Cat Vaccinations: A Lifelong Timeline

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When you get a cat, you commit to loving it through all of its nine lives. That commitment involves delivering the best care that you possibly can. Even if your cat is healthy, regular checkups can help with preventing a multitude of potential health problems. Moreover, acquiring vaccinations for your cat can go a long way in mitigating their chances of experiencing adverse medical conditions and illnesses.

Here at PetPlace, we take pride in providing owners with all of the knowledge and resources they need to support and care for their feline friends. To ensure that your cat stays in peak condition, we’re going to give you a quick and simple guide on cat vaccinations. You can use this guide to determine which vaccinations your feline needs and establish an ideal vaccine schedule.

Why Should a Cat Be Vaccinated?

Just like humans, cats are susceptible to certain infections and diseases, many of which can cause serious medical problems. Fortunately, vaccinations encourage a cat’s immune system to create a protective response to fight off these adverse conditions. In some cases, vaccinating can prevent cats from developing certain diseases altogether. In other cases, the vaccinations don’t completely prevent the illness. Rather, they boost the animal’s immune system so that it can better combat the disease. Last but not least, vaccines also prevent certain conditions, like rabies, from being transmitted to humans.

While kittens are still nursing, they receive antibodies from their mothers. This protects them from many illnesses. However, as they begin to wean, their ability to fight off foreign invaders weakens. Consequently, almost all vaccinations are introduced to cats when they are young to stimulate their immune systems and build up their natural defenses. Regrettably, many vaccine shots don’t offer protection for the duration of a cat’s life. According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, researchers don’t always know how long a vaccine will provide protection. Other vaccines are only known to protect a cat’s system for a few years. Therefore, some vaccines require periodic boosters.

Core Cat Vaccinations

According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, there are a handful of core vaccines that are essential for cats to receive. Non-core vaccines may or may not be crucial. Their necessity depends on the cat’s lifestyle. The following core vaccines are considered to be the most important for cats:

1. Panleukopenia (FPV) Vaccination

This vaccination is sometimes referred to as the feline distemper vaccination. It protects against feline infectious enteritis (also known as feline parvovirus). This is one of the most serious infectious diseases for cats. Most kittens that develop the virus die from it. It is also resistant to many cleaning agents and disinfectants. However, this disease has become far less frequent in recent years. Experts attribute this marked drop to the excellent immunity that its vaccine provides.

The vaccination for this disease is usually given in conjunction with the vaccinations for herpesvirus and calicivirus (below). For kittens, these vaccines should start being administered once they reach six to eight weeks of age. From there, they should receive shots every three to four weeks until they reach sixteen weeks of age. If the series is begun when cats are older than sixteen weeks, then two doses should be given around three to four weeks apart.

2. Herpesvirus (FHV) and Calicivirus (FCV)

These upper respiratory tract diseases can be deadly for kittens. They cause symptoms that are normally associated with a cold, such as sneezing and watery eyes. The diseases can also cause mouth ulcers that make it difficult to eat, lameness, and arthritis. Cats may develop pneumonia from these conditions as well.

Although these diseases are not a leading cause of death for cats, they can be serious and dramatically affect the cat’s quality of life during treatment and recovery. Because the diseases are highly contagious, it is recommended that pet owners vaccinate their cats against them. Bear in mind that this vaccine will not prevent your cat from contracting the disease. However, it will lessen the severity of the condition if the cat does develop it.

3. Rabies

The law requires that you vaccinate your cat against rabies. Rabies can be lethal for your pet. It can also be a danger to public health.

There are two types of rabies vaccines. The recombinant vaccine requires an annual booster. The killed virus vaccine requires a booster at one year of age and then another every three years. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian to determine which vaccine is ideal for your cat.


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Non-Core Vaccines

Feline Leukemia Virus

Despite the fact that it’s a non-core vaccine, this one is highly recommended for all kittens. Feline leukemia is the primary cause of death from disease in cats. Worse yet, it can very easily spread from cat to cat through saliva and nasal excretions.

If your cat is in contact with other felines outdoors, veterinarians usually recommend that you administer this vaccine as soon as possible. If you have an indoor cat that rarely interacts with other cats, you may decide to avoid this vaccine.

Are There Risks Associated with Vaccinating Your Cat?

Nothing that you put in your body is completely risk-free. However, most experts believe that the benefits of vaccinations outweigh the risks. Short-term risks include mild discomfort, lethargy, and poor appetite. Some vaccines also increase the risk of cancer. It can be scary to introduce that risk in an effort to keep your cat healthy. Fortunately, nasal vaccines, which are applied topically instead of injected, may reduce that risk.

Cat Life Timeline for Vaccines

How often should you vaccinate your cat? Some experts believe that yearly cat vaccinations are overkill. The answer really depends on your cat’s specific age and health condition. Additionally, different types of vaccines require a different frequency for boosters.

We’ve posted feline vaccine recommendations in the past. Here’s a quick timeline to keep at your fingertips:

6-8 Weeks

  • Panleukopenia

  • Herpesvirus and Calicivirus

10-12 Weeks

  • Panleukopenia

  • Herpesvirus and Calicivirus

  • The rabies vaccination should be given between 8 and 12 weeks. The booster period depends on the type of vaccine that was given.

  • The feline leukemia vaccination should be given between 8 and 12 weeks (depending on the product).

14-16 Weeks

  • Panleukopenia (A booster should be given one year after the last shot in the kitten series and then no more than every three years after that.)

  • Herpesvirus and Calicivirus (A booster should be given one year after the last shot in the kitten series and then no more than every three years after that.)

  • Feline leukemia (A booster should be given one year after the last shot in the kitten series and then every year after that).

It’s important to note that you should speak to your veterinarian when it comes to deciding exactly which vaccinations to give your cat and when to administer them. One of the best ways to keep your cat healthy is to have an open, honest relationship with your veterinary professional. If you need more information on cat vaccinations or want additional advice on how to keep your feline healthy and happy for many years to come, then don’t hesitate to check out our online library of over 10,000 vet approved articles.


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