Why are Vaccines for Cats Important?
Serious feline-specific diseases afflict vast numbers of cats across the US every year. To protect your cat from contracting a serious but preventable condition, it’s critical to vaccinate your cat right from the time they are a kitten and continue with booster shots regularly throughout their lifetime.
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 cats are given on specific schedules. Your vet will advise you on when to bring your cat back for their booster shots.
Should I Vaccinate My Indoor Cat?
By law, all cats, even indoor 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.
Another important reason to have your indoor cat vaccinated is that indoor cats often manage to sneak out the door when their owner isn't looking. Just a quick sniff around your backyard could be enough for your feline friend to contract one of the very contagious viruses that cats are susceptible to.
If your indoor cat visits a groomer or spends time in a boarding facility while you are away from home, vaccines are very important for protecting your pet's health. If other cats have been there then there is a chance of spreading viruses. Make sure that your indoor cat is protected.
There are 2 types of vaccinations that are available for pets, 'core vaccines' and 'lifestyle vaccines'. Our vets strongly recommend that all cats - both indoor cats and outdoor cats - receive core vaccinations to protect them against highly contagious diseases they could be exposed to.
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 Cat Vaccines
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.
When Should My Kitten Get Their Shots?
Shots for kittens should begin when they reach 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
When Should My Cat Get 'Booster' Shots?
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.
Is There an Indoor Cat Vaccination Schedule?
The recommended vaccine schedule for all cats is the same. The difference between vaccinating indoor cats vs outdoor cats is a question of which vaccines are best suited to your cat's lifestyle. Your vet will advise you as to which vaccines your cat should have.
Is My Cat Protected Immediately After They Get Their Shots?
Until they have received all rounds 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.
Side Effects of Vaccines
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 that your kitty may be experiencing side effects from a cat vaccine call your emergency vet clinic. Your vet can help you determine any special care or follow-up that may be required.Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.