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Vaccination of Cats

The dilemmas

Vaccinations have a very important role to play in disease prevention but are no different from any other preventive health measure – every pet is an individual, and a one-size-suits-all approach is not ideal.

Science does not back up the principle that every cat should receive a ‘full’ vaccination every year of its life!

If you look at your cat’s vaccination card, you may well see the following details of vaccines given : RCPFeLV - what does it all mean?

The main diseases that we commonly vaccinate against are:

  • Feline Herpes (rhinotracheitis) - the 'R' in RCPFeLV
  • Feline calicivirus - the 'C' in RCPFeLV
  • Panleukopenia - the 'P' in RCPFeLV
  • Feline leukemia – FeLV

There is also a vaccine against feline Chlamydia, the CH in RCPCHFeLV.


Cat ’flu

Cat ’flu is caused by Calici and Herpes virus, either alone or in combination.

Chlamydia can also be involved – usually in colonies of cats.

Both flu viruses come in different strains which constantly mutate (much like flu in people) and immunity does not develop to every strain your cat might come across. The disease is not usually fatal when healthy pets catch it, and vaccination will usually lessen any problems they have.

Blood tests are not reliable in evaluating immunity to cat flu.


Feline enteritis a.k.a Feline panleukpenia

Panleukopenia virus causes feline enteritis...

...a very serious, potentially fatal disease, which is the cat equivalent of ‘Parvo’ in dogs.

Immunity from Panleukopenia vaccination is long- lasting – possibly lifelong, though manufacturers recommend boosting this component every 3 years.

Thankfully, the disease is now very rare, and blood tests can be used to confirm immunity minimising the need for repeated vaccination.



Don’t worry about Chlamydia...

...unless you are a breeder, or keep a large colony of cats.


Feline leukaemia

Feline leukaemia virus, FeLV is another potentially fatal cat virus, though fortunately it is not common.

The virus can cause a number of diseases, including immune suppression and leukaemia.

These days this disease is rare in the UK - I havn't seen a case for years. Often kittens contract the disease from mum - in all other cases infection requires prolonged and close contact with other cats. Moreover, with age, cats become more resistant to the virus, with affected cats normally dying within 2-3 years of contracting the virus. We see little point in vaccinating most adult cats for FeLV once they have had a couple of 'booster' jabs.


To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?

So why not just vaccinate against everything every year?

As we’ve said, vaccines do have an important role to play – but they do NOT all need to be given every years – some may only need giving once in a pet’s lifetime.


Vaccination reactions

These can be local swellings, or life-threatening whole body reactions such as allergic reactions or blood cell disorders.

These are not common.


What do we recommend?

As part of our health checks, we assess the risks that your cat is exposed to, and our recommendations will ensure protection whilst minimising vaccine use.

If you wish your cat to have a full dose of vaccine every year, that is fine. If you are showing, breeding, or putting your cat into a cattery, this may be obligatory. If this is the case, at least we are using the safest vaccine available.

There is a very recent publication which I heartily endorse as being the blueprint by which every vet should base their vaccination regime, drawn up the the American Association of Feline Practitioners, (AAFP). There are still some ‘questionable’ actions in there, recognising the difference in opinions between different experts, and we are always happy to discuss these issues (including the site of injection)

Let me quote from the publication - with link to it below.

Recommendations for vaccination of household pet cats.

Differences in cat population density, introduction of new cats, and exposure risk are dynamic variables that the veterinarian must take into consideration when recommending any vaccine for any cat.

It is advised that veterinarians reassess risk factors for exposure to infectious disease at each visit (at least once a year), as changes in factors such as the health of the animal or its lifestyle may dictate changes to vaccination needs.

For the full guidelines, click here.


Re-starting vaccinations

There is little evidence of any need to ‘re-start’ vaccinations that have recently lapsed. There may be a need if they have expired by a number of years. We adopt a policy of only re-starting vaccines that have lapsed by at least 3 years.