Grey cat getting vaccinating

The majority of cats won't even flinch for an injection.

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Everything you need to know about cat vaccination

By Dr Holly Graham BVMedSci BVMBVS MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

Just like humans, if cats are to avoid serious illnesses, they need vaccinations, as is explained thoroughly here.

Cats, whether indoor or outdoor, are a part of the family. The thought of your feline friend catching a disease that could make them seriously ill, or worse, doesn't bear thinking about. Thankfully, vaccinations are available to protect your cat against several serious diseases.

Vaccinations are something that can seem a little daunting, and owners often have lots of questions. Are these injections painful? What are the risks? Can these injections be dangerous? While it's not compulsory to have your cat vaccinated, protecting them from the common diseases is, in most cases, the best choice you can make for their long-term health and happiness.

To ease your worries and help you understand the risks and benefits, answered here are some of the most common vaccination questions.

What is cat vaccination?

Both indoor and outdoor cats are at risk of catching numerous infectious diseases. Some diseases are potentially fatal, while others are difficult to manage and could impact on their quality of life. Kittens have a level of immunity from their mother and this protection comes from the antibodies in their mother's milk. But this immunity doesn't last long, and begins to fade after a few weeks.

Thankfully, getting your cat or kitten vaccinated can help to protect them from infection. While vets can't guarantee full protection, if cats are then infected they are more likely to be more mildly affected, and recover quicker. Vaccinations have protected cats in the UK for decades, and they continue to reduce the number of ill kitties seen in the vets to this day.

If your cat isn't vaccinated against these common diseases, they can become infected with a disease that has the potential to make them very sick. It's possible for your cat if infected to spread this disease around the local area, making other pets ill too.

What diseases are cats vaccinated against?

Core vaccinations provide immunity for vaccines that are common, or cause severe symptoms in cats. These vaccinations are recommended for all cats, whether they go outside or not. Core vaccines in the UK include:

  • Feline enteritis – also known as feline panleukopenia virus or feline parvovirus. This disease affects young kittens and in many cases is fatal.
  • Feline influenza or cat flu – calicivirus and herpes virus can cause symptoms like that of a common cold in humans, but can be severe in older or particularly young kittens.
  • Feline leukaemia virus.

These vaccines are highly contagious, and in young or sick animals can be life-limiting or even life-threatening. Vaccination has reduced the prevalence of these diseases, but all are still widely present in the cat population of the UK. Many cats in the UK aren't vaccinated, and there are still lots of strays around with the potential to infect unvaccinated cats.

From indoor cats to travelling abroad

If you've got an indoor cat, you may be asking yourself whether it's really necessary to get them vaccinated. As a general rule, yes, it is. The diseases vets vaccinate against can be brought in on the shoes and clothes of pet owners, and can stay infectious in the environment for quite a long time. So even if your cat doesn't venture out into the garden or neighbourhood, it's still possible for them to become infected.

If you're planning on travelling abroad, your cat may require a rabies vaccine. Fortunately this isn't present in the UK, but is endemic in other parts of the world.

Cat vaccination schedule

A single vaccine doesn't provide your pet with lifelong immunity. Most cats will require numerous injections over their lifetime to keep them protected. While an injection might seem scary, often the worst part of the whole trip is the ride to the veterinary practice. This short period of stress is still much better than catching a preventable disease.

Kittens are able to start their vaccines at around nine weeks of age. Their first injection can be done shortly after bringing them home at nine weeks, then a second must be given 3-4 weeks later. Some vets may offer a third vaccination to ensure full cover, but most only need two quick injections to protect them for the first 12 months of life.

Annual boosters, adopted cats and strays

After their initial vaccinations, cats need annual boosters against some of the diseases mentioned. Some components of the vaccines last for three years, so the vet will be able to recommend a suitable vaccination programme for your pet.

If you've adopted an adult or stray cat who isn't vaccinated, they'll need to begin their vaccination course similarly to kittens, and as soon as possible. Keep up to date with your vaccines, as if there's a lapse you may be required to start the whole course all over again.

How much does cat vaccination cost?

Cat vaccination prices vary from practice to practice. Prices range from £30-50 for boosters, and up to £75 for their initial vaccination course. The initial course cost will include both of your pet’s injections, examinations at both appointments and a vaccine booklet as proof of their vaccinations. Lots of practices now offer healthcare plans. These plans mean you can pay a set amount each month, which covers their injections and often other benefits – like flea and worming. Cats aren't as cheap and easy a pet as many people think, so consider costs when you're thinking about bringing a new friend home.

It's not possible to vaccinate your cat yourself, as this is a procedure that only a veterinarian can do. Injections should only ever be given by trained professionals and you might do more harm than good, so always head to a vet for them.

What cat vaccination side effects and risks are there?

Cats are tough. Most owners worry much more about the injection than their pet does, and the majority of cats don't even flinch for the injection. It's a largely painless and fast procedure, and vaccinations are incredibly safe due to their rigorous testing and safety checks. Most cats experience no side effects, however as with all medical procedures, there are risks associated. It's important to remember these risks are tiny, and it's very unlikely your cat will even notice what's gone on.

Adverse reactions are few and far between. Some cats may have a slight temperature, or be more sleepy than normal following their infection. The most common side effect is a small, pea-sized swelling at the injection site. This might take a few weeks to disappear, but usually causes no problems. Very occasionally there may be some hair loss at this site, or an infection like an abscess, but both will resolve with treatment as necessary. Anaphylactic reactions are very rare, and usually happen very quickly following the injection.

What are the symptoms of anaphylaxis after cat vaccination?

Anaphylactic reactions associated with vaccinations are extremely rare. This is a sudden and severe allergic reaction that must be treated as an emergency. Most anaphylactic reactions happen shortly after the injection, so it's likely you'll still be close by the vets if this happens. Signs of an anaphylactic reaction include:

  • Trembling
  • Wheezing
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Pale gums
  • Facial swelling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Collapse.

While there are risks and side effects involved, vets believe the benefits by far outweigh the risks. So good luck with your new feline companion.

When should I talk to a vet?

Once you've brought home your new companion, it's time to give a vet a call. Whether this new pet is an adult or a tiny kitten, the vet will be able to advise on the best time to get their injections done, and give them a health check too.

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