By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 8 January 2015)
There are four vaccines that are recommended by all veterinarians. Additional vaccines are only needed if the cat is at risk for certain diseases. Outdoor cats need more vaccinations than indoor cats because they are exposed to more viruses when they interact with other animals.
Vaccines All Cats Should Have
All cats should get vaccinations against the following common diseases:
- Panleukopenia virus (distemper)
- Feline calicivirus (FCV)
- Feline herpes virus (rhinotracheitis)
The first three are typically given when kittens are about 8-10 weeks old, again at 12-14 weeks, then 1 year later, after which they only need vaccinations every 3 years. The rabies vaccine is usually done when a cat is around 3-4 months old, with boosters every 1-3 years depending on the type of vaccine used.
Not all veterinarians believe that cats require vaccinations as frequently in adulthood as the standard 3-year protocol specifies. See veterinarian Lisa Pierson’s Vaccines for Cats: We Need to Stop Overvaccinating for a discussion of this issue.
Non-core vaccines may be given if the cat is at high risk for certain diseases. Such vaccinations include:
- Feline chlamydiosis—This vaccine is not necessary unless the cat is at high risk of infection due to living among other infected cats.
- Feline immunodeficiency virus (feline AIDS or FIV)—This disease is spread through bite wounds, so only outdoor cats and cats that live with other aggressive cats are likely to be at risk. Original FIV vaccines are given 2-3 weeks apart, with annual boosters afterward. The vaccination is not always effective in preventing the disease, and some veterinarians don’t support its use.
- Bordetella—Only recommended where risk of infection is high.
- Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)—First vaccinations are given at 9 and 12 weeks of age, with booster shots annually or at longer intervals. Cats should receive this vaccination if they are allowed to go outside, if they mingle with large numbers of cats, if they live in a household with a FeLV-infected cat, or they live in a household where the infectious status of other cats is unknown. Indoor cats that live alone or with cats that do not have FeLV, particularly if they are past the age of 4 months, do not need FeLV vaccinations.
Vaccinations That Are Not Recommended
Vaccinations that are available but not recommended by the American Association of Feline Practitioners Feline Vaccine Advisory Panel are:
- Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)—The vaccine is not very effective and may have serious side effects.
- Giardiasis—There is insufficient information regarding this vaccine’s ability to prevent the disease.
There are a few potential side effects of cat vaccines, which range from injection-site reactions to anaphylactic shock to certain cancers, particularly fibrosarcoma (which occurs as a result of approximately 4 out of every 10,000 vaccines). Side effects aren’t common, but they can occur, so non-core vaccinations should only be given if the risk of infection is greater than the risk posed by the vaccine. Vaccines can also be risky for pregnant cats, as some may cause spontaneous abortion or deformed offspring.
Improperly prepared vaccines may not work at all, or worse, they may actually cause the disease they are designed to prevent. Always make sure that vaccines come from a reputable company. Also, because sticking the vaccine needle in the wrong place may cause nerve damage and paralysis, and improper handling of equipment can lead to infection at the injection site, only a qualified veterinarian should perform vaccinations.
For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for veterinary consultation and care.
- American Association of Feline Practitioners (2007). “2006 Feline Vaccination Guidelines.” CatVets.com.
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. (2006). “Feline Immunodeficiency Virus.”
- Hodgkins, Elizabeth M., DVM. (2007). Your Cat: Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life. St. Martin’s Griffin.
- Merck & Co., Inc., Eds. Cynthia M. Kahn, BA, MA & Scott Line, DVM, PhD, Dipl ACVB. (2007). The Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health, Home Edition.