We all know that animals should be vaccinated, especially when they are young, and that they should have booster vaccinations. However most people are a bit confused as to why we do it and what exactly we are vaccinating against. In this leaflet we will try to explain what we can do and what we as a practice recommend.
The diseases we can vaccinate cats against are: Feline Enteritis, Cat 'flu, Feline Leukaemia, Rabies, Feline Bordatella and Feline Infectious Conjunctivitis.
Feline Enteritis is a very severe disease caused by a virus which basically destroys the lining of the bowel, causing vomiting, diarrhoea and often death. It also damages the body's defence system and so leaves the cat open to other infections. It is especially lethal in kittens and older cats whose immune systems are not well developed.
Cat 'flu is caused by two different viruses however they both work in a similar way. They cause conjunctivitis, nasal and oral discharges, sneezing and ulcers in the mouth. In kittens, older cats and weak adult cats they can cause pneumonia and death. The mouths of affected cats are often so sore that they will neither eat nor drink and can die from dehydration very easily. Cats that have been affected or which have got the disease from their mothers at birth are often carriers. These do not show any illness until they are stressed, but then are not only ill but very infectious to other cats. Cat 'flu is a major cause of fading kittens in breeding cats.
Feline Leukaemia is a disease caused by a virus. The virus is picked up by coming into contact with an infectious cat or its secretions and almost all free roaming cats will come in contact with it. It attacks the immune system so destroying the body's defences against infections and cancers and in itself causes cancer in the lymph glands (lymphosarcoma). 15% of cats that pick it up will die from it, most of them within 2 years. During the period before they die they are likely to be very sickly and suffer from a string of minor ailments which never seem to get better in spite of lots of veterinary treatment.
Rabies is a viral disease which affects all mammals including people, however there is no disease at present in this country and so the only reason to vaccinate is if you wish to be able to take your pet abroad and/or back into Britain again.
Feline Bordatella is caused by bacteria, which give rise to recurrent sore throats and mild flu-like symptoms. We certainly see a lot of this in this area, but do not usually recommend vaccinations unless it is a multi-cat household that is having a lot of problems with this illness.
Feline Infectious Conjunctivitis is a disease caused by chlamydia. It mainly affects the eyes but can cause 'flu like symptoms and possibly abortions. Cats that have got the disease from their mothers at birth will always be carriers and will develop conjunctivitis whenever they are stressed. They are also infectious to other cats.
For kittens less than twelve weeks old we recommend an initial course of two vaccinations against Cat ‘flu, enteritis and leukaemia, with the first being after the kitten has been in his new home for 2-3 days (and is approximately 9 weeks of age), and a second 3 to 6 weeks later. The vaccine manufacturer recommends that the kitten does not come into contact with infection for ten to fourteen days after the second vaccination, although we see very few problems from letting them out 2-3 days after the second vaccination.
Kittens and cats over twelve weeks need two vaccinations three weeks apart.
The protection given by the initial course lasts for a year and some parts must be boosted by annual booster vaccinations. This is especially important the year after the initial course and then again as your cat gets older. In older cats, as in older people, the body's natural resistance gets weaker and they are more susceptible to severe illness. We now only boost the feline enteritis vaccination every 3 years.
The 'flu vaccination, like the human 'flu vaccines, can't cover all the possible strains of 'flu and so you may find that your cat does develop mild signs of infection if they come in contact with the disease, however they are unlikely to be seriously ill. Similarly, if a kitten has already picked up 'flu bugs from it's mother before vaccination, the vaccine will help to prevent serious illness but can neither get rid of the bugs that are there nor stop the kitten having recurrent mild attacks of 'flu.
Feline Infectious Conjunctivitis and Feline Bordatella
There are good vaccines available for these diseases, however the clinical diseases are usually not very severe and usually respond well to treatment . Therefore we do not recommend these vaccines as a routine, but use them for cats that have recurrent disease and for cats that come into contact with these cats, usually cats living in the same house. Here it certainly helps reduce the problems.
Serious reactions are fortunately very rare and often occur within ten minutes of the first time a vaccine is used in your cat. They are controllable by antidotes given immediately and it is a good idea not to hurry away after your cat's first vaccinations! Minor reactions, usually to one of the substances used when making the vaccine, do occur more commonly and usually recur year after year. These usually consist of being very quiet, shaking, off food and generally feeling miserable. These can be controlled by giving an injection of an antihistamine at the same time as the vaccination, so are not a sensible reason for not having boosters. However do tell the vet you see that a reaction has occurred before.