Each year, thousands of cats and kittens are infected with serious diseases spread by cats. It's vital to start having your cat vaccinated as soon as they're a few weeks old and continue with 'booster injections' regularly throughout their lives to stop them from contracting a deadly but preventable condition.
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 when to bring your cat back for their booster shots.
The Importance of Keeping Indoor Cats Vaccinated
You may not think your indoor cat requires vaccinations however in many states all cats must have certain vaccinations by law. For example, many states require that cats over the age of 6 months be vaccinated against rabies. Once your cat has its shots your veterinarian will provide you with a certificate showing that your cat has been vaccinated as required.
Another reason to vaccinate your indoor cat is that indoor cats have a habit of sneaking out the door when their owners aren't looking. Your cat could contract one of the highly contagious viruses that cats are susceptible to with just a quick sniff around your backyard.
If your indoor cat visits a groomer or spends time in a boarding facility while you are away from home, vaccinations are essential to ensure that your pet's health is protected. There is a risk of spreading viruses wherever other cats have been, so make sure your indoor cat is protected.
'Core vaccines' and 'lifestyle vaccines' are the two types of vaccinations available for pets. Our San Diego veterinarians strongly advise that all cats, both indoor and outdoor cats, receive core vaccinations to protect them from highly contagious diseases.
Core Vaccinations 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) - This combination vaccine protects against feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia, and is commonly referred to as the "distemper" shot.
- Feline herpesvirus type I (FHV, FHV-1) - One of the most common causes of upper respiratory infections is this highly contagious and widespread virus. The virus can infect cats for life if they share litter trays or food bowls, inhale sneeze droplets, or come into direct contact. Some people will continue to shed the virus, and FHV infection can cause vision problems.
Lifestyle Cat Vaccines
Some cats, depending on their lifestyle, may benefit from non-core vaccinations. Your veterinarian is the best person to tell you which non-core vaccines your cat needs. Vaccines for a healthy lifestyle protect against:
- Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia (Felv) - These vaccines protect against viral infections spread through close contact. They're usually only recommended for cats who spend a lot of time outside.
- Bordetella - This bacteria causes highly contagious upper respiratory infections. If you're taking your cat to a groomer or boarding kennel, your vet may recommend this vaccine.
- Chlamydophila felis - Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that causes severe conjunctivitis. The vaccination for the infection is often included in the distemper combination vaccine.
Indoor Cat Vaccination Schedule
Shots for kittens - whether your kitty will live indoors or be allowed out to roam - should be given starting at about six to eight weeks old. Following this, your cat should get a series of shots at three-to-four-week intervals until they reach about 16 weeks of age.
For all cats, the recommended vaccination schedule is the same. It's a question of which vaccines are best suited to your cat's lifestyle when it comes to the differences between vaccinating indoor cats vs. outdoor cats. Your veterinarian will advise you on which vaccines your cat needs.
When to Vaccinate Your Kitten
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
Booster Shots for Cats
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.
When a Cat Will be Fully Vaccinated
Your cat will not be fully vaccinated until they have received all rounds of vaccinations (around 12 to 16 weeks old). Your kitten will be protected against the diseases or conditions covered by the vaccines once all of their initial vaccinations have been completed.
If you want to take your kitten outside before he or she is fully vaccinated against all of the diseases listed above, keep them in low-risk areas like your own backyard.
Side Effects From Cat Vaccines
The vast majority of cats will have no negative side effects as a result of their vaccinations. If there are any reactions, they are usually minor and short-lived. However, in rare instances, more serious reactions can occur, such as:
- Loss of appetite
- Severe lethargy
- Redness or swelling around the injection site
If you believe that your cat is experiencing side effects from a vaccine call your vet immediately! 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.