One easy way in which you can help to ensure that your cat is protected from infectious diseases is to ensure that he or she is vaccinated as a kitten and regularly throughout his or her adult life.
Why Vaccination is important
Cats can and do become seriously ill or die from infectious diseases that could have been prevented through vaccination every year.
Regular vaccination can protect your cat from infectious diseases such as cat ´flu, feline leukaemia virus and feline infectious enteritis.
Why you need to vaccinate your cat regularly.
For the first few weeks of life, kittens are usually protected against disease from the immunity they receive in their mother´s milk. However, this maternal immunity may also neutralise any vaccine given at this time. Gradually this protection decreases, and the maternal immunity acquired at birth declines to a sufficiently low level for the kittenl to no longer be protected. This is the best time to start the vaccination programme.
Regular vaccination booster injections are required to maintain protection after the initial vaccination course.
After the last injection, the immune level reaches a peak and then begins to decline. After a year, the level of protection offered to your pet may no longer be sufficient. Revaccination stimulates the immune response so that protection is maintained for another year.
How vaccines work
Vaccines work by training the white blood cells in your cat´s body to recognise and attack the viruses or bacteria contained in the vaccine. This should prevent infection with that particular organism if your cat is in contact with it again.
Diseases of cats
There are four important viruses in cats for which vaccines are available.
Feline Infectious Enteritis
Feline infectious enteritis (also known as panleucopaenia or parvovirus) is a severe disease that fortunately has become much less common thanks to highly effective vaccines.
The disease is usually seen as bloody diarrhoea in young animals, with a characteristic offensive odour and severe dehydration. The illness is often fatal.
Once a cat becomes infected by parvovirus, the virus invades the intestines and bone marrow. This leads to sudden and severe bleeding into the gut, resulting in dehydration and shock and damage to the immune system. Emergency veterinary treatment is essential. Kittens born to infected mothers are weak, prone to infections and may have permanent brain damage.
Feline Upper Respiratory Disease
This is caused by two important viruses and may be complicated by secondary bacteria. The two viruses are called feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus, and together they form the disease commonly called "cat ´flu".
Feline herpesvirus is common and once infected, cats will tend to become lifelong carriers. They may excrete the virus when they become stressed or ill, causing repeated bouts of illness. Vaccination protects cats from disease, but the immunity does not last long and needs regular boosters for the best possible protection.
The virus attacks the eyes, mouth and lungs, causing symptoms such as fever, eye ulcers and pneumonia. The infection is often made worse by secondary bacterial infections. Infected mothers give birth to small, weak kittens.
Feline calicivirus is also very common. It is generally less severe, but causes painful ulcers of the mouth and tongue, and may again be complicated by bacterial infections. Vaccination is highly effective at protecting cats from disease, but regular boosters are required.
Feline Leukaemia Virus
Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) may infect cats for many months before illness begins to develop.
It is easily spread in saliva and blood, so cats are infected when grooming each other, sharing food bowls and litter trays and when fighting.
Animals are usually infected in the first months of life, but any age of animal including adults and unborn kittens may become infected.
FeLV attacks the white blood cells and bone marrow. This makes the cat vulnerable to secondary infections. It also causes anaemia and cancer of the blood, intestines and other parts of the body.
One in three cats that catch the virus will develop the disease. Only early vaccination and regular boosters can protect your cat from the virus.
If your cat is an indoor only cat and will not have contact with other, unvaccinated cats, the risk of your cat contracting FeLV is minimal and this vaccination can be witheld. However, feline enteritis and the respiratory viruses can be readily transmitted on the shoes and clothing of people entering the house of an indoor cat, so vaccination against these diseases is required for indoor cats as well as those with outdoor access.
Rabies Vaccination and the Pets Travel Scheme (PETS)
Rabies is a fatal disease, which affects both cats and humans. Rabies was eradicated from this country many years ago and strict systems are in place to make sure that it is never seen again.
If you are intending to take your cat to another European country and then return to the UK you must ensure that your cat is protected by rabies vaccination.
Your cat must be at least 3 months old before the rabies vaccination is given. A microchip must be fitted before the vaccine is given so that the vet can confirm your cat's identify and complete the pet passport.
After your pet has been vaccinated, regular booster vaccinations are required to maintain protection and keep the pet passport up to date.
Remember, for the PETS Scheme you must make sure that booster vaccinations are given on time. If the vaccine is just one day overdue the passport becomes invalid and pets are not permitted to re-enter the UK - quarantine would be required instead.
An information sheet regarding the PETS scheme and information about travelling abroad with your pet is available on our homepage (under "services") and from the surgery.
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Acorn House Veterinary Surgery
Linnet Way, Brickhill, Bedford, MK41 7HN