When kittens are born they receive some level of antibodies from their mother which help to protect them from disease in their first few weeks of life. However, these antibodies start to wane after 8-9 weeks of age and the kitten’s immune system is then naïve, leaving them vulnerable to infections. It is for this reason that we recommend vaccinating your kitten. The primary course of immunisations consists of an initial injection at 8-9 weeks old followed by a booster 3-4 weeks later. Your cat will then require annual boosters to maintain their immunity.
The diseases which we vaccinate against are:
Feline Herpes Virus type 1 (FHV) (Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis)
Transmitted: Spread of this virus is via aerosols and fomites (any inanimate object which can spread infection). Convalescent cats may harbour the virus for many months, during this time they will intermittently shed virus into their environment. Periods of stress may trigger further bouts of illness.
Clinical signs:FHV causes an acute respiratory disease; infected cats can show any number of the following signs; fever, sneezing, conjunctivitis, excess tear and saliva production, ulceration of the eyes and mucoid discharge from the eyes and nose. Cats may also become anorexic and weight loss can be marked in severe infections. Milder cases may only last for 5-10 days but more severely affected cats may be unwell for up to 6 weeks.
Severity:Prognosis is usually good except for young kittens and elderly cats. Secondary bacterial infections can complicate and increase the severity of disease.
Feline Calicivirus (FCV)
Transmitted:Similarly to FHV this virus is shed via aerosols and fomites. Infected cats will shed the virus continually into their environment.
Clinical signs: FCV is also another causative pathogen of the feline respiratory disease complex (commonly known as ‘cat flu’). Signs shown by infected cats are therefore very similar and it can often be impossible to differentiate between the two viruses just from examination of the cat. Occasionally an animal will develop ‘Limping Syndrome’ when infected with a particular strain of Calicivirus rather than respiratory signs. Kittens are most susceptible to this and will develop lameness on varying legs.
Severity: Again, very similar to FHV.
Feline Panleukaemia Virus (FPLV)
Transmitted:This highly contagious virus is shed in large amounts in the faeces and other secretions of infected cats, even up to 6 weeks after recovery. Fomites also spread FPLV. The virus can survive in the environment for up to a year at room temperature.
Clinical signs: Kittens are most severely affected by this disease and it is often fatal. Signs include fever, anorexia, depression, vomiting, diarrhoea, severe dehydration, hypothermia and can lead to septic shock. Very acute cases can die very suddenly (can cause ‘fading kittens’), in some cases the infection course lasts 5-7 days. The virus infects and destroys cells in bone marrow and intestines; in very young kittens it can also affect brain tissue which causes tremors.
Severity: Mortality is highest in kittens less than 5 months. This virus causes very severe disease.
Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV)
Transmitted: Infection rates of this virus are highest in households with multiple cats and cats with outdoor access. Cats which have contracted the virus but then recovered can be ‘persistently infected’ and act as a reservoir of the virus. Saliva is the biggest source of spread of the virus through oro-nasal contact between cats, therefore shared litter trays, food bowls and mutual grooming can pass disease between cats in one household. Tears, urine and faeces can also contain virus.
Clinical signs: Young kittens are much more susceptible to FeLV. During the acute stage of infection signs shown may include; mild fever, swelling of lymph nodes and lethargy. Cats with a strong immune system will be able to clear the virus, however those which cannot mount an adequate immune response go on to be persistently infected. These cats can then develop fatal disease including immunosuppression, neoplasia (lymphoma, leukaemia), anaemia, reproductive problems and enteritis.
Severity: Depending on the immune status of the cat the virus can either be cleared, or can lead to many fatal diseases. This is why we recommend vaccinating cats against FeLV, particularly those with outdoor access.