One of the very best things you can do to give your cat a long and healthy life is to ensure that he or she is vaccinated against common feline diseases. A cat’s mother gives her kitten immunity from disease for the first few weeks of existence by providing disease-fighting antibodies in her milk. After that period it’s up to you – with the help and advice of your veterinarian – to provide that protection.
At Mona Vale Vets, we believe in tailoring the vaccination schedule to each individual cat. Such factors as species, breed, age, disease status, presence of inter-current diseases, vaccination history of in-contact animals, and life style all are important in determining the appropriate vaccination strategy for your pet.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines contain small quantities of altered or “killed” viruses, bacteria or other disease-causing organisms. When administered, they stimulate your cat’s immune system to produce disease-fighting cells and proteins – or antibodies – to protect against disease.
When should my cat be vaccinated?
Generally, the immunity that a kitten gains from their mother’s milk begins to diminish after 8-9 weeks. It is then time to begin the initial vaccinations, usually a course of 2 or 3 injections given 3 to 4 weeks apart. Thereafter, your cat will require repeat vaccinations for the rest of his or her life. Of course, these are only guidelines – your veterinarian will be able to determine the exact schedule that’s right for your pet.
Which vaccinations should my cat receive?
Most veterinarians believe that your pet should be protected against those diseases which are most common, highly contagious and which cause serious illness.
Such diseases could include Feline Panleucopaenia, Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Feline Calicivirus, Feline Chlamydiosis and Feline Leukaemia. Other vaccinations may be recommended, based on your veterinarian’s evaluation of the risks posed by such factors as your cat’s particular heredity, environment and lifestyle.
Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (“Cat Flu”)
Just as with the human common cold, the virus that causes this upper respiratory-tract infection is easily transmitted from one cat to another, so vaccination is imperative if your pet will come in contact with other cats. Its symptoms may take the form of moderate fever, loss of appetite, sneezing, eye and nasal discharges and coughing. Kittens are particularly affected, but this disease can be dangerous in any unprotected cat, as effective treatment is limited. Even if a cat recovers, it can remain a carrier for life.
Feline Calicivirus (“Cat Flu”)
This virus is another major cause of upper respiratory-tract infection in cats. Widespread and highly contagious, its symptoms of fever, ulcers and blisters on the tongue and pneumonia can range from mild to severe, depending on the strain of virus present. Once again, treatment of this disease can be difficult. Even if recovery does take place, a recovered cat can continue to infect other animals, as well as experience chronic sneezing and runny eyes. Vaccination is therefore tremendously important.
Sometimes known as feline infectious enteritis, this disease is caused by a virus so resistant, it can survive up to one year outside a cat’s body! Therefore, as most cats will be exposed to it during their lifetime and infection rates in unprotected cats can run as high as 90% to 100%, vaccination against this potentially fatal disease is absolutely essential. Symptoms can include listlessness, diarrhoea, vomiting, severe dehydration and fever. Happily, the vaccine itself is very effective in preventing the disease, as treatment is very difficult and, even if recovery takes place for a period of time, a once- infected cat can spread the disease to other, unvaccinated animals.
Feline Leukaemia (FeLV)
Infection with the Feline Leukaemia Virus can result in a multitude of serious health problems for your cat – everything from cancerous conditions such as leukemia to a wide range of secondary infections caused by the destruction of the immune response system. After initial exposure to the virus, a cat may show no symptoms of its presence for months, if not years, yet all the while infect others. Testing is available to determine the FeLV status of your cat. If he or she has not yet been infected, but is likely to come in contact with cats that are, vaccination against this potentially fatal disease is highly recommended.
This bacterial disease is responsible for 15 to 20% of all feline respiratory diseases, and is mostly seen in multi-cat environments. It is extremely contagious, especially in young kittens and the infection rate is very high. It causes a local infection of the mucous membranes of the eyes but may also involve the lungs. Chlamydiosis can rarely be transmitted to humans by direct contact. Vaccination is the preferred method for prevention.
After evaluating your cat’s particular situation and risk factors, your veterinarian may also recommend vaccination against other infectious diseases. These might include:
FELINE IMMUNODEFICIENCY VIRUS (FIV), is mainly transmitted in deep bite wounds and scratches by infected cats, and can cause debilitation of the immune system leading to disease in various organs and chronic infections. A decision to vaccinate should be made after discussion with a veterinarian and consideration of the risk of the disease versus the effectiveness of the vaccine
How effective is vaccination?
Like any drug treatment or surgical procedure, vaccinations cannot be 100% guaranteed. However, used in conjunction with proper nutrition and acceptable sanitary conditions, vaccination is clearly your pet’s best defence against disease. Plus, when you consider what treating a serious illness can cost you and your beloved cat in terms of both money and distress, prevention through vaccination is extremely cost-effective.
What about Titre testing vs vaccination?
Unfortunately, a cat’s immune system is not the same as dogs and so titre testing is deemed not as useful in assessing immunity to disease. There are titre tests available to test immunity to Feline Panleucopenia but none that test reliably against the many strains of cat flu or other diseases.Fortunately, it is generally easier to keep cats isolated and thus significantly reduce the risks of catching infectious disease if vaccination is not appropriate.