinations are included in The Healthy Pet Club membership - please contact your practice to discuss and book your cat's vaccinations.