What is immunity?
If a pet (or person) is immune to a particular disease it means that there is little or no risk of falling ill to that disease. Immunity in an adult cat may be as a result of either regular vaccination or the cat having suffered (and survived) the disease.
What about immunity in kittens?
Provided that the mother is immune, kittens are usually protected for the first few weeks of life by the immunity passed in their mother’s first milk. However, the immunity falls with time leaving the kittens susceptible to infectious diseases. Vaccinations at this point simply take over the mother’s role in providing protection.
Modern vaccines are products of extensive research. These vaccines are manufactured to standards which are no less exacting than those demanded for the production of vaccines for human use. With such safe and effective vaccines readily available, it makes sense to protect your cat at the earliest opportunity.
Feline viral infectious respiratory disease
There are two main viruses which cause what is commonly referred to as ‘cat flu’. These are feline rhinotracheitis and feline calicivirus and they are present all year round in the United Kingdom cat population.
Cat flu spreads very easily by direct and indirect contact between cats. Cats entering shows or being boarded during holidays are particularly at risk because they are placed in close proximity to each other.
Signs of the disease are a runny nose, weepy eyes, sneezing, coughing and lethargy. If treated promptly, cat flu is hardly ever fatal, but can make your cat ill for some time and may leave it with snuffles and breathing difficulties for the rest of its life.
This disease, more commonly known as ‘enteritis’, occurs as an epidemic every few years. It is highly contagious and can affect cats of any age but is most common and severe in kittens. It causes acute depression, vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration and in many cases death. The few cats that do survive the disease tend to suffer from other diseases due to the damage caused to the immune system.
The virus which causes feline enteritis can remain active in the environment for a very long time and spreads easily via contact with infected cats or their saliva, urine or faeces.
Feline leukaemia is a very serious, incurable disease which can take months or even years to fully develop – and which is currently considered to be the single most significant infectious cause of death among the cat population in the western world.
Cats of any age, but particularly those up to 3 years of age, can be affected. The symptoms vary widely and range from damage to the immune system (making your cat much less able to fight off other infections) through to persistent anaemia and cancer.
Once the symptoms have appeared, your cat will almost certainly die, but even those which appear healthy can harbour the leukaemia virus and spread the infection to others when they share food or water bowls or when they suffer bites during fights. If a pregnant cat has the virus, her kittens will be infected when they are born.
When should your cat be vaccinated?
Kittens which have never been vaccinated before will require a primary vaccination course which consists of two vaccinations between two and four weeks apart. Kittens may start their vaccination course as early as nine weeks of age.
Adult cats that have not been vaccinated in the last 15 months will require a full vaccination course of two injections – this is often referred to as a restart and the vaccinations are given between two and four weeks apart.
A course of two vaccinations is given as the primary course. The initial vaccination provides a low level of immunity and ‘primes’ the immune system. The completion of the course with the second vaccination boosts the immunity to full protective levels.
If you acquire or have an older kitten or an older cat that has not been vaccinated or has an unknown vaccination history, please book it in for its vaccinations as soon as possible. This will also allow your new pet to have a general checkup with the vet. Remember that the protective effect of vaccination is not immediate and the vet will advise you when your cat will be protected and allowed outside.
Immunity to these diseases does not last indefinitely and will gradually fall leaving your cat at risk. An annual booster (one injection) given every 12 months is vital to maintaining the immunity which will protect your cat from these infections and provide an opportunity for health checks.
All cats vaccinated at White Cross Vets receive a free health check six months later to ensure your pet is in the best possible condition.
Record of Vaccination
On completion of your cat’s primary course you will be given a record card providing a record of vaccination and advising you when the next booster is due. Catteries will almost certainly require this before accepting your cat. Remember to bring this record card to the surgery each time your cat has vaccinations so that it can be updated.
For further information call us and speak to one of the team.