Why should cats be vaccinated?

All responsible owners should vaccinate their cats against the major diseases that are recommended by veterinarians in order to prevent the spread and the dangers of infections. Vaccines involve the administration, usually by inoculation, of a weakened or dead form or strain of the pathogen into the animal’s body. The immune system then responds to the bacteria or virus and creates memory cells which can fight off any future infections when once again exposed to the pathogen. Often, vaccinations are required annually to provide long term immunity. One rule of medicine is that prevention is better than cure. In most of these major feline diseases there is no cure thus supporting the idea that preventative medicine in the form of vaccination should be used and so is strongly encouraged by veterinarians.

Unlike most other domestic pets, cats are generally allowed to wander away from the home and so inevitably meet other cats and animals. They also regularly come into contact with surfaces which could be infected by diseases and also have the ability to drink infected water without the knowledge of the owner. Since tom cats mark their territory by spraying and urine is one of the ways certain diseases are spread, this increases the risk of transmission. In many countries, there are thousands of cats are feral and unvaccinated. It is for these reasons that the cat should be vaccinated in order to protect itself and other cats from infection.

Another reason for vaccination is that if the owners go away for holiday purposes or otherwise, then the pet may need to stay in a boarding kennels. To protect the animals in their kennels and thus protecting their business, the owners of the kennels often ask for proof of vaccinations. Without this proof they may not even allow the owners to take the cats into their property.

When should cats be vaccinated?

Kittens that remain with their mothers for a minimum of nine weeks are not required to be vaccinated during this time as they will have gained immunity from their mother’s milk the colostrums from the milk. It has also been suggested that the mother’s milk may actually interfere with the administration of the vaccine. However, if separated during this time the veterinarian may advise earlier vaccination. Vaccines are either administered via injection under the skin or by squirting it up the nose.

Generally, after nine weeks of age the kitten can receive its first vaccination. Initially the vaccines are administered on two separate occasions with the first being weaker so that the cat’s immune system is able to prepare for the second. Older cats are later given annual boosters. These are administered in order to provide a long term protection, against certain diseases, for the cat. Some vaccines may require a different frequency of vaccines and the veterinarian should be able to advise the owner accordingly. Once the cat is registered then the veterinary surgery can send reminders a couple of weeks before the vaccinations are due. It can take up to two weeks for the cat to obtain effective immunisation following the vaccination and so during this time kittens should be restricted from having contact with other cats.

Which vaccines are most commonly used?

To prevent the transmission of the major diseases which commonly cause fatalities in the feline population it is well known that vaccines are vital. When owners neglect their duties to have their cats vaccinated, diseases spread rapidly due to the fact that they are one of the few pets allowed to roam free.

A brief overview of the main diseases is as follows:

Feline Infectious Enteritis (FIe)

Caused by the Feline Panleukopenia or the feline parvovirus (feline distemper), this contagious disease is spread via contact with bodily fluids, faeces and fleas. Some symptoms of this include diarrhoea and vomiting. Despite this death can occur without any signs at all.

Feline Calicivirus (FCV) and Feline Herpesvirus (FHV-1)

A strain of the common cold, this is also known as feline influenza. FHV-1 is responsible for Feline Rhinotracheitis (FVR) of which the most common name is cat flu. This highly contagious disease affects the cat’s upper respiratory tract and can be fatal to kittens. Symptoms include sneezing and nasal discharge.

Feline chlamydophilosis

The main result of this is feline conjunctivitis and sometimes nasal discharge. It is caused by the bacterium Chlamydophila felis and is contagious.

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)

FeLV is a retrovirus and is very contagious and usually fatal. Feral cats found to have this disease in the UK are euthanized. The infection is transmitted through saliva or direct contact with the infected cat remains with the cat for the rest of its life.

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)

The feline immunodeficiency virus is also known as Feline AIDS. It is a feared disease among the owners of domestic pets as it usually results in death. The virus is different from the leukemia virus in cats as it has different causal factors and also operates in different ways.

Feline bordetellosis

Similar to canine Kennel Cough in dogs, this disease causes problems in the upper respiratory tract. The vaccine for this is squirted up the nose as opposed to the usual method of inoculating under the skin.


Rabies is a fatal disease which is highly contagious even to humans. It is usually transmitted when the animal is bitten by an infected animal. In order to leave or enter the UK most warm blooded animals need to be vaccinated against rabies and prove that they are not infected. There are three stages of the symptoms and it usually ends in death.


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