Vaccinations: protecting your cat
Vaccinations protect your cat against a range of infectious diseases, some of which can be fatal and others which can have a long-term impact on their health. It’s important to keep your cat’s vaccinations up-to-date to make sure they stay protected throughout their life.
Our vets would always recommend getting your cat vaccinated regularly to help keep them healthy and prevent them from getting ill.
Why should I vaccinate my cat?
It’s really important to get your cat or kitten regularly vaccinated as it will help protect them from some nasty diseases such as cat flu, feline infectious enteritis, feline chlamydophilosis and infectious feline leukaemia.
By vaccinating your pet, you will also help stop the spread of these diseases and keep other vulnerable cats safe too.
If you plan on going on holiday and leaving your cat in the care of a cattery, they may also require proof that your cat’s vaccinations are up-to-date.
What vaccinations are available for my cat?
Your cat should be vaccinated while they are a kitten, then get regular boosters over their lifetime.
Vaccinations for kittens
Kittens can be especially vulnerable to the effects of infectious diseases such as cat flu. If your kitten’s mum has been vaccinated, she will be less likely to pass on any of those diseases to her kittens and can pass on some of her protection to them in her milk. That’s one reason why it’s so important to carefully research where you get your kitten.
Once a kitten is weaned and home with you, they need their own protection. By getting them vaccinated you are reducing the risk of them falling seriously ill. Kittens can start their vaccinations from nine weeks old and will need a second set of injections, usually 2-4 weeks after their initial set to complete their course.
Remember, your kitten won’t be fully protected until several weeks after their second set of jabs so it’s best to keep them indoors and away from any unvaccinated pets until your vet says they’re safe to mingle with other cats and go outside. You should still socialise them with everyday household sights and sounds in this time, though. Take a look at our vets’ advice on kitten socialisation and how to fit this around your kitten’s vaccinations.
Booster vaccinations for adult cats
Your cat will need to have regular booster jabs to make sure they stay fully protected throughout their life. Usually, boosters are needed once a year and most vet practices will send you a reminder if you’ve had jabs there before. Speak to your vet if you’re not sure when your cat is due, and write down any future dates so you don’t forget them.
If your cat is overdue for a booster or missed their kitten vaccinations, don’t worry. They’ll usually just need a second injection (just like a kitten) to boost their immunity. Ask your vet how to get them back up to date.
What do vaccinations protect my cat from?
Your cat’s vaccinations will help to protect them from four main infectious diseases:
What is cat flu?
Cat flu symptoms are similar to those of human flu, but cat flu can only be caught by cats. A big difference with cat flu is that some cats end up carrying it for life, and it can even be fatal in kittens. You can read more about the symptoms and treatment of cat flu on our Pet Health Hub.
How can I stop my cat getting cat flu?
The best way to prevent your cat getting cat flu is have them fully vaccinated and stay on top of any boosters. Don’t let kittens outdoors until they are fully protected (usually two weeks after the second set of jabs) as they may come into contact with unvaccinated cats. If you’re buying a kitten, make sure that their mum has had her vaccines as well which could reduce the risks of her kittens getting poorly.
What is feline infectious enteritis?
Feline infectious enteritis – also known as ‘feline parvovirus’ or ‘panleucopaenia’ – is a serious virus that depletes the body’s white blood cells and can cause severe damage to the lining of the intestines.
It’s normally spread through contact with infected poo but pregnant cats can also pass it to their unborn kittens if they aren’t vaccinated.
The disease is widespread across the UK, particularly where lots of cats are in contact with each other and can remain in an environment for a long time.
Symptoms of feline infectious enteritis
- Anorexia or weight loss
- Severe and bloody diarrhoea
- Lack of appetite
- Unusual tiredness or lack of energy
Unfortunately there is no cure for feline enteritis but if caught in time, vets can try to treat the symptoms and give intensive nursing care to support your cat’s recovery.
