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Everything you need to know about cat vaccination

Grey cat getting vaccinating advice © Shutterstock

Your cat is part of the family and the thought of them catching a deadly disease sends shivers down your spine. Thankfully, cat vaccination can protect them against several serious feline diseases - here’s everything you need to know!

By Alice Lang

Cat vaccination can, understandably, seem a little daunting - will it hurt? Are there risks? Is it dangerous? While it’s not compulsory to have your cat vaccinated, protecting them against common diseases and illnesses is normally the best choice for your kitty’s long-term health and happiness.  

To ease your worries and help you understand the benefits and risks involved, we’re answering some of the most common cat vaccination questions. Let’s go!

What is cat vaccination?

Our feline friends are at risk of catching numerous infections diseases. Some of these diseases could cost them their life, while others are extremely difficult to manage and will greatly impact a cat’s quality of life. 

When kittens are born, they’ll be protected from infectious diseases through their mother’s milk (providing she’s up to date with her vaccinations). After a few weeks, this protection will wear off, leaving them at risk of illness.

Thankfully, getting your kitty vaccinated can help to protect them against some of the deadliest conditions. Vaccinations may not always provide complete protection against diseases or viruses, but anything they do catch is likely to be much milder and more manageable.

Cat vaccinations have kept infectious cat diseases at bay in the UK for decades and have saved the lives of thousands upon thousands of cats.

What diseases are cats vaccinated against?

Core vaccinations consist of diseases which are especially severe or common and are recommended for all cats.

The core cat vaccination includes:

  • Feline herpes virus and calicivirus (commonly known as cat flu)
  • Feline infectious enteritis
  • Feline leukaemia virus

Each of the core diseases is severely contagious and potentially fatal and/or life-limiting to your kitty. While these conditions are far less common now (which may cause you to believe vaccination isn’t necessary) it’s only because of vaccination that they’re now a rare occurrence.

Non-core vaccinations include chlamydophila felis, rabies and bordetella bronchiseptica. These vaccinations may be recommended if your kitty is especially at risk due to a lifestyle factor or because you plan to travel abroad.

Cat vaccination schedule

A cat vaccination doesn’t offer full immunity after one injection. In fact, your cat will require numerous injections over their lifetime to keep their immunity up.
 
While this will require several trips to the vet and a few moments of mild discomfort for your kitty, it’s still much better than potentially catching a life-threatening, painful disease.

The initial vaccination, which most cats have as a kitten, requires two separate injections. Most cats will receive their first injection at 8-9 weeks old and the second at around 12 weeks old, though this may vary. Some vets also recommend a third vaccination at around 20 weeks to ensure full protection.

Following this, your cat will require a booster vaccination every 1-3 years. Your vet will be able to recommend a suitable cat vaccination schedule. If you take in a stray cat who hasn’t been vaccinated, they’ll need to start their vaccinations from scratch.

How much does cat vaccination cost?

Cat vaccination prices vary across the country, but you can generally expect the initial vaccination course to cost around £30-£75. This normally includes a vaccination certificate and two vet examinations. Boosters then cost around £20-£60.

If you’re concerned about affording vaccinations for your cat, speak to your vet. They may be able to split the payments up to make them more manageable or recommend charity schemes to cover all of part of the vaccination cost.

Cat vaccination side-effects & risks

While it’s completely normal to worry about cat vaccination, it’s a largely safe and effective procedure. All vaccines undergo strict safety and quality checks and the majority of cats experience no side-effects whatsoever. However, as with most medical procedures, no injection is completely risk-free.

“As with all medical products & drugs, a small risk remains in their administration. This small risk is considered preferable to the larger risk imposed by the disease being protected against,” explains Andrew Gardiner, author of A-Z of Cat Health and First Aid: A Practical Guide for Owners.

“Adverse reactions can be variable in nature, ranging from the temporary slight increase in temperature and sleepiness, sometimes associated with lameness, often noticed in kittens at their very first vaccine, to rarer symptoms such as allergy/hypersensitivity type reactions and even anaphylaxis.”

You may also notice reactions at the site of the vaccination, including:

  • Swelling. This inflammatory reaction normally resolves over a few days to two weeks - it’s merely part of the initial immune response.
  • An abcess. This can happen with any routine injection and is rare, but may need treatment with antibiotics or surgical drainage. 
  • Hair loss. Again, this is rare and usually temporary.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis after cat vaccination

Although it’s extremely rare, cat vaccination can bring on anaphylaxis, a sudden and severe allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis should be treated as an emergency, so you should take your cat to the vet as soon as you notice symptoms.

Symptoms can start immediately after vaccination but may also take up to an hour to appear. Watch out for:

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

That was everything you needed to know about cat vaccination. While there are risks and side-effects involved, we believe the benefits, by far, outweigh the risks. Good luck with your new feline companion!

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