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Cat Vaccinations

Just like us, cats get diseases that can be prevented by vaccinations. Many of us see our cats as an important part of the family, and like our human family we want to protect them from anything the world throws at them. Cat vaccinations are relatively inexpensive and are certainly a lot cheaper than the treatment required should your cat get one of the diseases. For more information on the cost of cat vaccinations and other vet bills click here.

A ginger tabby cat having a vaccination
A ginger tabby cat having a vaccination

What Vaccinations Does My Cat Need?

Below are the diseases that the RSPCA currently recommends vaccinating against:

  • FIE: Feline Infectious Enteritis
  • FHV: Feline Herpes Virus
  • FCV: Feline Calicivirus
  • FLV: Feline Leukaemia Virus*

Other diseases that your cat may require vaccination against (particularly for overseas travel) include:

  • Feline Bordetellosis
  • Feline Chlamydophilosis
  • Rabies

The RSPCA currently only recommends vaccination against FLV if the cat will have outdoor access.

How Do Cat Vaccinations Work

How vaccinations work can be looked at on both an individual and group basis.

Individual - Cat vaccinations are basically the same as human vaccinations - an inactive or broken part of the disease you are vaccinating against is injected into the cat (this means the cat won’t actually get the disease).

The cat’s body recognises the inactive/broken disease as a threat, and the immune system responds by producing antibodies (molecules that fight the disease). These antibodies will stay in your cat's bloodstream. If a cat that hasn’t been vaccinated comes into contact with the disease, the reaction to the disease will be slow (a few weeks), with severe symptoms. If a cat that is vaccinated comes into contact with the disease they will be able to fight off the disease quickly with minimal symptoms. This is because they have antibodies in their bloodstream ready to fight.

A grey tabby cat having its first vaccination injection
A grey tabby cat having its first vaccination injection

Group - Vaccinations also work through a concept called herd or community immunity. Essentially this means that as long as a high percentage of a population is vaccinated, then there is low chance of any individual (even non-vaccinated) getting the disease. For example if a village has 100 cats in it and 90 of them have been vaccinated against Feline Infectious Enteritis then the chances are that the disease will be destroyed before it is passed on to one of the non-vaccinated individuals.

When Should You Get Your Cat Vaccinated

If you are buying a kitten then the chances are they will have received their first vaccinations before you take them home. Many will have also received their second set depending on how old the kitten is. Kittens will receive their first vaccination between 8-9 weeks old and their second 3-4 weeks after this.

A beautiful young kitten having a vaccination injection
A beautiful young kitten having a vaccination injection

If your kitten hasn’t received both its vaccinations then you will need to get them done as soon as possible. It is good practice to take a new kitten to the vet for a check up when you take them home, and it will often be possible to combine this check up with their vaccinations.

When Should Your Cat Receive Its Booster Vaccinations

Boosters are usually recommended annually, but it is always best to check with your vet and keep a record of which vaccinations your cat received and when. If you want to travel overseas with your cat or even put your cat into a cattery whilst you are away, then you will almost definitely need to provide proof of up to date vaccinations.

A cat getting a booster vaccination at the vets
A cat getting a booster vaccination at the vets

How Are Vaccinations Given To Cats

Vaccinations are given under the skin via an injection. The vet will pinch the skin around the cat’s scruff and insert the needle of the syringe before injecting the vaccine.

A ginger and white cat getting an injecting at the vets
A ginger and white cat getting an injecting at the vets

Cat Vaccination Side Effects

Some cats will show very little or no side effects following a vaccination, and most cat owners will agree that the benefits to your cat’s health greatly outweigh the small risk of side effects. However, for those times when a cat does react badly to a vaccination it is important that you know what to look out for and how to deal with it.

An adorable young kitten playing outside
An adorable young kitten playing outside

Common post vaccination symptoms that don’t require a vet visit (unless they persist for more than 24 hours) include:

  • Swelling or tenderness at injection site
  • Mild fever
  • Decreased appetite
  • Decreased energy levels
  • Sneezing, coughing, runny nose and any other mild respiratory symptoms

Less common symptoms that do require a vet visit include:

  • Persistent vomiting
  • Itchy skin with signs of bumps/rash
  • Swelling around the face and muzzle
  • Severe coughing or breathing difficulties
  • Sudden collapse

For the most part vaccinations are entirely safe and it is a very small minority who will develop severe symptoms. The risk of your cat becoming infected with one of the diseases is much higher than the risk of an adverse reaction to the vaccination.

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