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What you need to know about cat vaccinations

Vaccinating your cat can protect them from serious illness and disease. Read our guide to cat vaccinations today to see how they could benefit your furry friend.

Vaccinating your cat can protect them from serious illness and disease. Read our guide to cat vaccinations today to see how they could benefit your furry friend.

Written by
Mubina Pirmohamed
Insurance comparison expert
Last Updated
24 MARCH 2023
6 min read
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Do cats need vaccines?

Vaccines protect against a range of common infectious diseases caused by viruses and bacteria. They can help prevent serious illness resulting from cat flu, distemper, leukaemia or rabies. Sadly, some of these are potentially fatal, particularly to kittens.

There are other good reasons to get your cat vaccinated:

  • Vaccinations prevent your cat from spreading disease to other pets.
  • Your cat will need to be vaccinated to stay in a cattery or will require particular vaccinations if you want to take them abroad.
  • Paying for vaccinations could be cheaper in the long run compared with the cost of your cat getting ill, resulting in large vet’s bills for treatment.
  • Vaccination appointments are a good opportunity for your vet to give your cat a thorough health check and to advise on care, flea and worm treatments, diet and behaviour.
  • Many pet insurance policies require your cat's vaccinations to be up to date for your policy to be valid.

How do vaccinations for cats work?

As in humans, cat and kitten jabs introduce a small, harmless dose of the illness to encourage your cat’s immune system to defend itself. These cat immunisations mean that if they’re exposed to it for real, they’re far less likely to become sick. They’re particularly helpful to prevent some illnesses where no meaningful treatment is available.

 

What diseases do cat vaccinations cover?

Core cat immunisations can protect pets from:

  • Feline infectious enteritis – also known as feline distemper, this spreads through infected urine, faeces, blood or fleas and can be fatal, particularly in kittens. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, weight loss and a high fever.
  • Feline herpes virus and feline calicivirus – these cause what’s commonly known as cat flu. Symptoms are similar to human flu and include sneezing, a runny nose, conjunctivitis and a sore, inflamed throat. Its seriousness varies from mild to fatal and while the vaccine doesn’t guarantee your cat won’t get flu, it goes a long way to lowering the severity of it.
  • Feline leukaemia – typically spreads through close or direct contact with an infected cat. Look out for weight loss, loss of appetite, recurrent illnesses, inflamed gums and diarrhoea. The disease can be fatal, and cats that do survive usually end up with lowered immune systems, putting them at risk of other illnesses.

The cat injections your pet might have also include:

  • Rabies – this is needed for cats that travel outside of the UK and must be given at least three weeks before travel.
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica – a bacteria that causes bronchitis and flu-like symptoms in cats.
  • Feline chlamydophilosis – which mainly causes conjunctivitis in cats. The vaccine won’t always prevent it, but it does reduce the seriousness of symptoms.

Core vaccines are usually combined into a single cat injection, which is typically administered into the back of the neck. You may be asked to hold your pet as still as possible while they’re having the jab.

Before any cat or kitten jabs are given, your vet will give your pet the once-over to make sure they’re okay to have the jab. They might delay it if your cat is already fighting an infection. Your vet should tell you which diseases your cat or kitten has been vaccinated against.

Are cat vaccinations required by law? 

There’s no legal requirement in the UK to vaccinate your cat but it’s strongly recommended to protect your cat and others from serious illness. The exception to this is the rabies vaccine, which is required by law if you plan to travel abroad with your pet.

When do I need to vaccinate my cat?

Kitten injections need to be given at around eight to nine weeks to help protect them against harmful diseases while their immune system is still developing. Kittens will need a second set of booster vaccinations at 12 weeks.

So, if you’re wondering when your kitten can go outside after vaccinations, they should have immunity a week after their second set of vaccinations. Before that, your kitten should be kept inside and away from other unvaccinated animals.

Cats will continue to need booster jabs to help them build up and maintain immunity – some need to be given every year while others will last for longer. Your vet should be able to tell you what’s needed and when. For example, an annual booster is recommended to protect against:

  • Feline infectious enteritis
  • Feline herpes virus and feline calicivirus (cat flu)
  • Feline chlamydophilosis
  • Feline leukaemia.

