Vaccination is one of the most important preventive measures to prevent disease and suffering in cats. Basic vaccination for cats in Sweden means vaccination against two of the viruses that cause feline colds, as well as against the virus that causes feline plague. In addition, there are other vaccinations that may be relevant, such as rabies vaccination before traveling abroad.
Through vaccination, you as an animal owner can not only protect your cat against serious illness and suffering, but you also help to keep the infection pressure down in the cat population. This reduces the risk of young or weak cats becoming ill. However, a vaccinated cat can still spread the infection under certain circumstances.
How does vaccine work for cats?
The vaccines commonly used in cats contain attenuated or killed viruses. When the cat’s immune system is exposed to these viruses, it responds by producing antibodies that neutralize the virus before it infects cells. Repeated vaccinations further strengthen the immune system. If the cat is exposed to natural infection by live, pathogenic viruses, the immune system reacts so that the cat avoids becoming seriously ill.
For each virus that multiplies in an animal’s cells, the total amount of virus in circulation increases. This is called increasing the infection pressure and means that all cats in a population are at increased risk of being exposed to the virus. They are also exposed to larger doses of virus.
Those individuals who for various reasons do not have adequate vaccine protection (eg small kittens or cats that have been neglected) are then at greater risk of becoming seriously ill. A vaccinated cat can still become infected, but the amount of virus in the cat’s body tends to be less compared to an unvaccinated cat.
Vaccination both protects the individual cat and reduces the total infection pressure.
Why is vaccination necessary for cats?
Vaccinating the cat is not mandatory, but it is an important responsibility you as the owner have, both towards your own cat and other cats. Vaccinations and regular refills keep the cat healthy and do not risk serious illness. Vaccination of cats is considered an important contribution to animal welfare in Sweden, as it prevents unnecessary suffering.
Both outdoor cats and indoor cats must be vaccinated. Some infections are not only spread via direct contact, but can also be spread indirectly, for example through objects, toys or the environment. As an owner, you can also carry infections without your knowledge. Dirty shoes or clothes that have become contaminated can pose a risk of infection for an indoor cat.
The more cats that are vaccinated, the less the spread of infection and fewer cases of disease. If we stopped vaccinating our cats, the number of cases would skyrocket.
When should the cat be vaccinated?
Kittens are protected by their mother’s antibodies during the first weeks of life (provided the mother cat is properly vaccinated). At 7 – 8 weeks of age, the antibody levels begin to drop and it is then time to vaccinate it for the first time. The next dose is given when the cat is 12 weeks old. Depending on the vaccine used (killed or weakened live) and the kitten’s growth conditions, an extra dose may sometimes be needed at about 16 weeks of age. If you buy a kitten from a breeder, it is usually vaccinated once or possibly twice upon delivery when it is 12 weeks old. Always ask for the cat’s vaccination certificate when buying.
The next injection is given when the cat is 1 year old. Under certain conditions, an extra dose may be needed around 6-9 months of age. This mainly applies to cats in high-risk environments, such as in cat homes, or in animal-dense cat groups such as breeding.
Thereafter, the vaccine against feline plague is given every three years. For indoor cats that live alone and do not stay in a boarding house or meet new cats, it is enough to vaccinate against feline cold every three years or even less often. Cats in high-risk environments, which are exposed to more infection in their environment, should be vaccinated against feline colds every year. This often includes outdoor cats in animal-dense environments, cat domestic cats and cats in breeding.
Also vaccinate indoor cats
Vaccinating an indoor cat is just as important as an outdoor cat. Even if an outdoor cat stays more in unsafe environments or encounters other outdoor cats that can spread the infection, an indoor stay is not a guarantee of an infection-free environment. An indoor cat can also be affected by the most common diseases. This is often done by you as the owner taking infectious agents home, for example by getting stuck on clothes or under your shoes.
However, the vaccination interval for indoor cats is longer. a syringe against feline plague and feline rhinitis every three years is usually enough. If the cat is going to live in a boarding house or bring home a new cat friend, an extra syringe against cat runny nose may be needed.
What are cats vaccinated against?
The infectious diseases that are included in the basic vaccination for Swedish cats are feline plague and feline colds. Both of these diseases occur in Sweden, and it is therefore important to ensure that cats have good, up-to-date vaccine protection against these.
Cat flu is caused by several different infectious agents, both viruses and bacteria. The cat flu vaccine includes the cat’s rhinotracheitis virus (also called feline herpesvirus type 1, FHV-1) and the cat’s calivirus (feline calicivirus, FCV). Both of these viruses are highly contagious and have the potential to cause serious illness in unvaccinated animals, especially in young or weak individuals. It is important to know that despite vaccination, cats can become infected and even develop symptoms of these viruses, but the disease tends to be milder. Chronic carriers are common. There are also other viruses and bacteria that can cause cat flu.
Cat plague is a highly contagious and sometimes deadly disease that can affect cats of all ages. The disease is caused by parvovirus, or feline panleukopenivirus, FPV. The virus is spread primarily through the feces of infected cats.
A cat that is to travel abroad must be fully vaccinated against rabies at least three weeks before you leave. The vaccination must be registered in the cat’s EU passport. Depending on the brand used, one or two doses are needed in the basic vaccination.
Here you can read more about EU passports.
When should you not vaccinate your cat?
There are some times when you should not vaccinate your cat. It must first and foremost be healthy and in good general condition. If the cat has an ongoing infection, a vaccination can make the cat even more ill, or the vaccine may not have the intended effect. If you have a booked vaccination for your cat and you discover that it is ill before the vet visit, you need to cancel the vaccination to take care of the cat first.
The cat must be in good condition, ie not be malnourished, have a large worm burden or have just been subjected to neglect. A malnourished cat has a weaker immune system which can mean that the body reacts negatively to a vaccination, or that the immune reaction is absent during vaccination. This is important to keep in mind if, for example, you have taken over a cat from a cat home or taken over a rescue cat. Let it first recover under protected conditions.
During an ongoing medical treatment, you should avoid vaccination, for example during a cortisone treatment. The same applies if the cat is being cared for for a physical condition such as an abscess after a bite injury, or if the cat has recently been neutered. Make sure the cat has finished its treatment or healed completely before vaccinating. In the case of continuous treatments, the cat can and should still be vaccinated. Consult your veterinarian before vaccination.
If the cat is unvaccinated when it comes to the vet for a condition, you should inform about this. This can be an important piece of information in the medical history, and it is also important for the clinic to know that the cat can pose a risk of infection to other patients.
Side effects from vaccination
Your cat may experience side effects after vaccination. The purpose of the vaccine is, after all, to trigger a reaction in the immune system, but in safe forms. Any side effects are usually mild and go away within 1-2 days. Common side effects after a vaccination are swelling at the injection site and sometimes a mild fever.
In rare cases, vaccines can trigger an allergic reaction, which can become serious. This is a risk with all medications, and therefore also with vaccination. Signs of a severe allergic reaction are itching, vomiting and diarrhea, difficulty breathing and collapse. Contact a veterinarian immediately if you notice any of these symptoms after vaccination.