Rabies Vaccine for Cats. Is it Safe?


Rabies is a fatal viral disease that affects the central nervous system of mammals, including cats. It is spread through the saliva of infected animals and is almost always fatal once clinical signs appear. Cats infected with rabies may exhibit signs like aggression, impaired movement, excessive salivation, and seizures. Rabies has been recognized as a deadly disease for centuries, with records dating back over 4,000 years.

The first rabies vaccine for cats was developed by Louis Pasteur in the 1880s after years of research on developing a rabies vaccine for dogs (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7149985/). His vaccine helped prove that rabies could be prevented through vaccination. Since then, vaccines have continued to improve in safety and efficacy. The development of the rabies vaccine for cats has played a crucial role in preventing a painful death for millions of cats worldwide. Today, rabies vaccination is considered a core vaccine by veterinarians and is required by law in many areas for cats.

How the Rabies Vaccine Works

Rabies vaccines protect cats by stimulating their immune system to produce antibodies against the rabies virus. The vaccines contain either killed rabies virus or a modified live virus that cannot cause disease. When injected, the vaccine triggers B cells to begin making antibodies that specifically bind to the rabies virus and mark it for destruction by other immune cells. Memory B cells are also produced to provide future immunity. After receiving the vaccine, cats develop sufficient levels of rabies antibodies within 28 days that will neutralize the virus if they are exposed. Rabies vaccines provide robust and often lifelong immunity in cats when given according to veterinary guidelines.


Efficacy and Duration of Immunity

Studies have shown the rabies vaccine to be highly effective at protecting cats from the rabies virus. One study found that all vaccinated mice developed sufficient to high levels of rabies virus-neutralizing antibodies 21-22 days after vaccination (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5625686/).

Research indicates the rabies vaccine provides immunity in cats for 1-3 years after vaccination. According to one study, most veterinary rabies vaccines provide 1-4 years of immunity (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23059358/). The duration of immunity depends on the specific vaccine given, with some vaccines providing 1 year of immunity and others providing 3 years. The Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control provides details on the duration of immunity for specific USDA approved rabies vaccines.

Potential Side Effects

Most cats will only have mild side effects from the rabies vaccine, if any. According to Westport Vet, common side effects include fever, lethargy, decreased appetite, local reactions at the injection site like pain or swelling, and hypersalivation (drooling). PetMD also lists soreness at the injection site, as well as vomiting or diarrhea as potential side effects.

Though rare, some cats may have a severe allergic reaction to the rabies vaccine known as anaphylaxis. This reaction can occur shortly after vaccination and can be life-threatening if not treated immediately. Signs of anaphylaxis include facial swelling, hives, difficulty breathing, collapse, and vomiting. Any cat showing these severe reactions requires immediate veterinary care (PetMD).


There are some situations where cats should not receive the rabies vaccine due to potential adverse reactions. According to the CDC, the rabies vaccine should not be given to cats who have had a life-threatening reaction to a previous dose of rabies vaccine or to any component of the vaccine. It is also not recommended for cats who are immunosuppressed due to disease or medication. The vaccine label states it should not be used in kittens under 12 weeks of age, however the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) guidelines allow its use in kittens as young as 8 weeks. Another contraindication is pregnancy – the vaccine should not be administered to a pregnant cat unless there is significant rabies risk.

According to the CDC, antibiotics, topical parasite control products like flea collars, and corticosteroids like prednisone do not prohibit the administration of rabies vaccine. However, pets receiving immunosuppressive doses of medications like chemotherapy drugs should postpone vaccination until the treatment is complete and the immune system has recovered.

Required by Law

Rabies vaccination is required by law for cats in most areas of the United States. According to the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV), rabies vaccination is compulsory for cats in all states except Hawaii and Rhode Island. Specific laws vary by state, but rabies vaccination is typically mandated for cats older than 3-6 months of age (1).

While laws for dogs are more widespread due to higher incidence of rabies in that species, rabies is still a risk for cats in areas with enzootic rabies (i.e. raccoon, skunk, fox). As such, vaccination is an important public health measure to prevent spread to humans. Model legislation drafted by NASPHV recommends that all dogs, cats, and ferrets receive a rabies vaccination by 4 months of age and receive boosters per the vaccine label (typically every 1-3 years) (2).