If you miss a vaccination or take in an adult cat without knowing if it’s been vaccinated, then your cat may need to restart their vaccination programme as if they were a kitten.

If you get your cat from a breeder or rehome it from a charity, make sure you ask about vaccinations – so you know if they have already been done.

What are the side effects of cat vaccinations?

You may be worried about cat vaccination side effects, but pet vaccines are rigorously tested and side effects are rare. Most cats won’t suffer any adverse reactions, but temporary symptoms might include:

  • Localised swelling
  • Slight fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sneezing or coughing
  • Tiredness – you kitten may be sleepy after vaccination.

Symptoms should pass within 48 hours but speak to your vet if you’re concerned. It’s important to remember that the risks of your cat being unvaccinated far outweigh the risks from potential side effects.

Do indoor cats need vaccinations every year?

Even the most docile house cat needs regular vaccinations. Cats and kittens may make a bid for freedom, especially if they’re frightened or a door or window is unexpectedly left open. And other animals like stray cats, bats or birds could find their way into your home – perhaps through your cat flap. Viruses and bacteria can also be carried in on shoes or clothing.

Your pet will need the cat flu vaccination and a jab to protect them against enteritis. House cats that don’t go out and don’t live with other pets might not need to be vaccinated against feline leukaemia.

How much do cat vaccinations cost?

Cat vaccine prices vary among vet practices, so it’s worth shopping around. The kitten vaccination cost for a full course (two rounds) is around £75-120. An additional rabies vaccination costs around £60-80 and annual boosters cost about £50-£55.

A full course of cat injections includes protection against feline leukaemia. This is necessary for outdoor or social animals. If your cat is a lone pet and lives exclusively indoors, you may choose to opt out of the feline leukaemia vaccination, which will reduce the cost by about 25%.

Some animal charities offer cat injections free and low-cost veterinary care for those on a low income or in receipt of certain benefits. They will usually have eligibility criteria that you’ll need to meet. Do a search for ‘free cat vaccinations near me’ to find help locally.

You can also check for details of your local RSPCA to see if you’re entitled to low-cost vet care through the charity. The PDSA supports sick or injured animals if their owners are on means-tested benefits. You can check to see if you’re eligible for PDSA vet services.

Where can I get my cat vaccinated?

Your usual vet, if you have one, should be able to vaccinate your kitten or cat. But you might want to shop around local vets to see how much they charge for the jabs or to see if you’d be eligible for low or no-cost vaccines.

Will my pet insurance cover the cost? 

In most cases, your pet insurance won’t cover routine pet care like vaccinations. Many vets offer pet health care packages or plans to help you spread the costs of regular check-ups and preventative treatments through the year.

Having pet insurance does mean you’re covered for many other eventualities, such as surgery and medicines, so start a quote today to find suitable cover for you and your furry friend at a price that’s right for you.

Frequently asked questions

Do I have to vaccinate my cat against rabies?

If you’re bringing a cat into the country from abroad or if you take your cat out of the country, you’ll need to vaccinate them against rabies. This is the only additional vaccine you’ll need to take your cat abroad. It’s important to keep all your documentation, as you’ll need proof of the vaccinations your cat has had.

My cat has already had flu. Do I need to vaccinate?

Yes. The vaccine will help to prevent any flare-ups.

My cat is on other medication. Will this affect the vaccination programme?

Some medication, including steroids and anti-itch drugs, can affect vaccinations. Always check with your vet.

What is the FVRCP vaccine?

This is the name of a combination vaccine given to kittens and cats. It’s a core vaccination and is known as ‘FVRCP’ because the letters stand for the diseases it protects against:

  • FVR = feline viral rhinotracheitis/herpes virus (cat flu)
  • C = calicivirus (cat flu)
  • P = feline parvovirus (panleukopenia/infectious enteritis).

But there are different brand names and types of vaccinations that can be used. 

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