It is necessary to give your kitten two injections 3 weeks apart initially, normally starting at 9 weeks old although they can be started at any time after this. Immunity is effective 7-10 days after the second injection so they should be kept inside until then.
A yearly booster is required to maintain immunity and it also is a good chance for your cat to receive a full clinical examination, as well as an opportunity for you to discuss any health care matters with the vet. If the booster is overdue by more than 2-3 months it is normally necessary to restart with a primary course of two injections.
Panleucopaenia:- a virus causing a severe and often fatal gastro-enteritis. It can also effect unborn kittens of infected queens. Passed in the faeces of infected cats.
Feline Herpes Virus and Feline Calici Virus:- the two main causes of Cat Flu. Spread by sneezing.
Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV):- this virus is mainly spread through fighting as is present in the blood, saliva and urine of infected animals. Once infected a cat can harbour the virus for months to years without showing any signs of disease. The virus can cause a type of cancer called ‘lymphoma’ and can also damage the immune system leading to other infections, gingivitis and diarrhoea. As it is possible to have the virus without showing any clinical signs, in some cases it can be advisable to do a blood test before vaccination (e.g. stray cats, bad fighters or kittens born to stray cats).
Rabies:- required for export to many other countries. In order to obtain a pet passport cats have to be identified with a microchip and then vaccinated against rabies.
Chlamydia:- Causes conjunctivitis and mild cat flu-type signs. Normally it is only a problem in breeding catteries.
Recent studies have shown that the vaccine for panleucopaenia can last for several years, although cat flu and FeLV start to wane at the end of a year. To reduce costs and for convenience vaccine manafacturers include all 3 vaccines in a single syringe for annual use and this has not been shown to be harmful.
Unfortunately no vaccine can give 100% protection against disease. In most cases this is due to the nature of the disease itself. For instance signs of cat flu can be produced by infection with several different viruses and bacteria, although it is only possible to immunise against the three commonest causes. Also occasionally new strains of viruses can appear against which the vaccines can’t give full protection. However the infection will generally be much less severe than in a completely unvaccinated cat.
Millions of cats are vaccinated every year and only a tiny proportion will develop a side effect to vaccination. If this happens they generally will feel a bit off colour and a bit off their food for a day or two (anyone who has had a vaccination recently will know the feeling). If a cat is poorly for more than 36-48 hours after a vaccination it is best to get them checked by the vet.
As with any drug or vaccination it is possible to develop an immediate allergic reaction although this is extremely uncommon. The cat will tend to develop swelling of the face, feet or ears, normally vomit and become very quiet within a few minutes of the injection. If this happens veterinary treatment is required immediately.
Vaccine site fibrosarcoma is a type of tumour that can develop at the site of vaccination on the neck, probably as a long term reaction to the adjuvant (a substance added to the vaccine to make it more effective) in the vaccine. This has been a problem in the USA where they use different vaccines, but in the UK is fortunately extremely rare.