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 can 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 can benefit your furry friend.

Mubina Pirmohamed
Insurance expert
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Last Updated 16 FEBRUARY 2022

Why should I vaccinate my cat? 

Vaccines protect against a range of infectious diseases caused by viruses and bacteria. If kittens aren’t vaccinated, they could contract serious illnesses including flu, distemper, leukaemia or rabies. Sadly, these can be fatal. 

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
  • 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.

How do vaccinations for cats work?

As in humans, cat vaccinations introduce a small, harmless dose of the illness to encourage your cat’s immune system to defend itself. This means that if they’re exposed to it for real, they’re much less likely to become sick. 

Vaccines are combined into a single injection, usually 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 vaccine is given, your vet will give your cat the once-over to make sure they’re okay to have the jab. They may delay it if your cat is already fighting an infection.

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?

Your cat needs to be vaccinated against harmful diseases at eight or nine weeks old and will need a second set of booster vaccinations at 12 weeks. An annual booster is recommended after that to protect against: 

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

Will vaccines hurt my cat? 

Vaccinations aren’t usually painful but they may sting a little or feel cold. While your cat might not be too thrilled about being taken to the vet, the procedure will usually be over with quickly. 

Pet vaccines are rigorously tested and side effects are rare. Most cats won’t suffer any adverse reactions but temporary symptoms may include: 

  • Localised swelling
  • Slight fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sneezing or coughing
  • Tiredness 

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

What vaccinations does my cat need? 

Cat vaccines can be split into those that are essential for all cats and those that are only needed for some cats.

The essential or ‘core’ cat vaccinations in the UK are: 

  • 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 and 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 non-core vaccinations your cat might have are: 

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

Do indoor cats need vaccines? 

Yes. Even the most docile indoor cat can make a bid for freedom, especially if it’s 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. 

Your pet will need to be vaccinated against cat flu and enteritis. House cats that don’t go out and don’t live with other pets may not need to be vaccinated against feline leukaemia.

When can my kitten go outside after vaccinations? 

Your cat should have immunity a week after its second set of vaccinations. Before that, your kitten should be kept inside and away from other unvaccinated animals.

How much do cat vaccinations cost?

Prices for vaccinating kittens and cats vary among vet practices, so it’s worth shopping around. The cost of a full course (two rounds) of vaccinations for a kitten is around £75. An additional rabies vaccination costs around £65 and annual boosters cost about £50-£55.

The full course of vaccinations 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%.

What if I miss a booster injection? 

If it’s been a long time since your cat had a booster or if you’ve adopted a cat and you don’t know its vaccination history, you may need to restart the programme with the primary two-vaccination course. Your vet will advise.

Will my pet insurance cover the cost? 

In most cases, your pet insurance won’t cover routine pet care like vaccinations. If you’re on a low income or receiving certain benefits, you may be eligible to subsidised vet treatment that could help with the cost of having your cat vaccinated.

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.

Having pet insurance does mean you’re covered for lots of other eventualities, 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?

There are no cases of rabies in the UK, but 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. Although this is the only additional vaccine you need to take your cat abroad, it’s important to keep all your documentation as well as the vaccination programme up-to-date, 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.

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