What is vaccination?

Vaccination is the creation of protection in an individual against specific infections. Vaccines are based on either weakened (attenuated) forms of the natural infections or killed (inactivated) forms. The vaccine is injected into the individual where it then fools the body into believing that it has encountered the real infection. This stimulates the immune system into producing antibodies and activates protective white blood cells. The vaccine “primes” the immune system to a stage where it is ready to jump into action against specific infections and to overwhelm them when it encounters them. Without vaccination, the delay in getting the immune system into gear may be fatal. Vaccines are generally designed to stimulate protection against those infections for which we do not yet have effective medicines.

What vaccines are available for my cat?

Vaccines are available against the cat flu viruses (feline calicivirus and feline herpes virus) and against feline enteritis, a very serious form of gastro-enteritis. It is also possible to vaccinate against one of the viruses which causes cat AIDS – the feline leukaemia virus or FeLV. Rabies vaccinations were only routinely given to cats which were being exported from this country to areas of risk but the Pet Passport Scheme means that many more cats are now routinely vaccinated against rabies. Scientists are working on the development of vaccines against other fatal viral infections, including feline infectious peritonitis or FIP virus and feline immunodeficiency virus or FIV. A vaccine for FIP and FIV exist in the United States, but are so far unavailable in the UK.

Your vet can advise on the most appropriate vaccination program for your cat.

When should I get my cat vaccinated?

Kittens usually obtain antibodies from their mother which provide protection against infectious disease for the first few weeks of life but these start to wear off leaving them open to infections. This is the point when a vaccination course is administered to help protect the kitten. Kitten vaccination courses usually involve two sets of vaccinations, the first at nine weeks of age, the second at twelve. The kitten is then fully protected about a week after the second part of the course. As immunity declines with age, annual booster vaccinations help to keep your cat up to date with protection.

My cat lives entirely indoors- does it still need vaccination?

Certain viruses – particularly the enteritis virus – can persist for a considerable time outside the body. There is always the possibility of introducing the virus into your home on your shoes or clothing. Feline leukaemia virus requires close contact for transmission, so an indoor cat is not at risk. In addition, you should also consider the possibility of your cat having to go into a cattery at short notice. Reputable catteries will only accept vaccinated cats.

Are there any side effects to vaccination?

Vaccination stimulates the immune system, mimicking the natural infection, so occasionally a cat will feel a little subdued for a day or two after the injection. This is perfectly normal and is nothing to be alarmed about. Rarely, some individuals may have a more severe allergic reaction within minutes or hours of receiving the injection. These cats need urgent medical support. This reaction is, however, very rare.