Penalties for failing to vaccinate cats against rabies also vary by jurisdiction. Fines range from around $50-500 in most areas. Some states may impound unvaccinated pets until they receive the rabies vaccine. Criminal charges are possible for owners of unvaccinated pets that expose humans to rabies (3).

Overall, rabies vaccination is compulsory for cats in most of the United States as an important public health measure. While laws vary, rabies vaccines are required for cats in most states by 4-6 months of age with regular boosters. Fines and impoundment are potential penalties for failing to comply with rabies vaccination requirements.


(1) https://www.animallaw.info/topic/table-state-rabies-laws-concerning-cats

(2) http://powershotsmn.com/rabies_laws_by_state.html

(3) https://www.dvm360.com/view/rabies-laws-what-you-need-to-know

Vaccination Schedule

The rabies vaccination schedule for kittens is an initial vaccination between 8-12 weeks old, with a booster 3-4 weeks later according to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) guidelines. After the initial series, a single dose is given 1 year following the last dose, then no more frequently than every 3 years after that for lifelong immunity with core vaccines like rabies.

Titer testing can help assess immunity levels and determine whether boosters are needed, which may allow longer duration between boosters. According to the AAFP, while titer testing is relatively reliable for core vaccines like rabies, routine titer testing to confirm adequate immunity is not recommended for rabies vaccinations at this time. More research is needed to determine appropriate titer thresholds and intervals for rabies antibodies in cats. However, titer testing may be useful in certain situations in consultation with a veterinarian.


Vaccination in General Practice – AAFP Feline Vaccination Guidelines

Pet Vaccines: Schedules for Cats and Dogs – WebMD


The cost of the rabies vaccine for cats can vary depending on the specific vaccine used, the vet providing it, and your location. However, on average, cat owners can expect to pay the following for the rabies vaccine:

The rabies vaccine is required by law in most states, so cat owners do not have much choice when it comes to getting this vaccine for their cats. However, costs can vary between veterinarians. It’s a good idea to call around to different vets in your area to compare pricing.

Some low-cost vaccination clinics or shelters may offer discounted rabies vaccines, especially for kittens. But the prices are still generally within the range listed above.

The rabies vaccine is considered a core vaccine for cats. So while the cost may seem high, it provides critical protection against a fatal disease with no cure. When weighed against the risks of rabies infection, the vaccine is well worth the investment.

Risks of Rabies vs. Vaccination

The rabies virus is nearly always fatal once symptoms appear. According to the CDC, if a cat is not vaccinated against rabies and is exposed, the virus is fatal in over 99% of cases.

Rabies causes neurological symptoms in cats which lead to death. Initial symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, and lethargy. As the virus attacks the nervous system, infected cats may experience seizures, paralysis, aggression, disorientation, and abnormal behavior. Death usually occurs within 10 days from the onset of symptoms.

There is no effective treatment for rabies in cats once clinical signs appear. For this reason, vaccination is crucial to prevent the disease entirely. The rabies vaccine provides immunity against the rabies virus and protects cats from contracting this fatal disease.

While rabies vaccination carries a small risk of adverse reactions, routine vaccination is essential for cats’ health and safety. According to studies, significant side effects from the rabies vaccine occur in less than 1% of vaccinated cats (Westchester Veterinary Medical Center, 2021). Mild reactions like soreness at the injection site, fever, and lethargy typically resolve on their own within a day or two.

Overall, the risks associated with the rabies vaccine are miniscule compared to the near certainty of death from rabies virus infection in unvaccinated cats. Rabies vaccination is critical to protect cats from this fatal disease.


In summary, the rabies vaccine is considered very safe and effective for protecting cats against this deadly viral disease. While mild side effects like lethargy and soreness at the injection site can sometimes occur, serious adverse reactions are extremely rare. The benefits of rabies vaccination greatly outweigh the small risks for most cats. By getting your cat properly vaccinated according to your vet’s recommended schedule, you are ensuring optimal protection while also complying with important rabies laws and regulations. Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms appear, so vaccination is the best way to prevent the suffering and premature death of your beloved feline companion. Speak to your veterinarian if you have any additional questions or concerns about the rabies vaccine for your cat. But rest assured that this core vaccine is vital for safeguarding your cat’s health and wellbeing.

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