Just as parents choose what to vaccinate their children for, or even if to vaccinate them at all… the cat owner must make the same decision for their cat. Here in Australia, the recommended vaccinations differ to the rest of the world because of the complete lack of some diseases (rabies), the lower rates of some diseases (feline leukaemia virus) and the relative harm vs benefit of certain vaccines.
How do Cat Vaccines Work?
A weakened live or dead virus is administered to your cat either nasally, orally by injection. The vaccine promotes an immune response in your cat which ensure they have a wealth of antibodies to fight the targeted disease if they are exposed to it. A vaccine will only work on a cat with a healthy immune system so cats with an immune system already under stress due to illness or age should not be vaccinated.
Kittens should not be vaccinated before 8 weeks partly because their bodies are not yet ready to handle the task of creating the immune response, but also because up till this age they still have part of their mother’s immune system and it will cause the vaccine to be less or non-effective.
OK, what should I vaccinate my Cat for?
Definitely vaccinate for the big 3, covered by the ‘F3’ vaccination program
- Panleucopaenia (FPV or feline parvovirus) – usually fatal in any aged cat unless treated, and though older cats often survive with treatment, young kittens usually do not.
- Feline Herpes Virus (FHV) usually leads to chronic illness, eye, nose and throat infections.
- Calicivirus (FCV) – a chronic respiratory virus, leading to death in more than 50% of cases and chronic illness in many others.
These vaccinations will protect your cat against the most dangerous, prevalent feline diseases your cat is likely to encounter in Australia. Without these vaccinations, you will not be able to board your cat if you go on holidays as none will take a cat without a current F3 vaccination passport. This means vaccination starts at 8 weeks, there is a booster at 12 months, then every three years.
Consider vaccinating for
- Feline leukaemia virus. Cats that contract this virus experience a high incidence of certain cancers such as leukaemia, lymphoma and bone cancer… but the vaccination itself increases the chances of still other carcinomas. In some countries, the increased risk is worth the benefit, but in Australia with infection rates in the unvaccinated cat community ranging from 10% on the West coast to as low as 2% on the east coast… the risk/benefit is less clear.
- Feline Immunodeficiency Virus – infection rates in Australia are estimated between 14-29% of the unvaccinated population… but this figure isn’t very useful. By far the highest affected group are unneutered roaming males as the disease can be spread by scratches and biting. As with human aids… casual contact is not enough to spread the disease between cats. The vaccine is only roughly 80% effective and again there is the risk the vaccine itself may cause sarcomas. You could end up shortening your cats’ life, for a risk you mainly indoor dwelling, desex female cat might never be exposed to. You decide. If you’ve got a boy with his dangly bits who is allowed out at night? Well, perhaps you should reconsider that in any case… but if that’s the case best to get him vaccinated. Once vaccinated your cat will test positive for the virus so its essential vaccinated cats are microchipped with the chip indicating their vaccination status because if they are picked up and taken to a shelter, they will be put down if tested and there is no evidence they are positive as the result of the vaccination only. Cats that test positive prior to vaccination cannot be vaccinated and it would do no good in any case. The cat has bolted so to speak.
- Feline infectiousperitonitis – This one is especially nasty, and almost always fatal. But it’s extremely rare, the vaccination effectiveness not very high and not actually known. The risk from vaccination is almost certainly higher for the average cat than the risk from the disease.