My kitten seems sick after their vaccinations — now what?

Photo of Karen Dell

Karen Dell

Senior Editor • Backyard Cat Enclosures

16 August 2019

Symptoms your kitten can have after getting vaccinated

It’s normal for your kitten to be a bit under the weather after they’ve just received some of their vaccinations. They may not want to eat, or eat as much as they usually do, and may just want to lie down and sleep a bit. This behaviour is luckily nothing to be worried about and your little ball of fluff should be back to normal in about 48 hours.

Normal symptoms that you can look out for are:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Tenderness around the injection site
  • Wanting to sleep more than usual
  • Not wanting to be petted or held
  • Sneezing or coughing if they’ve received an intranasal vaccine
  • When to take your kitten back to the vet
If you see, however, that your kitten is not getting better after about two days, or their symptoms are worse than those stated above, you need to take your kitten back to the vet.

Symptoms you can look out for in this case, are:

  • A fever
  • Severe lethargy
  • Lasting loss of appetite
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhoea
  • Swelling and redness at the injection site
  • Swelling around the muzzle and eyes
  • Lameness
  • Hives
It’s very important to go to the vet if your kitten is vomiting and/or has diarrhoea as they can dehydrate very quickly and then it can become a life-threatening situation.
If they go and hide somewhere and doesn’t want anyone near them, it is also a sign that they may have some of these symptoms. Try to coax them from their hiding place to have a look for swelling, lameness or hives. Make sure that you stay calm, though, otherwise they will pick up on your anxiousness and stress.

What to do after your kitten’s been vaccinated

Once you get home with your kitten after they’ve received vaccinations, you can follow the following steps to ensure that your kitten is kept comfortable and recovers as soon as possible.
Before you go, make a nice warm and cosy place for them to lie and rest when you come back. If they choose another spot, don’t force them away from it, rather let them sleep there and just keep an eye on them. Rather let them be the one in charge than causing them stress when they may not be feeling too great.
Give them fresh water and some food — even a treat — in case they are hungry and want to eat something. However, skipping a meal or two at this time is not unheard of.
Unless your kitten initiates a bout of playing, don’t force them to play even if it is part of their usual routine. They’ll come to you for attention when they’re ready.
Check on them every now and then, but try not to disturb them too much.

How vaccines work

After being vaccinated, your kitten’s immune system will be trained to recognise any of these infectious agents and produce proteins called antibodies. These antibodies, in turn, activate specific cells which will then kill the agents. This means that, should your kitten or adult cat encounter these agents in the future, its body will be able to rapidly create these antibodies, activate the cells, and produce an immune response that will eliminate the invading agent.

Types of vaccines

There are various types of vaccines that your kitten will get when they are still only a few weeks old. These are usually only the “core vaccinations” but, depending on where you live and on legislation, you may have to give your kitten other vaccinations as well.

The core vaccinations:

  • Panleukopenia (feline distemper) — this illness is highly contagious and may even be fatal. Kittens are especially susceptible.
  • Feline herpesvirus (viral rhinotracheitis) — this virus causes an upper respiratory infection with fever, sneezing, eye and nasal discharge and inflammation of the inner eyelids and mucous membranes around the eyes, inflammation of the cornea, and lethargy. Kittens also have an increased risk to get this illness.
  • Calicivirus — This virus is one of the major causes of upper respiratory infections in cats. It is highly contagious and the symptoms include sneezing, eye and nasal discharge, inflammation of the inner eyelids and mucous membranes around the eyes. It can also cause inflammation of some internal organs. The severe form of the calicivirus is deadly in up to half of infected cats.
  • Rabies virus — Spreading through bite wounds, this deadly viral infection can infect humans if they are bitten by an infected animal. Once symptoms develop, rabies is fatal.

Non-core vaccinations:

  • Feline Leukemia Virus — This virus is the leading cause of virus-associated deaths in cats. Infected cats can suffer from anaemia, cancer, and immune suppression. Almost 50% of cats with this virus die within two and a half years of contracting it.
  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus — Often called “feline AIDS”, this disease is spread through bite wounds from infected cats. Unfortunately, this vaccine is not as effective as most other vaccines.

As you can see, all of these illnesses are not only scary to read about, there are also very real chances that your kitten could contract these diseases through a number of ways.
One way to keep your kitten as safe as possible is to either keep them inside as a house cat 100% of the time, or by giving them a cat enclosure outside where they can play, lounge or sleep, but still be safe from other, roaming cats.  

Source: Feline Vaccines: Benefits and Risks, Cornell Feline Health Centre, Cornell University.

Photo by Hike Shaw on Unsplash


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