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Concerned about vaccinations?

Q I breed Maine Coons and after I had my cats and kittens vaccinated recently they developed cat 'flu symptoms. We run a very clean cattery. Our cats live in pens with runs, but all get out for exercise in our secure garden. We feed quality dry food and raw food.

Three of my adults became ill within two days of having their boosters; they had runny eyes and snotty noses, were sneezing and off their food. One of the females was so ill she ended up back at the vets on a drip.

I also had a litter of kittens receive their first vaccinations two weeks ago, and I thought we had missed the awful reactions we had before - but sadly not. Can you offer some advice as to what to do in the future?

Vet Andrea Harvey advises: I suggest you ask your vet which type of vaccine has been given, and ask them to take throat swabs of all your cats for herpes virus, calicivirus and chlamydophila. These are the main infectious agents that cause upper respiratory problems.

Although there is a small risk with live vaccines that mild signs of infection can occur, it would be very uncommon to develop severe signs, and also very uncommon for so many cats to be affected. If they have been given a dead vaccine then it would be even less likely to be playing a direct role. It is more likely that the cats are already infected with one of these agents, and are carrying it without showing symptoms. An episode of stress (i.e. going to the vets) and being vaccinated precipitates the clinical signs.

This is particularly common with the herpes virus, which will be shed and so could be passed to other cats. Although all the cats are confined, it is quite easy to come into contact with the virus and in any situation where there are lots of cats housed closely together, it would be very common for carrier cats to exist.

Also, with any sort of direct vaccine reaction they would normally become ill quite quickly. So particularly for the kittens, if they developed signs two weeks post-vaccination, it is more likely that they had picked up a virus from the other cats. Vaccines help reduce severity of disease, but they are not 100 per cent effective and do not prevent cats from carrying the virus.

I would recommend continuing vaccination, as it sounds like there is definitely a virus in the household now, and although the vaccines aren't fully preventing signs developing, the signs could be much worse if they were not vaccinated.

Ask your vet if they could do a house visit to swab your cats and to vaccinate them at home in future as this will help reduce stress. Once it has been identified if there is an infectious agent involved, which one it is, and how many cats are affected, your vet will help you make a plan of how to further manage the situation.