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Diseases that are caused by contagious viruses tend to cycle within a population. Sometimes there is a low incidence of the disease as the virus is not very virulent, most animals have been vaccinated, or other conditions don’t favor an outbreak. At other times there can be epidemics as a highly virulent strain of the virus emerges, or other factors change to support an outbreak.
The purpose of vaccinating your cat is to prevent the development of clinical disease by either preventing your pet from catching the virus - or if they do get infected - by limiting the severity and the effects of any infection. Our job, as your pets veterinarian, is to recommend what we think is the best vaccination course for your kitten / cat to ensure it can live a healthy and “disease free” life.
Recommended Vaccination Protocol
We recommend that all infectious cat diseases currently present in NZ should be vaccinated against. Cats should have yearly health checks at which we will tailor the vaccination schedule to suite your cats needs and maintain their protection against these diseases.
The ‘core’ infectious cat diseases currently present in NZ that WE RECOMMEND your cat should be vaccinated against are: Cat flu, Enteritis and Feline Aids.
Primary Vaccination Course
Initially a primary course of injections will be given. The number and type will depend on the age of the animal, pre-existing immunity, general state of health, and overall risk factors.
- Baby Kitten - 6 to12 weeks old: Typically there will be 2-3 vaccinations needed to complete the primary course from when we first see the kitten.
- Older Kitten/ cat – over 12 weeks old: Two vaccinations/visits will be adequate to complete the primary course.
- Adult cat whose vaccination cover has lapsed: Two vaccinations/visits will be adequate to complete the primary course.
Your cat will have NO lasting vaccination immunity if you don’t bring it in for its FULL course of vaccinations.
If you are having your pet vaccinated prior to surgery or a boarding cattery, please recognize that a vaccination course will NOT provide its maximum protection until 10 days after the final vaccination of the course!! Most boarding catteries require a minimum of 2-4weeks between the date of the vaccination and the date your cat enters the cattery.
Protection will be not be complete until 10 days following the last vaccination in the series. Up to this time your kitten/cat should remain on your property, or other ‘safe’ area, and avoid any direct contact with unvaccinated cats.
Without regular booster vaccinations throughout its life your pet’s vaccination protection will decline to the point it is no longer protected.
There is a lot of discussion about long term re-vaccination interval at the moment given that some vaccines might produce immunity that lasts more than one year, particularly if this immunity is ‘boosted’ by natural challenge ie. Exposure to disease!
BUT for conferred immunity from vaccination to last for more than one year the following has to happen.
- The cat must have been vaccinated as a kitten and its full vaccination series must be completed no earlier than 12 weeks old. ALSO the interval between the first vaccination and its booster must not be more than six weeks.
- The cat must have received at least one ANNUAL booster at 12months after its ‘start-up’ series.
- The cat must have been faced with natural ‘challenge’ by the disease in the wild state to boost immunity.
- The cat must be healthy and have a normally functioning immune system. There are several life stages (very old, very young) where this may not apply, AND there are several diseases that can impair the immune system. Other nonspecific diseases might also affect the cats ability to react to the vaccine and produce long lasting antibodies to infection.
NB. There is no guarantee your cat will receive a ‘booster’ by the ‘natural challenge’ of disease faced in the wild. As such there is no guarantee of protection beyond the minimum period offered by vaccination, and your cat would be completely exposed!
As you can see there are several areas where long term protection can become compromised and as such we recommend annual health checks, and annual re-vaccination against some of the feline diseases.
ALSO cats going into catteries must be revaccinated annually AND vaccine manufacturers specify regular/annual boosters in most cases as well.
Another Advantage Of Annual Health Checks
Your cat ages seven years to every year of ours. Your cat’s annual vaccination visit will include a thorough ANNUAL HEALTH CHECK and will give you the opportunity to ask any questions on your pet’s health that have been concerning you.
Any problems discovered at examination will be discussed and attended to before they get out of hand.
Diseases covered by Vaccination
CAT FLU (Feline Rhinotracheitis Virus, Feline Calici Virus).
Also called snuffles and Feline Upper Respiratory Syndrome (FURS)
This is the most common and highly contagious viral disease in NZ cats. The symptoms of this condition resembles that of human colds and flu’s. Transmission is via body secretions, especially from the nose, mouth and eyes.
