It’s something that many cat owners ask – does my cat need vaccinating? And are yearly boosters necessary? Particularly if they’re talking about an indoors-only cat with no exposure to the outside world. Cat owners are supposedly 30% less likely to visit their vet than dog owners, which includes keeping up-to-date with vaccinations and scheduling yearly check-ups.
So, when it comes to vaccinations, what does your cat really need?
It's a difficult question to answer and is relative to a cat’s health and lifestyle. All cats will be different so the best thing to do is consult your vet on what vaccinations your cat needs for its age, health and based on local disease prevalence.
If you have a house cat that never ventures outside, your vet will probably suggest a different course of vaccines than for an outdoor cat coming and going as it pleases. The advice for those with multi-cat households including both ‘innies’ and ‘outties’ is to treat them all as outdoor cats and have them immunised against everything.
Whatever the case, there are certain ‘core’ vaccines that vets recommend for all cats. These include the following:
Feline infectious enteritis (FEI) or panleukopenia virus, otherwise known as distemper or ‘cat plague,’ is a serious viral infection affecting wild and domesticated cats. The virus is highly contagious and is easily transmitted through the air, direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected cat via bites or fleas, and through the contamination of bedding and feeders etc. The virus begins by attacking the gastrointestinal tract, which causes severe ulceration and internal bleeding.
Once contracted, FEI can kill a cat in 24 hours. This is ultimately due to a decrease in the cat’s white blood cells, which severely compromises the immune system and leads to dehydration from acute diarrhoea and the onset of secondary infections.
Although cats of all ages can contract FEI, it is more common in kittens and young adults, with a 90-95% mortality rate without treatment. To give your kitten the best protection against this deadly virus, begin vaccinations from 6 weeks of age, every 3-4 weeks until your kitten is 4 months old. Adult cats need a booster 1 year after the initial series, and every 3 years thereafter.
Cat flu, otherwise known as feline calicivirus (FCV), feline herpes virus (FHV-1) or upper respiratory tract disease, is another infection most, if not all, cats need protecting against. The virus is easily spread through direct and indirect contact between cats and thus is usually transmitted at catteries and shows. Infected cats are likely to exhibit classic ‘flu’ symptoms, including fever, nasal discharge, mouth ulceration and sneezing.
Although it is unlikely to be fatal, FCV can cause serious complications, especially if contracted alongside FHV-1 or feline immunodeficiency virus. The combined vaccine (FCV and FHV-1) can be given from 6 weeks of age and offers high protection, although with so many different flu strains, total protection can’t be guaranteed. Some house cats can get away with not having the flu vaccine, although many owners prefer to veer on the side of caution when making this decision. If your cat is ever boarded, the vaccine should definitely be given.
For outdoor cats that come and go, other vaccines are necessary. The Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) is a serious retrovirus that severely inhibits a cat’s immune system, predisposing it to anaemia, kidney disease and cancer. As the infection is easily transmissible between cats through bodily fluids, outdoor cats are more at risk of contracting FeLV.
Crucially, the disease can also be transmitted through communal food bowls and litter boxes, which is why all cats in a multi-cat household need immunising against it, whether they venture outside or not. This two-dose vaccine can be given as early as 8 weeks, then 3-4 weeks later. If you are unsure about whether your cat needs the FeLV vaccine, consult your vet.
As the UK is rabies free, it is best to speak to your vet about the risk of contraction and the necessity of the vaccine.
As with so many things, prevention is better than cure, especially when cures can’t always be found for the more serious illnesses. Ultimately, the decision to vaccinate your cat is yours and, likewise, the decision to vaccinate with only the core vaccines or all of them. If you have an outdoor cat, ensure you keep up-to-date with boosters and your eyes peeled for signs of disease. Consult your vet immediately if you suspect a problem.
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Written by: Hannah Dyball