If your feline family member becomes sick with a viral infection, there is no specific treatment for it. Viruses aren’t killed by antibiotics, and even with the best of care, some viral infections can be fatal. Vaccination results in the production of antibodies against a particular virus. If your cat encounters it again, his immune system will recognise it and quickly work to eliminate it from his body. Keeping your cat’s vaccines up to date is the best way of avoiding serious viral illnesses.
In the past, vaccinating cats was very straightforward; you presented your feline friend to your veterinarian once a year for his shots and a general check-up. Studies have shown that some vaccines last longer than 12 months. This means that you and your veterinarian need to work out an appropriate vaccination schedule for your cat.
TYPES OF VACCINATIONS AVAILABLE TO CATS
Vaccines are grouped in to core and non-core categories. Core vaccines protect your cat from diseases that are widespread and cause serious illness. Non-core vaccines are optional; they immunise your cat against diseases that may occur just in some regions, or in cats with a specific lifestyle.
The core vaccines that should be given to all cats are:
- Feline Infectious Enteritis Virus – This is the cat equivalent of canine parvovirus. It causes fever, depression, dehydration, vomiting and diarrhoea. Many cats who become ill with this disease don’t survive, and those that do can shed the virus into the environment to infect other cats for up to 6 weeks.
- Feline Herpesvirus and Calicivirus – Both of these viruses are responsible for the condition known as ‘cat flu’. They are extremely contagious and can make cats very ill with sneezing, runny eyes and ulcers in the mouth and on the tongue. Cat flu tends not to be fatal but it is debilitating. It affects young cats more severely than adults.
Non-core vaccines are those that need only be given to your cat if you and your veterinarian feel he is particularly at risk. They include:
- Feline Leukaemia Virus – as the name suggests, this virus causes leukaemia and lymphoma. Many cats can clear the infection from their body. Those that can-t may develop lymphatic cancers and spread the virus to other cats. The incidence of leukaemia virus in Australia is very low so you need to discuss with your vet whether there is any need to vaccinate your cat against this disease.
- Feline Immundeficiency Virus – this virus is spread in bite wounds, so is more likely to occur in male outdoor cats that have arguments with their neighbouring felines. The virus suppresses the immune system so the cat is more likely to suffer from recurring infections. There is a vaccine available but because the risk of disease can be reduced by keeping cats indoors and desexing them, it’s not routinely used.
WHEN DO YOU NEED TO VACCINATE?
Young kittens benefit from some protection against viral disease from antibodies in the colostrum, or first milk. However, it’s not possible to know how effective that protection is, or how long the antibodies last. The goal is to give a vaccine when the antibodies wane, so there is as short a time as possible where your kitten isn’t protected.
To do this, kittens are vaccinated two to three times, starting from 6-8 weeks of age. The last dose should be given at 16 weeks or older. A booster vaccine is given a year later, and then your cat needs to be vaccinated every 12 months.
SIDE EFFECTS OF VACCINATIONS
Sometimes your cat may feel a little sore after his vaccination, or may be lethargic for a day or two. It is also possible that he may have an allergic reaction to the vaccine which can result in hives or facial swelling. Some individuals have a severe reaction called anaphylaxis, but this is extremely rare. If you’re concerned about how your cat may respond to his vaccination, ask your veterinarian for advice.
DON’T WAIT VACCINATE
Protecting your cat from disease with a carefully chosen vaccination schedule is important in keeping him well, and in giving you peace of mind that you’re doing everything you can to avoid disease. If you’re not sure what your cat needs, or if he is overdue for a booster, your vet is the best source of advice.