About Cat Vaccinations
Several serious feline-specific diseases afflict vast numbers of US cats every year. To protect your kitten from contracting a preventable condition, it’s critical to have them vaccinated. It’s equally imperative to follow up your kitten’s first vaccinations with regular booster shots throughout their lifetime, even if your kitty is an indoor cat.
As the name suggests, booster shots “boost” your cat’s protection against a variety of feline diseases after the effects of the initial vaccine wear off. Booster shots for different vaccines are given on specific schedules. Your veterinarian will advise you when to bring your cat back for their booster shots.
Reasons to Vaccinate Your Indoor Cat
Though you may not think your indoor cat requires vaccinations, by law all cats must have certain vaccinations in many states. For example, many states require that cats over the age of 6 months be vaccinated against rabies. Once your cat has their shots your veterinarian will provide you with a certificate showing that your cat has been vaccinated as required.
There are 2 types of vaccinations that are available for pets, 'core vaccines' and 'lifestyle vaccines'.
Our vets strongly recommend that all cats receive core vaccinations to protect them against highly contagious diseases they could be exposed to if they happen to escape the safety of your home, visit a groomer, or need to stay at a boarding facility while you're away.
Core Vaccines for Cats
Core vaccinations should be given to all cats, as they are essential for protecting them against the following common but serious feline conditions:
- Rabies - rabies kills many mammals (including humans) every year. These vaccinations are required by law for cats in most states.
- Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus and Panleukopenia (FVRCP) - Typically known as the “distemper” shot, this combination vaccine protects against feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia.
- Feline herpesvirus type I (FHV, FHV-1) - This highly contagious, ubiquitous virus is one major cause of upper respiratory infections. Spread through sharing of litter trays or food bowls, inhalation of sneeze droplets or direct contact, the virus can infect cats for life. Some will continue to shed the virus, and persistent FHV infection can lead to eye problems.
Lifestyle (Non-Core) Vaccines for Cats
Non-core vaccinations are appropriate for some cats depending on their lifestyle. Your vet is in the best position to recommend which non-core vaccines your cat should have. Lifestyle vaccines protection against:
- Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia (Felv) - These vaccines protect against viral infections that are transmitted via close contact. They are only usually recommended for cats that spend time outdoors.
- Bordetella - This bacteria causes upper respiratory infections that are highly contagious. This vaccine may be recommended by your vet if you are taking your cat to a groomer or boarding kennel.
- Chlamydophila felis - Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that causes severe conjunctivitis. The vaccination for the infection is often included in the distemper combination vaccine.
Getting Your Kitten Their Shots
Your kitten should receive their first round of vaccinations when they are about six to eight weeks old. Following this, your kitty should get a series of shots at three-to-four-week intervals until they reach approximately 16 weeks old.
Kitten Vaccination Schedule
First visit (6 to 8 weeks)
- Review nutrition and grooming
- Blood test for feline leukemia
- Fecal exam for parasites
- Vaccinations for chlamydia, calicivirus, rhinotracheitis and panleukopenia
Second visit (12 weeks)
- Examination and external check for parasites
- First feline leukemia vaccine
- Second vaccinations for calicivirus rhinotracheitis, and panleukopenia
- First feline leukemia vaccine
Third visit (follow veterinarian’s advice)
- Rabies vaccine
- Second feline leukemia vaccine
Depending on the vaccine, adult cats should get booster shots either annually or every three years. Your vet will tell you when to bring your adult cat back for booster shots.
Until they have received all of their vaccinations (when they are about 12 to 16 weeks old), your kitty will not be fully vaccinated. After all of their initial vaccinations have been completed, your kitten will be protected against the diseases or conditions covered by the vaccines.
If you plan to let your kitten outdoors before they have been fully vaccinated against all the diseases listed above, we recommend keeping them restricted to low-risk areas such as your own backyard.
Potential Vaccine Side Effects
The vast majority of cats will not experience any side effects as a result of getting their shots. If reactions do occur, they are usually minor and short in duration. That said, in rare cases more serious reactions can occur, including:
- Loss of appetite
- Redness or swelling around the injection site
- Severe lethargy
If you suspect your cat may be experiencing side effects from a cat vaccine call your veterinarian immediately! Your vet can help you determine any special care or follow-up that may be required.