Cat Healthcare

Cat table


Cats are affected by many infectious diseases; some of them can be controlled by vaccination. We currently recommend vaccinating cats against the following diseases:

  • Feline panleucopaenia virus – this virus causes a severe and often fatal form of diarrhoea.
  • Feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus – these are the common causes of cat ‘flu’ infections.
  • Feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) –  this virus attacks a cat’s immune system and causes anaemia and certain cancers.

Vaccines are very effective in preventing disease caused by panleukopaenia virus, but do not always prevent infection with one of the ‘flu’ viruses.  Although not commonly fatal this disease can be severe and debilitating with affected cats having a blocked nose, loss of appetite and sometimes sores in the eyes or mouth.  Most cats will recover with treatment and nursing care, but this can take several weeks.  A large percentage of affected cats will remain carriers of the virus, which means that the infection may flare up if the cat is stressed (e.g. in a cattery).  If your cat is unlucky enough to become infected with one of the ‘flu’ viruses despite being vaccinated, you will notice that the disease is much milder and recovery much quicker.

No effective treatment exists for FeLV infections.  If your cat is confined indoors we do not need to vaccinate against this virus since the infection is spread via saliva (e.g. grooming, sharing food bowls and bite wounds) and indoor cats are not deemed to be at risk.

Kittens are vaccinated from 9 weeks of age with the second vaccine given 3 weeks later.  The booster vaccination is given a year later and combined with a full clinical examination and health check.  Further booster vaccinations are given on an annual basis according to the vaccine manufacturer’s recommendation.  If your cat is due to stay in a cattery it is important to ensure that the booster is done at least 7 days prior to the cat entering the cattery – it does take time for the body’s immune system to develop maximal protective immunity after vaccination.

Modern vaccines are very effective at preventing the target diseases, and are very safe so side effects are very rare.


Fleas are by far the most common and troublesome parasites found on pets.  Ticks, ear mites, lice and harvest mites are relatively uncommon.  Many cats seem to be completely untroubled by fleas, so why should you treat your cat?

  • Fleas can make your cat itchy and some cats become allergic to flea bites.
  • Fleas can pass a tapeworm (Dipylidium) to your cat.  The immature tapeworm develops inside the flea and during grooming your cat will swallow many fleas, hence becoming infected with this tapeworm.  Fleas can also spread disease.
  • Fleas suck blood and can cause anaemia during severe infestations, especially in kittens
  • Fleas cause itchy bites to people, often around the ankles.

Since cats are so good at grooming themselves, it can be quite difficult to find evidence of flea infestations on cats.  The best way to check for fleas is to put white tissue or paper next to your cat and brush your cat with a fine tooth comb.  The comb may trap a flea or two and often you will see small comma-shaped specks of flea-dirt (which is semi-digested blood from your pet!) on the tissue.  If you wet the tissue the black flea-dirt will leave red streaks.

Many flea products are available but your veterinary surgery will usually stock the products which are safest and most effective.  For treatment to be successful one should treat all household pets (cats and dogs) with a suitable product as well as the home environment.  Adult fleas can lay 50 eggs per day and the flea life cycle takes as little as 15 days during the summer.  Central heating means that they can breed throughout the year.  Flea eggs and pupae can survive up to three years indoors.  Modern household sprays often contain an extra ingredient that will stay active for a year and plays an important role in the battle against fleas.

Many of the older types of poisons used to kill fleas are still used in over-the-counter products.  These poisons have a narrow margin of safety and do sometimes cause signs of poisoning in cats. Other products intended for cats are no more than repellants and are useless. Certain dog spot-on formulations are extremely toxic to cats and can cause death.  Shampoos, powders and flea collars are all pretty ineffective and should not be used in the 21st century.

The products most commonly used for flea control are spot-on formulations such as Stronghold or Advocate.  They should be applied according to the manufacturer’s instructions every month.  It is important to continue treating during the winter months as well.  An alternative means of control is using a product called Program which is administered as an injection every six months.  The active ingredient does not kill adult fleas, but stops the fleas from producing viable eggs, hence breaking the flea life cycle.


The common types of worms found in cats are roundworm and tapeworm.  Both types live inside a cat’s intestines and cause few problems, unless in severe infestations e.g. kittens that will grow poorly.  Roundworm can infect people and the worms will cause tissue damage, particularly in young children, sometimes resulting in blindness or brain damage.  Responsible owners should worm their pets on a regular basis.

One type of tapeworm is acquired via fleas as explained above, the other type (Taenia), is acquired when your cat hunts mice and rats.  Roundworm eggs are passed in faeces and acquired through swallowing during grooming.  An infected queen will also pass these worms to her kittens via the milk.

Currently the advice is to worm your cat every three months.  If your cat lives indoors then every six months should suffice.  Worming products come in various preparations, but most commonly a tablet or paste.  Make sure that the tablet you choose will treat both roundworm and tapeworm since labelling for certain products may not be very clear.  We all know that cats can be very difficult to tablet, therefore we often offer to administer the worming tablet at the time of the booster vaccinations!

Practical advice would be to worm kittens every two weeks from the age of six weeks until they are 16 weeks old.  A worming paste such as Panacur is a suitable choice for kittens.  Older cats should be wormed every three months especially if they hunt.  Milpro tablets are relatively small and thus ‘easy’ to administer.  The flea spot-on product Stronghold has a built-in wormer, but unfortunately does not contain an ingredient that will kill tapeworm.  When using this product, use a separate wormer every six months unless your cat is an avid hunter in which case one should worm every 3 months.  Good flea control means that the flea tapeworm should not be a problem.

If you have a tiger for a pet, then there is a solution to the difficulty of oral dosing!  A spot-on formulation wormer called Profender is available at your veterinary surgery.  This product will treat round- and tapeworm and is applied in a similar way to the flea spot-on products.

Please make an appointment to see a nurse at a free worm/flea clinic.  Our nurses will weigh your cat and be able to suggest a suitable strategy to protect your cat/s against fleas and worms.  If you ask nicely they will even show you how to administer the tablet!

Further information on cat matters can be found at http://icatcare.org/advice