Vaccinating Your Cat at Home. A Step-by-Step Guide


Vaccinating cats at home is important to help protect them from dangerous infectious diseases that can be deadly. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, core vaccines that most cats should receive include feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, panleukopenia, rabies, and feline leukemia virus (FeLV) [1]. Kittens need a series of vaccinations starting as early as 6-8 weeks old, with boosters every 2-4 weeks until 16 weeks old. Adult cats need booster shots regularly, usually every 1-3 years depending on the vaccine and your vet’s recommendation. While vaccines do not provide 100% guaranteed protection, they are vital for significantly reducing your cat’s risk of contracting potentially fatal illnesses that could be easily spread between cats.

Preparing for Vaccination

Proper preparation is key to safely and effectively vaccinating your cat at home. Here are some tips for getting ready:

Have the right vaccines on hand. Make sure to purchase the specific vaccines recommended for your cat based on age, health status, and lifestyle. Core vaccines like rabies, panleukopenia, rhinotracheitis, and calicivirus are essential. You may also need non-core vaccines like feline leukemia if your cat goes outdoors ([]).

Prepare the vaccination area. Choose an accessible spot in your home that is clean, dry, and free of loud noises or distractions. Have proper lighting as well. Gather all vaccination supplies in one place. This includes syringes, alcohol swabs, treats, and a sharps container.

Have an assistant on hand if possible. They can help restrain and soothe your cat during the process.

Withhold food. It’s recommended to fast your cat for at least 2 hours before vaccination to prevent vomiting or regurgitation.

Choosing the Vaccine

There are some core vaccines that are recommended for nearly all cats to protect against common and potentially fatal feline diseases [1]. These include:

  • Feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1): Prevents feline viral rhinotracheitis
  • Feline calicivirus (FCV): Prevents respiratory infections
  • Feline panleukopenia virus (FPV): Prevents feline distemper
  • Rabies virus: Prevents rabies

In addition, the vaccine for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is recommended for cats under 1 year old since kittens are more susceptible. Other non-core vaccines may be recommended by your vet depending on the cat’s lifestyle and risk factors, such as vaccines for Chlamydia felis, Bordetella bronchiseptica, and feline immunodeficiency virus [2].

Discuss your individual cat’s lifestyle and potential disease exposures with your vet to determine the optimal vaccines to administer.

Storing and Handling the Vaccine

Proper storage and handling of vaccines is crucial to maintain their effectiveness and safety. Here are some key guidelines when storing cat vaccines at home:

Follow the storage instructions printed on the vaccine labels. Most cat vaccines need to be stored in the refrigerator between 36-46°F. Store vaccines towards the center of the fridge, not on the door where temperatures fluctuate.[1]

Do not shake the vaccine before use as this can damage the vaccine and reduce effectiveness. Gently swirl or invert the vaccine to mix it.[2]

Always check the expiration date on the vaccine vial before using it. Expired vaccines may not produce immunity and can potentially cause adverse reactions.[3]

Keep vaccines in their original packaging until ready to use. Protect vaccines from light exposure. Do not freeze vaccines unless specifically indicated on the label.

In general, follow the vaccine handling procedures recommended by your veterinarian and vaccine manufacturers to maintain vaccine potency.


Preparing the Vaccine

Before administering the vaccine, it’s important that it is handled properly to maintain effectiveness. Allow refrigerated vaccine to reach room temperature before use, as injecting cold vaccines can cause pain and tissue damage at the injection site (1). Carefully draw up the correct dose into the syringe according to the vaccine manufacturer’s guidelines. Use a new sterile needle and syringe for each injection to prevent disease transmission (2). Do not mix different vaccine types in the same syringe unless specifically indicated by the manufacturer.



Restraining the Cat

Properly restraining your cat during vaccination is crucial for safety and minimizing stress. Here are some tips for restraining your cat:

Set up the area to minimize escape routes. Choose a small room or enclosed area without hiding spots. Close doors and block potential exits.

Have an assistant help hold and calm the cat if needed. Gently wrap the cat in a towel or blanket with limbs exposed for injection access.

Position the cat to access the injection site. For an upper back injection, place the cat on a table or elevated surface. For a leg injection, have the assistant gently hold the cat on their lap or cradle it. Keep the cat’s body contained but leg exposed.

Give treats, pets, or calming words while restraining to keep the cat relaxed. Work quickly while maintaining a calm demeanor.

Proper restraint keeps the cat still and minimizes stress. With some assistance and planning, you can safely restrain your cat for vaccination.

Disinfecting the Area

Before vaccinating your cat at home, you need to choose an injection site and disinfect it properly. The two most common sites for feline vaccinations are the scruff (the area where mother cats grab kittens) and the rear legs. The scruff is easiest for restraint, while the rear legs provide more muscle mass for the injection.

Once you’ve selected the injection location, disinfect it thoroughly with isopropyl alcohol. Use a cotton ball or gauze pad to apply the alcohol and rub the area in a circular motion for 30 seconds. This will kill any bacteria on the skin’s surface. Allow the area to air dry completely before administering the vaccine (Petco).

Proper disinfection helps prevent infection and ensures the vaccine works effectively. Always use a new alcohol pad each time you vaccinate your cat.

Injecting the Vaccine

When injecting the vaccine, it is important to use the proper injection angle and needle size for the chosen injection site. For subcutaneous injections, which are given under the skin, a 25-27 gauge needle that is 1/2 to 5/8 inches long is recommended (source). The needle should be inserted at a 45 degree angle and penetrate just under the skin.

Inject the vaccine smoothly without moving the syringe to minimize discomfort. Once the vaccine has been fully administered, quickly but gently withdraw the needle perpendicular to the skin. Do not inject air into the cat after the vaccine, as this can be painful. Gently press on the injection site with a cotton ball for a few seconds after withdrawing the needle to stop any bleeding or leakage of vaccine.

It is important to inject the vaccine properly so that the full dosage is administered. Pulling the needle out too quickly or moving it around under the skin can result in some of the vaccine leaking out. Using the proper injection technique will help ensure the cat receives the full benefit of the vaccine.


After vaccinating your cat at home, it is important to gently rub and massage the injection site to help disperse the vaccine and minimize discomfort (VCA Hospitals). Try lightly stroking the area and applying gentle pressure with your fingers. Reward your cat with treats and affection to create a positive association with the process.

Monitor your cat closely for the next 24 hours for potential reactions, which may include lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, or local swelling. Keep the injection location clean and dry. Contact your veterinarian if you notice anything abnormal (

Properly dispose of any used needles and syringes in a sharps container to avoid injury. Do not put them in the regular trash. Many veterinarians and pharmacies provide sharps disposal services (Vetwest).


Keeping accurate records of your cat’s vaccinations is crucial to ensuring they remain protected. Here are some tips for recordkeeping:

Mark the vaccination date on your records. As soon as your cat receives their vaccine, document the date in your records. This helps you track when the next booster shot is due [1].

Get a sticker reminder from your vet for the next due date. Many vets provide stickers that you can put on your calendar to remember when the next vaccination is due [2].

Set calendar reminders for boosters. In addition to the vet’s reminder sticker, set a calendar notification on your phone or computer to remember when your cat needs their next vaccine [3].

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