The Importance of Vaccinating Your Cat

The Importance of Vaccinating Your Cat

Modern vaccinations can protect your cat against a number of potentially fatal diseases, and are a small cost to bear in order to help keep your feline companion fit and healthy for many years to come. It is estimated that only about one third of the UK cat population is currently vaccinated, but as responsible cat owners, we can help to minimise the spread of these diseases by keeping our cats' vaccination programmes up to date. Cat owners are sometimes concerned about potential side effects from vaccinating their cat, although these tend to occur only in extremely rare cases, and the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks.

If you have bought a pedigree kitten from a reputable breeder, it will already have been vaccinated. The initial jabs are done at 9-10 weeks old, and the second one three weeks later, which is one of the mains reasons that the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) recommends that new kittens do not go to their new home before they are 13 weeks old. Most cats and kittens from registered cat sanctuaries will also have been vaccinated before you can take them home, but you might adopt a stray cat, or perhaps take one on in a situation where you don't know the background, and in these cases it is always advisable to get them checked out and vaccinated by your Vet as soon as possible, and ideally before meeting any other cats that you might have.

The main diseases to be vaccinated against in the UK are:

  • Feline Infectious Enteritis (FIE) - also known as feline panleukopenia or occasionally as feline parvovirus. This is a highly infectious gastrointestinal disease, and the symptoms of severe vomiting and diarrhoea come on so suddenly that an affected cat can die in less than 24 hours. There is unfortunately no cure for it, and it will quickly affect all other cats in the household. Fortunately it is nothing like as prevalent as it was 40 or 50 years ago, thanks to an effective vaccine which has dramatically reduced the number of instances.
  • Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR) and Feline Calicivirus (FCV). These two viruses are very common, and are the main cause of feline upper respiratory tract infection, popularly known as cat flu. There is no direct connection with human flu, but it can come in various forms from the equivalent of a human cold to more severe varieties of full-blown cat flu. Symptoms can include sneezing, nasal discharge, coughing, conjunctivitis and a sore throat, and unlike in humans, if your cat is displaying signs of a 'cold' you should take him to your Vet as quickly as possible, as it can often be successfully treated by antibiotics if you catch it early enough. It tends to be fatal only in the most extreme cases, although even if your cat appears to make a full recovery, there is always the risk that they will become a 'carrier' and pass the virus on to other cats or even to small kittens who are very susceptible to cat flu. As with human flu, the vaccine will not be effective against every variety of cat flu, but it will catch the major known strains of it.

If you want to take your cats to a boarding cattery whilst you are away on holiday, any reputable cattery will ask to see certificates of vaccination against FIE, FVR and FCV, with up-to-date 'boosters' recorded at least 7 days before their arrival. You will also be expected to produce current vaccination certificates if you show your cats, and most insurance companies will charge a far higher premium if your cat is not vaccinated. Although vaccination does not guarantee 100% immunity against any disease (any more than human vaccinations do), it certainly helps to minimise the risk, alongside responsible day-to-day cat ownership.

  • Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV). The development of a vaccine against FeLV was a major breakthrough in feline medicine, as this disease was becoming extremely prevalent. It is very contagious and passed on via feline bodily fluids such as blood, saliva and urine, although the virus cannot live outside of the cat for long. Once a cat has contracted the disease there is no cure for it, and it will probably not survive for more than about 3 years, during which time it can pass on the disease to other non-affected cats. FeLV breaks down the immune system, and affected cats may also develop tumours. The success rate of this vaccine is high, and is particularly important if your cat goes out at all. If you are a breeder, any responsible stud owner will probably want to see a vaccination certificate against FeLV (as well as for FIE, FVR and FCV), and will also ask you to have your cat tested to show that it is not carrying the disease within 24 hours of going to stud.

The above 3 vaccinations are the most common and important, although if you are a breeder it is wise to have your breeding queens vaccinated against Feline Chlamydophilosis (often just referred to as Chlamydia) as if they were to contract this disease it could have a long term effect on their ability to breed, or to produce good healthy kittens. This is another disease transmitted by close contact between cats, and even if you do not realise your cat has picked it up, she could be a carrier and pass it on to small kittens that would not be able to fight it off.

There is also a vaccine against rabies, but unless you are planning on taking your cat abroad, this is not currently necessary in the UK as this country is still rabies-free.

But whichever vaccines you have, talk to your Vet about exactly which type to choose. There are 'live' and 'dead' vaccines and your Vet will be able to explain the differences and help you to reach a more informed decision about what is best for your cat. You will need to have your cat vaccinated each year with a 'booster', and once your pet is registered at your chosen Veterinary Surgery, many send out a reminder each year when this is due.



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