All pets require vaccinations. It does not matter the type of pet or where they live. If you want to have a healthy pet with a long lifespan, then you need to vaccinate them.
Vaccinations also help to keep you, your family, and your community healthy.
Vaccines are a product that provides the body a little bit of a harmful virus or bacteria. The body produces a large immune response, which is then utilized if the animal ever comes into contact with the harmful illness again.
Vaccines essentially help to make potentially fatal diseases non-threatening to pets and humans.
Cats, like all other pets, need regular vaccines to live their best life. There are only a couple of mandatory vaccinations for cats. The rest are optional.
Cats who spend unsupervised time outdoors should receive all of the vaccinations in this article. If you don’t know what vaccinations to give your cat, discuss your options with your veterinarian.
Mandatory Cat Vaccinations
There are only two mandatory cat vaccinations in the United States: Rabies and Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia (FVRCP). Both of these infections and their vaccinations are described in detail below.
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Rabies is a virus that affects many animals, even humans. The official name of rabies is viral polioencephalitis, and it is passed primarily through the saliva of the infected animal.
Scratches, bites, and other wounds can all spread the rabies virus.
Unfortunately, there is no current cure for rabies, but there is a vaccination.
Outdoor cats are most prone to rabies because they can easily get hurt by other animals.
Dogs, bats, skunks, and raccoons are the most common reasons an unsupervised outdoor cat gets rabies.
There are two types of rabies: Furious and paralytic. Both are deadly.
We are probably most familiar with furious rabies, but the paralytic type is dangerous as well. Signs of rabies include:
- Overt and unusual aggression (Furious type)
- Inability to control their movements (Paralytic type)
- Paralysis (Paralytic type)
- Froth in their saliva
- Behavioral changes
If you see any signs of either type of rabies in your cat, make sure to take them to your veterinarian immediately, and receive a booster of your own rabies vaccination.
The rabies vaccination is designed to prevent rabies from infecting your cat. Even if they receive a bite or scratch from an infected animal, they should not contract rabies as long as they have their vaccine.
Rabies is such a serious disease that many US states require a rabies vaccination in cats and dogs by law.
Rabies vaccinations are given at around 14-16 weeks, 1 year, and either yearly or tri yearly after that.
Make sure to stay on this schedule for your cat’s rabies vaccination.
Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, And Panleukopenia (FVRCP)
FVRCP is another viral disease that is often called cat distemper. Feline viral rhinotracheitis attacks the cat’s upper respiratory system.
Calicivirus often infects kittens and can also cause an upper respiratory infection.
Panleukopenia is a feline distemper disease. This is where the cat distemper shot gets its name.
Panleukopenia is the leading cause of death in cats. It is a very serious infection that is hard to successfully treat once your cat contracts it.
You should provide them the FVRCP vaccination for no other reason than to prevent Panleukopenia.
The FVRCP vaccination protects against Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia.
This vaccination is not necessarily required by US law. However, responsible breeders and cat owners provide this vaccination as a matter of course.
You vaccinate for FVRCP in a series of shots. The first shot is given at 6-8 weeks, the second at 10-12 weeks, and the third at 14-16 weeks.
You will need to provide a booster shot for FVRCP every three years for the rest of your cat’s life.
Optional Cat Vaccinations
The following vaccinations protect against serious viral infections. However, many only affect outdoor cats.
If your cat never leaves your home, you may be able to opt-out of some of these vaccinations. Discuss which of these vaccinations is right for you with your vet.
- Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) – The feline coronavirus causes Feline Infectious Peritonitis or FIP. This infection is not very common. Yet, if your cat contracts a severe version of FIP, it is almost always fatal.
There are two types of FIP: wet and dry. Both can be extremely serious and deadly conditions. This coronavirus is not the same as COVID-19 that is currently terrorizing human populations around the world.
- FIP vaccination – There is no current cure for FIP, and the vaccination is still controversial. It is an intranasal vaccination. You can also help prevent FIP by keeping your cat’s living area clean and dry.
- Feline Leukemia (FeLV.) – Feline Leukemia (FeLV) attacks a cat’s immune system and can cause cancer in cats. It is most often passed from cat-to-cat interaction.
It is preventable with the vaccination, but there is no cure. If your cat is diagnosed with FeLV, they will likely not live more than a few years.
- FeLV. Vaccination – The FeLV vaccination is provided in a series at the same time as the FVRCP vaccination. You will need to opt for the vaccination to receive it. You will also need to provide a yearly booster.
- Feline Immunodeficiency (FIV) – Feline Immunodeficiency (FIV) is also called AIDS for cats. It affects 2.5-4.5% of cats around the world.
Like human AIDS, infected cats do not show signs of the disease immediately.
Yet, it will severely affect and deplete their immune system. Often the cat will die from secondary infections that their weakened immune system just can’t fight off.
- FIV vaccination – FIV vaccination is ideal for outdoor cats. FIV is transferred via close cat-to-cat contact. If your cat does not spend unsupervised time outdoors, you may not need to invest in the FIV vaccination.
- Bordetella – The final optional cat vaccination worth mentioning is Bordetella. Dog owners will likely be familiar with this infection.
Bordetella is a bacteria that affects an animal’s upper respiratory system. It is most often spread in kennels or at the groomers.
It is not a fatal disease, but it is extremely contagious.
- Bordetella vaccination – Many boarding kennels will require that your cat have the Bordetella vaccination. Bordetella is typically given to adult cats on a case-by-case basis.
Cat Vaccination FAQ
When to vaccinate your cat
The general schedule for each vaccine is mentioned above. There are a few general rules for vaccinating your cat. You should begin vaccinations when your kitten is six to eight weeks old.
Adult cats need their rabies vaccination either yearly or tri yearly. The FVRCP vaccination can be given every three years for adult cats.
Other vaccinations like FeLV will need to be given in yearly boosters.
How much do vaccinations cost?
Cat vaccinations are fairly inexpensive. And, depending on where you adopt your cat, your breeder or animal shelter may have begun the vaccination process for you.
This will also save you money.
You can expect most cat vaccinations to run between $15-$30 per shot.
Because you pay per shot, kittens are the most expensive to get vaccinated.
Adult cats only need vaccinations every year or every three years, which makes their vaccinations much easier to afford.
Are there side effects to vaccinations?
As with human vaccinations, cat vaccinations can cause some mild side effects.
Vaccinations stimulate your cat’s immune system. You may see signs of a low-grade fever. Or, your cat may be sore at their injection site.
They could, but it is rare, have an allergic reaction to the vaccination.
Very rarely a cat will develop a tumor or immune disease at the site of the injection. This response typically occurs because of a genetic or other pre-existing health condition.
In general, most cats will not show any symptoms because of their vaccination.
For up to a week after the vaccination, watch for the following symptoms:
- High fever
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Refuses to eat
All of the above are serious symptoms that could indicate a negative reaction to the vaccination.
While these symptoms are rare, they require immediate attention. Take your kitten or cat to a vet immediately to ensure there is nothing else wrong.
Your vet can help you determine the best treatment plan for their side effect symptoms.
Cats bring a lot of joy and fun to their owner’s lives. It is our responsibility to provide them the vaccinations they need to live a long and healthy life.
The information presented in this guide should have demystified the vaccination process for you. Vaccinations are there to protect your cat so that you can enjoy a long, happy life together.