One of the very best things you can do to give your cat a long and healthy life is to ensure that he/she is vaccinated against common and serious feline infectious diseases. Your cat’s mother gave 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 veterinary surgeon – to provide that protection.
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.
Generally, the immunity that a kitten has at birth only lasts for a few weeks. It is then time to begin vaccination. The first vaccination is usually given in two doses, the first dose at around the age of 8-10 weeks and the second about 3-4 weeks later. Thereafter, your cat will require annual ‘booster’ vaccinations for the rest of his/her life to maintain protection. Of course, these are only guidelines – your veterinary surgeon will be able to determine the exact schedule that’s right for your pet.
Your pet should be protected against those diseases which are most common, highly contagious and which cause serious illness or death. Such diseases include feline panleucopaenia, cat flu which may be caused by feline herpesvirus, feline calicivirus and feline leukaemia. Feline chlamydiosis, Bordetella bronchiseptica (another potential cause of cat flu) or rabies vaccination may also be recommended, based on your veterinary surgeon’s evaluation of the risks posed by such factors as your cat’s age, particular environment and lifestyle.
Just as with the human common cold, the virus that causes this upper respiratory-tract infection (‘cat flu’) 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 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 will remain a carrier and in some cases can have recurrent health problems (and particulary in relation to the eyes) for life.
This virus is another major cause of upper respiratory-tract infection (‘cat flu’) in cats. Widespread and highly contagious, its signs are variable and can include respiratory signs such as conjunctivitis and sneezing but fever, ulcers on the tongue and sometimes lameness can occur sometimes without respiratory signs. Illness 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 for a considerable period of weeks or months, and sometimes lifelong., as well as experience chronic sneezing and runny eyes. Long-standing severe gum disease has also been linked to this infection. Vaccination is therefore tremendously important.
This disease is caused by a virus so resistant, it can survive for a year or more outside a cat’s body in the environment. Modern strains of the very similar canine parvovirus can also lead to this disease in susceptible cats. It is therefore vital that cats are adequately protected against this potentially fatal. Signs 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 several weeks, a recovered cat can spread the disease to other, unvaccinated animals.
Infection with the Feline Leukaemia Virus can result in a multitude of serious health problems for your cat – everything from cancerous conditions such as lymphoma, through serious anaemias to a wide range of secondary infections caused by the an impaired immune system. After initial exposure to the virus, a cat may show no signs of its presence for months, if not years, yet all the while infecting 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 into contact with cats that are, vaccination against this potentially fatal disease is highly recommended.
After evaluating your cat’s particular situation and risk factors, your veterinary surgeon may also recommend vaccination against other infectious diseases. These might include:
This bacterial disease is the most common cause of conjunctivitis in cats. It is very contagious, especially in young kittens kept in groups and the infection rate can be very high in such environments. It causes a local infection of the mucous membranes of the eyes but may also lead some mild respiratory signs. Chlamydiosis can be transmitted to humans by direct contact to cause typically conjunctivitis although this is rare. Treatment involves long courses of appropriate antibiotics, so that vaccination is the preferred method for prevention.
This incurable viral disease affects the central nervous system of almost all mammals, including humans. It is spread through contact with the saliva of infected animals through bites or any break in the skin. Though not present in the UK, this disease occurs widely throughout many other countries of the world. It is one of the requirements for the Pet Travel Scheme that all dogs, cats and ferrets are vaccinated against rabies.
Like any drug treatment or surgical procedure, vaccinations cannot be 100% guaranteed to protect against disease.
However, used in conjunction with proper nutrition and hygienic conditions, vaccination is clearly your pet’s best defence against serious and common infectious 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.