Animal Care bvba - Vets small and large domestic animals

The number of families in which cats are a real part of the household grows every day. Therefore, it is obvious that the quality of care for these pets equals that of humans. Just as you have your child regularly checked by a paediatrician, your favourite pet, younger or older cat should be regularly checked by a veterinarian.


The most important feline infections and their prevention

During your family friend´s lifetime, your vet will make sure it gets the necessary vaccines against dreaded diseases and perform regular checks to guarantee its optimal integration in the household.

How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine is produced based on the virus or the bacterium responsible for the infection, which is typical of the eventual disease. It contains a number of these viruses or bacteria that underwent a profound change in the lab, to weaken their intensity and dangerous properties. Because of this treatment, they cannot cause any more diseases and, instead, stimulate the production of protective antibodies in living creatures. A well vaccinated cat has been immunised. In other words, it is protected by antibodies when exposed to the virus or bacterium. The protection offered by a vaccine diminishes over time and therefore a revaccination is required. The use of combined vaccines is generally advised for practical reasons: one single injection offers protection against several diseases.

Vaccinations in kittens

Newly born kittens can absorb antibodies through their mother's milk on condition that the mother has also been vaccinated or infected in the month prior to giving birth. These antibodies offer temporal protection against certain infections. As long as the cat drinks mother's milk, it is protected against certain diseases, even without vaccination. The antibodies in mother´s milk reduce the vaccine´s effectiveness. Therefore, immunisation of kittens is only possible if a vaccine is used which exceeds the maternal antibodies in content or by administering a vaccine at the end of the period in which interference with maternal antibodies occurs. It is assumed that kittens are free of maternal antibodies at an age of 9 to 12 weeks and can receive a classic vaccination from that moment on. To be effective, a primary vaccination needs to be repeated several times in order to exceed the antibodies present in the mother's milk.

1. Feline leukaemia virus (FeLV)

The feline leukaemia virus is considered as one of the most important causes of infection and above all mortality in cats. The virus can infect cats at any age and is very contagious. The infection is transmitted by licking, biting and sneezing, in other words, normal feline behaviour. A cat which has FeLV may appear healthy at first sight, but be a carrier of the disease throughout its entire lifetime. Months, even years can pass between the moment of infection and the appearance of the first symptoms. The characteristics can be very numerous. The virus is responsible for two kinds of disease: one arises because the feline leukaemia virus causes the defence mechanisms to decrease considerably; the other disorder comes as a consequence of a developing tumour. However, when one knows its cat well, one recognises abnormal behaviour at a very early stage: extraordinarily calm, weight loss, poor appetite, frequent vomiting, repeated diarrhoea.

Prevention of FeLV is only possible through a vaccine which protects the animal against viraemia and the development of tumours. The vaccine can be administered from the age of 9 weeks, a second dose 3-4 weeks later, followed by a yearly vaccination.

2. Feline panleucopaenia virus (typhus)

Panleucopaenia, better known as “cat plague”, is probably the best known disorder of feline diseases. The virus occurs worldwide, is very contagious and associated with very high mortality. Cats can get infected by the cloths and hands of merchants, by infected clothing and even by fleas from a sick cat. In unprotected cats the virus affects most of the organs, especially the gastrointestinal tract, with diarrhoea, vomiting and torpor as a consequence. The virus can also cause serious injuries in the lymph nodes and marrow, very important areas in the protection of the organism. In that case the resilience of the organism against other microbes has decreased and the disorder will only get worse.

It is indispensable to vaccinate cats against panleucopaenia. Safe and effective vaccines against panleucopaenia are available since many years. Kittens need to get vaccinated at an age of 9 weeks. The vaccination needs to be repeated 3-4 weeks later. A yearly vaccination is recommended. Kittens, of which the mother has not been previously vaccinated every year, can be vaccinated very early after birth.

3. Respiratory tract infections (Coryza)

This is the most common infectious disease in cats. This disorder is usually not mortal in adult animals. In young animals however, mortality is high, especially in association with other disorders. The respiratory disorders are caused by viral or bacterial infections. The most important are the calicivirus (FCV) and the rhinotracheitis virus (FVR). The symptoms of these two disorders are very much alike, which makes a diagnosis difficult. A less serious and less frequent disorder of the respiratory tracts is that caused by the Chlamydia bacterium. This bacterium especially occurs in large cat populations (guesthouses, catteries, exhibitions, families with many cats). The infection can mostly be recognised by the appearance of chronic conjunctivitis in combination with a running nose.

Unlike viral infections, bacterial infections can be easily treated with antibiotics. Vaccination against viral rhinotracheitis and infection by the calicivirus can be administered in its own right or in combination with vaccination against feline leucopoenia. There is a combined vaccine which also protects against Chlamydia. Cats over 9 weeks need to get 2 vaccines with an interval of 3 to 4 weeks. For an optimal protection young kittens can be vaccinated from 9 weeks on. A yearly revaccination is recommended.

4. Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)

Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is a complex disorder caused by a virus which is transmitted through oral and nasal contact with an infected cat (nutrition, running nose, excrements). The disease is always fatal within 6 months. The disease manifests itself in 2 ways, often characterised by torpor, fever, loss of appetite, but is often difficult to diagnose.

All cats can get infected, but especially very young or old cats as well as cat populations (catteries, nurseries), cats that travel a lot or are frequently outside and cats infected with the feline leukaemia virus are at the biggest risk.

Unfortunately, antibiotics or other treatments have no effect on the disease. Years of studies have bared fruit: a vaccine has been developed and is available at your vet. It is administered directly through the cat´s nose, in two doses, followed by a yearly revaccination. Ask your vet for information.

5. Rabies

Rabies is a very dreaded feline disease which is also contagious to humans. Rabies, a disorder which affects warm-blooded animals, including humans, occurs all year round. Rabies is caused by a virus with an affinity for the nervous system. Mostly, the rabies virus spreads itself through a small wound, from a bite, into the peripheral nerve cells and subsequently into the brain, where it multiplies. The infection spreads throughout the entire body, even into the salivary glands, the breeding ground for the virus to other animals and humans. The evolution of the disease can take weeks, even months and mostly ends in death, especially through shortness of breath and suffocation. Cats are one of the most dangerous species to man because of their behaviour and way of life. In all, there are more cats with rabies than dogs in Belgium.

Vaccination protects the animal and helps build a protective barrier between humans and the reservoir of rabies. Vaccination against rabies is mandatory in several areas in Belgium (Ardennes, south of Sambre and Meuse), on campsites, as well as for journeys abroad.

Preventive vaccination is indicated

Prevention is better than the cure when it comes to controlling a contagious disease. A preventive vaccination is less costly than a treatment, avoids unnecessary suffering, handicaps and permanent lesions, and reduces transmission of the disease. A vaccine is not effective against a disease which is already present or during the incubation period, when the animal still shows no symptoms. A malnourished cat, a cat infected by parasites or cats with poor health at the time of vaccination do not show an immunological response to the vaccine. A comprehensive vaccination scheme, set up and administered by your vet, is an absolute guarantee for the prevention of contagious feline diseases.