Cat Vaccinations- What does it protect against?
Just as in humans, vaccinating your cat helps to protect him or her against several serious and/or life-threatening diseases. Vaccination is a critical part of a proper preventive healthcare programme. A vaccine is designed to provide protection against a specific infectious disease through stimulating an immune response that will protect the cat if it is subsequently exposed to the infection. Although vaccination does not always prevent infection with these viruses, it will help greatly in reducing the severity of disease if a vaccinated cat does become infected.
Feline panleukopaenia, also known as feline enteritis or cat parvovirus, is a very contagious disease which spreads so easily that specific disinfectant needs to be used to avoid further spreading. This disease can be fatal and the death rate is fairly high amongst kittens who contract it. Cats who contract feline enteritis while pregnant will in most cases lose their young at birth or give birth to disabled kittens.
Vaccination against this virus is highly effective and has a critical role in protecting cats against infection, especially as the virus is highly contagious. The virus can also survive for long periods in the environment so vaccination is the only real way to protect cats.
Feline herpesvirus and calicivirus
Feline herpes virus and calicivirus are the two most common culprits for cat flu. Symptoms of these infections include nasal discharge, watery eyes, sneezing and coughing. These respiratory diseases are generally not fatal but can cause distress for the infected cat. They can occur in cats and kittens of any age, are highly contagious, and even after symptoms resolve, cats can still be ‘carriers’ and continue to spread the infection.
Feline herpesvirus is marked by fever, which can come and go, as well as sneezing and inflamed eyes. Often there is discharge from the nose and eyes containing mucus and pus which starts off clear and thickens with the progression of the illness. Some cats develop mouth sores and loss of appetite because of the resultant discomfort when eating; weight loss is another common side effect for these cats.
Feline calicivirus typically causes few or no signs, in some cats it can develop to pneumonia as a result of fluid build-up in the lungs. It is often impossible to distinguish feline herpesvirus from feline calicivirus infections as the symptoms are so similar.
Both of these viruses are ubiquitous in cat populations, and because infection is so common, and can often be quite severe (especially in younger cats), vaccination is considered important for all cats.
Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
FIV stands for feline immunodeficiency virus just as HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. In fact, these two viruses are closely related and much of the general information that has become common knowledge for HIV also holds true for FIV. FIV is a virus that causes AIDS in cats (a syndrome of diseases relating to the suppression of the immune system); however, there is usually a long asymptomatic period before AIDS occurs. Life expectancy of the FIV+ cat is variable. Approximately 20% die within 5 years of infection. An additional 20 percent are still alive in that time frame but are experiencing illness from their immune-suppressed state. The remaining cats appear normal and many go on to live long lives, only periodically experiencing illness.
The major route of virus transmission is by the deep bite wounds that occur during fighting. Somewhere between 15-30% of the feral cat population in NSW has the FIV virus. There are other means of spreading the virus but they are less common. Mother cats cannot readily infect their kittens (except in the initial stages of infection). FIV can be transmitted sexually and via improperly screened blood transfusions. Casual contact such as sharing food bowls, or snuggling is very unlikely to be associated with transmission. If your cat is regularly unsupervised outdoors it is at risk of becoming infected with FIV.
There is a vaccine available in Australia to protect cats against this potentially deadly virus, and it is recommended for cats that regularly go outdoors. To protect your cat, three shots are needed initially, and then a booster vaccination every 12 months. If your cat has already been outdoors, and particularly if they have been fighting with other cats, they should be tested before they receive the vaccination.
Just as in humans, vaccinating your cat helps to protect him or her against several serious and/or life-threatening diseases. Vaccination is a critical part of a proper preventive healthcare program. A vaccine is designed to provide protection against a specific infectious disease by stimulating an immune response that will protect the cat if it is subsequently exposed to the infection. Although vaccination does not always prevent infection with these viruses, it will help greatly in reducing the severity of disease if a vaccinated cat does become infected.