Our PetVet Care Centers member vets provide insights and advice on why it’s important to have your cat vaccinated even if they stay indoors.
What are cat vaccinations?
Many cats are at risk for several serious feline-specific diseases each year. It's imperative to have your kitten vaccinated to protect them from contracting preventable conditions. It's equally important to follow up your kitten's first vaccinations with regular booster shots during their lifetime, even if you expect your kitty to be a mostly indoor companion.
Aptly named booster shots "boost" your cat's protection against a range of feline diseases after the effects of the initial vaccine have worn off. When booster shots are administered will depend on the specific schedule for the vaccine. Your vet will be able to advise you on when to bring your cat back to their office for more booster shots.
Why should I get my indoor cat vaccinated?
While you may assume your indoor cat would need vaccinations, certain states set laws that specify cats must have certain vaccinations. For example, a common law requires cats older than 6 months must be vaccinated against rabies. In return for these vaccinations, you'll likely receive a vaccination certificate from your vet that you should store in a safe place.
When it comes to your cat's health, it's always prudent to be cautious as cats' curious nature may lead them into trouble. Our vets recommend core vaccinations for indoor cats to protect them against diseases they may be exposed to if they do escape the safety of your home.
Here are the two basic types of vaccinations for cats:
All cats should have core vaccinations since they are critical to protect your feline friend against the following common but serious feline conditions:
Rabies kills many mammals (including humans) annually. In most states, cats require these vaccinations by law.
Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus and Panleukopenia (FVRCP)
Usually 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 cause eye problems.
Lifestyle or non-core vaccinations are appropriate for some cats depending on their lifestyle. Your vet will provide advice about which non-core vaccines your cat should have. These offer 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.
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.
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 receive their first shots?
You should bring your kitten to see your vet for their first round of vaccinations when they are about six to eight weeks old. Following this, your kitten should get a series of vaccines 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 will my kitten need 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 my kitten protected after their first round of shots?
Until they have received all of their vaccinations (when they are about 12 to 16 weeks old), your kitten will not be fully vaccinated. Once all of their initial vaccinations have been completed, your kitten will be protected against the diseases or conditions covered by the vaccines.
If you’d like to allow your kitten outdoors before they have been vaccinated against all the diseases listed above, we recommend keeping them restricted to low-risk areas, like your own backyard.
What are potential side effects of cat vaccinations?
Most cats will not experience any side effects as a result of receiving cat vaccines. If reactions do occur, they are usually minor and short in duration. However, keep these potential negative side effects in mind:
- Loss of appetite
- Redness of swelling around injection site
- Severe lethargy
Call your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your cat may be experiencing side effects from a cat vaccine. They can help you determine any special care or follow-up that may be required.