Vaccinations

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A large range of safe, efficacious, vaccines are now available to vaccinate your kitten and adult cat against the three major infectious diseases, which they can potentially suffer from, including:
  • Feline Panleucopaenia. (feline infectious enteritis, feline parvovirus)
  • Feline Respiratory Disease (cat flu): Feline rhinnotracheitis virus infection, (FVR) and Feline calicivirus (FCV).
  • Feline Leukaemia Virus. (FeLV)

Some commonly asked questions about Vaccination:

What is immunity?

Immunity to disease simply means that an individual (animal or person) is highly resistant to the threat of a particular disease. A fully vaccinated cat, provided that it has responded to vaccinations, should be capable of withstanding normal exposure to those diseases against which it has been vaccinated. It is possible for immunity to develop in a non-vaccinated animal, but for this to happen, the animal must first encounter the disease and then survive the encounter. For the potentially life-threatening diseases that we routinely vaccinate against, this is not a serious option.

So immunity does not just happen and yet in many ways nothing could be more natural....

Maternally Derived Antibody (MDA)

Nature has equipped the queen with the ability to pass on some of her own immunity (in the form of antibodies) before and shortly after giving birth (these are called Maternally Derived Antibodies) Whilst some of this immunity passes across the placenta to the young in the later stages of pregnancy, most is passed on in the first milk, known as colostrums. It is important that kittens suck early because MDA levels in the colostrums are at their highest at the time of birth. Furthermore, the newly born kitten is only able to make best use of MDA at this time; the ability to absorb antibodies directly from the gut into the bloodstream is lost

So if all goes well the young kitten will have received adequate "natural" maternal immunity from their mother to enable it to resist disease for a period of some weeks.

However, the extent of the protection depends on the immune status of the queen (as she cannot pass on what she does not have) and how quickly and how well the kittens have sucked.

In turn, the immune status of the mother is nowadays highly dependent on whether she has been properly vaccinated up to date. The better protected the queen, the more opportunity she has of passing good levels of immunity to her offspring.

How long does "natural" maternal immunity last?

Some kitten's levels of MDA vary from kitten to kitten, even in the same litter. MDA is also know as "passive" immunity, (which you may be familiar with) it is not actively produced by the kitten, thus it decays over a period of some weeks.

It is possible to predict the point where the kitten is no longer protected, by a blood test, but this is not practicable, on a routine basis. Fortunately, thanks to the cooperation of may owners, a leading pharmaceutical company in the UK called Intervet has researched, (with the assistance of independent laboratories) and examined around 3,000 cats to help to establish the timings of MDA decay for various diseases.

It is important to understand these timings because:

  • It provides a guide to the "average" age at which a kitten is no longer protected by the queens immunity and is therefore at risk.
  • It gives an indication of the best time to start the vaccination course.

How do Vaccines Work?

Vaccines work by stimulating the body to produce it's own defence against infection. One of the key components of this "defence" is antibody. Whilst MDA protects the young kitten, MDA can actually interfere with successful vaccination. This is because, although a vaccine is a modified harmless form of the disease, it is seen by MDA as an invader. MDA therefore assumes it's protective role and neutralises the vaccine.

Only when MDA falls to a moderate to low level, will the kitten respond to vaccination and Only when MDA falls to a moderate to low level, will the kitten respond to vaccination and produce it's own ("active") antibody levels.

When to give the first vaccination?

In general the earliest age for vaccination of kittens is around 9 weeks.

It is important to note that the primary course always consists of two or more vaccinations. This is because: -

  • Timing for effective vaccination varies from puppy to puppy (because of unknown MDA levels)
  • Some vaccines, such as Leptosproisis need to be administered twice in order to achieve high enough level of immunity.

Based upon local experience, your Veterinary Surgeon will advise you on the best schedule to adopt, but the aim will always be to provide your pet with the best possible protection.

Why give regular boosters?

As MDA in the kitten declines, so too does the protection produced as a result of vaccination, only more slowly as this is "active" immunity.

A cats "active" immunity can be topped up in two ways:

  • By exposure to disease.
  • By means of a booster vaccination.

The first, goes without saying is an impractical way of ensuring continued immunity, especially nowadays.

Vaccines today, are very effective and have a remarkably high safety record, millions of doses are used annually in the UK alone. The use of live, modified vaccines in particular have brought about levels of disease control, against for example Canine Parvovirus, that would have been almost undreamt of a little more than a decade ago.

Because of the incidence of these diseases has fallen as a direct result of widespread use of efficacious vaccines, the chances of an adult cat encountering them have also been reduced. Paradoxically, this is a dangerous situation for the pet which has not had a booster on a regular basis, because of the cat has not met all of the diseases on a regular basis, it may be unprotected. Sooner or later an encounter with a massive disease challenge could prove fatal.

What if my cat's booster has lapsed?

If you have forgotten to take your cat back for a booster, seek advice and guidance from your vet straight away, as the longer the delay, the more at risk your cat will be. The added benefit of regular boosters, are the preventative health checks given by your Vet at the time of vaccination. It also gives you the opportunity to discuss any concerns about your pets well being.

If you have any further concerns about vaccination, speak to your Veterinary Surgeon or visit: www.noah.demon.co.uk, which is The National Office of Animal Health. They have two briefing documents available of dog and cat vaccinations.

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