Despite treatment, the disease can often be fatal, especially for young kittens.
Pregnant cats with the infection could lose their kittens or lead to abnormal brain development, causing them to develop a condition called ‘cerebellar hypoplasia’. This means they won’t be able to walk properly and can display tremors and visual problems. Kittens with this condition need a lot of support to lead healthy lives.
How can I stop my cat getting feline enteritis?
The best way to prevent feline enteritis is to make sure your cat is fully vaccinated and regularly has their booster jabs. As the virus can pass between a mother and her kittens, female cats need to be fully vaccinated before becoming pregnant.
What is feline chlamydophilosis?
Feline chlamydophilosis is caused by Chlamydophila bacteria – which used to be known as ‘feline chlamydia’ – and usually attacks a cat’s eyes and nose first. It can progress to affect their lungs, stomach, intestines and reproductive tract. It is passed on through direct contact with infected cats and is fairly common in the UK.
Feline chlamydophila bacteria is adapted to affect cats. It would be extremely rare for humans to contract conjunctivitis from infected cats and there’s no record of people developing more serious symptoms from this bacteria.
Symptoms of feline chlamydia
Common symptoms include:
- Runny eyes and nose
- Breathing difficulties
- Mild fever
- Unusual tiredness and lack of energy.
Feline chlamydophila can affect cats of all ages, but young kittens are most at risk of becoming very poorly. Vets will usually treat the infection with antibiotics that your cat will need to take for three to four weeks. They may also prescribe eye drops or ointments.
If you have more than one cat in your household they will all need to be treated as it is highly contagious between cats. Untreated cats remain contagious for several months even if they seem to recover by themselves.
How can I stop my cat getting feline chlamydia?
The best way to help prevent your cat getting feline chlamydophila is to get them vaccinated. Kittens should get their jabs from an early age and you should stay up-to-date with any boosters. Remember to get all cats in your household vaccinated.
What is feline leukaemia?
Feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) is a viral infection which can lead to the development of cancers such as lymphoma, leukaemia and other tumours and weakens the immune system of affected cats meaning they catch other infections very easily. It is fairly common in the UK and is spread through a cat’s saliva, poo, wee and milk. Pregnant cats can pass the disease to their unborn kittens. Young kittens are most at risk but adult cats can also be affected.
Symptoms of feline leukaemia
When unvaccinated cats catch FeLV, they either become affected permanently, become infected briefly before the virus goes away, or fight the virus off. If a cat is vaccinated, it’s more likely to be able to fight off the virus without showing symptoms or spreading the disease.
Initially, symptoms of feline leukaemia can be quite mild such as being very tired or a fever. The main signs of FeLV usually appear when they’re struggling to fight off other infections due to a weakened immune system.
Symptoms can include:
- Unusual tiredness or lack of energy
- Weight loss
- Recurrent diarrhoea
- Ongoing breathing, digestion or skin problems.
- Frequently getting unwell.
Sadly, there is no cure for feline leukaemia once cats are infected.
However, vets can help keep affected cats healthy for as long as possible. FeLV weakens the immune system, so cats are also more prone to getting other infectious diseases. These need to be caught and treated as early as possible to avoid affected cats becoming seriously ill. It’s important that if your cat has FeLV that you stay on top of their worming and flea treatments, vaccinations and go for regular vet checks. Affected cats must also be kept indoors.
Sadly, most cats with feline leukaemia die or have to be put to sleep within three years of being diagnosed with the disease from its complications.
How can I stop my cat getting feline leukaemia (FeLV)?
The best way to prevent FeLV is to get your kitten vaccinated and make sure you stay up-to-date with their boosters.
Cats with confirmed feline leukaemia virus should be kept indoors and away from other cats to prevent the disease spreading. They need regular check-ups with the vet to keep on top of any illnesses or problems.
There's a lot of myth and misinformation out there about vaccinations. Our vets put the record straight and help you make the right choice for your pet.
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