What You Need to Know About Vaccinating Your Cat

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What You Need to Know About Vaccinating Your Cat

Vaccination is the quickest and most effective way to protect your cat from preventable diseases. We’ve all heard the saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, and that certainly pertains to feline vaccinations. Most diseases that we vaccinate against are viruses, which means there is no direct cure if your cat is infected. Some of these diseases are manageable with supportive treatments, but others can be fatal. Continue reading to learn about the most common feline vaccines and what you can do to ensure your loved one is protected.

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Feline Calicivirus, Feline Herpesvirus-1, Feline Panleukopenia

Vets most frequently use combination vaccines for these three viruses, which means that with one injection, your cat is protected against several different diseases. This combination vaccine is recommended for kittens starting as early as 6 weeks of age. The second vaccine is then given 3-4 weeks later. Boosters should be continued every 3-4 weeks until the kitten is at least 16 weeks old.

Adult boosters are given every 1-3 years, depending on manufacturer recommendations. Boosters are essential because the body’s immune response naturally declines over time.

  • Feline herpesvirus (FHV-1) and feline calicivirus (FCV): These two viruses are the main causes of upper respiratory tract infections in cats (cat flu). FCV is also a common cause of mouth ulcers and gingivitis in cats. You can read more about upper respiratory infections in cats here.
  • Feline panleukopenia virus (FPV): Also known as feline parvovirus or feline infectious enteritis, FPV causes severe, hemorrhagic (bloody) diarrhea and vomiting. Outbreaks of infection with this virus are common and often fatal.

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

Feline leukemia is a viral disease that is spread through saliva by fighting, mutual grooming, and sharing of food/water bowls and litter boxes. Kittens may also acquire infections from their mother before birth. FeLV causes a wide variety of problems in infected cats. These include immune suppression, anemia, and lymphoma (cancer of the white blood cells). Unfortunately, most persistently infected cats have a shortened life expectancy.

Vaccination against FeLV is recommended at 8 weeks of age. A booster must be given in 3-4 weeks. Another booster should be given in 1 year, then annually in cats with routine exposure - those who go outside or have contact with unvaccinated cats.


Rabies is a viral disease of mammals that causes severe disease of the central nervous system. It is most often transmitted through a bite or contact with saliva from an infected animal. Rabies is almost always fatal and poses a huge risk to human and animal health. Some states require rabies vaccination by 6 months of age. Check with your vet about local laws in your area.

Rabies vaccines can be given at 12 weeks of age. Depending on local laws and manufacturer recommendations, your cat should then be vaccinated against rabies every 1-3 years.

It’s never too late to start a vaccination program for your cat. If you have an older cat, or your cat’s vaccines are overdue, contact a vet for advice about appropriate vaccine protocols. Elderly (geriatric) cats and kittens have a weaker immune system than adult cats, so it’s especially important that they are fully vaccinated, and boosters are kept up-to-date. Additionally, most boarding kennels and groomers won’t accept cats unless they have an up-to-date vaccination record.

Read more:

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)

Feline Infectious Anemia

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Published: 10/4/2020
Last updated: 10/28/2021

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