These include the loss of appetite, discharges from nose and eyes, sneezing and mouth ulcers. Snuffles is often associated with a raised temperature and if left untreated it can cause permanent damage to the nasal turbinate bones or spread to the lungs. It can be fatal in young kittens.
Several microbes can cause the syndrome we recognize as ‘cat flu’. Feline Rhinotracheitis is a herpes virus and once a cat has been infected with this disease they can remain infected and carriers for the rest of their life. They can have regular relapses, where they go through bouts of sneezing and runny eyes or else be chronic ‘snufflers’. These cats act as reservoir hosts for the virus so that the disease can then be passed on to other cats.
As with the human flu, vaccination can confer anything from complete protection through to a lessening of symptoms without completely stopping the patient from becoming sick.
These feline Herpes and Calici viruses are the most common and problematic causes of cat flu and can cause other issues, such as ulcers on the eyes (herpes) and ulcers in the mouth (Calici) which can further compromise recovery. Other organisms can also cause or contribute to cat flu, including Ricketsia, Mycoplasma, and Chlamydia (see later section). As such a cat that is vaccinated against cat flu can still get sick! Though hopefully the disease will be much milder than if the cat had no protection at the start.
FELINE INFECTIOUS ENTERITIS /PANLEUKOPAENIA (Feline Panleucopaenia Virus)
This is a highly infectious and fatal disease is a close relative to the canine parvovirus and is spread through contact with an infected cat’s bodily fluids, faeces or fleas. The signs are usually those of acute and severe gastroenteritis, depression, vomiting, diarrhoea, rapid dehydration and death (which can occur within 12 hours after the onset of signs. Sub-clinical infection of pregnant queens will cause cerebellar hypoplasia (small & defective brain syndrome) in the foetuses. Unfortunately this disease is hard and expensive to treat and doesn’t always end with a favourable outcome.
FELINE AIDS (Feline Immuno-Deficiency Virus)
Feline AIDS is ultimately a potentially fatal viral disease that interferes with the immune system of a cat. Even though the feline virus is related to human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV), no human has ever been reported infected with FIV. This fatal virus is transmitted by saliva, bites and by blood products.
The disease presents itself by recurrent infections, severe weight loss and can be detected by a blood test.
Because Lower Hutt as a city has lots of open spaces our cats spend a lot of time outdoors and thus more in contact with other and also feral cats. There is now a new and effective vaccine out for FIV, which is protective of NZ strains! Because we have seen an increasing incidence of FIV we are now recommending vaccination of your cat for this disease.
As there is a lot of information about this disease process and vaccination procedure, we have created an additional handout solely for FIV information (available on request).
The ‘non-core’ infectious cat diseases that we can also vaccinate against include Leukaemia and Chlamydia, though we don’t include these in the routine vaccination schedules.
FELINE LEUKAEMIA (Feline Leukaemia Virus )
Cats younger than 3 months of age are most susceptible to this disease. Transmission between infected cats is mainly by saliva or nasal secretions, for example - when sharing a feeding dish. Whilst the majority of cats are able to combat this infection, 30% will become persistently infected and if not defeated by the animal’s immune system, the virus can be lethal. This virus can produce a variety of illnesses including tumours, leukaemia, reproductive and kidney failure. Although FeLV & FIV are in the same biological family and
although the diseases caused by them are similar, the viruses and the specific ways in which they cause disease differ in many ways.
With the advent of better and specific tests for both viruses, FeLV infections have been noted to be declining in N.Z over the last decade. Because its true threat is probably fairly low to most cats in a domestic situation, we offer the FeLV vaccine only as an additional injection at this clinic. We recommend it is use only in cats that will be at high risk and in contact with many differing cats throughout its life, e.g. breeding cats. Current vaccines provide a good level of protection and do not interfere with routine testing for the virus.
Chlamydia in cats is characterised by conjunctivitis and sneezing. In N.Z. it is thought that about 15% of cats with conjunctivitis test positive to Chlamydia. Although this bacteria is contagious to other cats, it is hard to culture and thus confirm diagnosis but it is easily treated with antibiotics and once recovered there is no long-term damage. We do not recommend the vaccine, as the ‘delayed lethargy syndrome’ it could cause was far worse than the disease we were trying to prevent.