Should You Skip Your Cat’s Vaccines? The Risks of Not Vaccinating Kitty


Vaccinating your cat is one of the most important things you can do as a pet owner to protect their health. However, with so much misinformation online, some cat owners are understandably questioning if vaccines are really necessary. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of the pros and cons of vaccinating vs. not vaccinating your cat. We’ll look at the core vaccines recommended for all cats, examine legitimate concerns over risks, and present expert opinions on the topic. Our goal is to equip you with the information you need to make an informed decision about your cat’s preventative healthcare.

Background on Cat Vaccines

There are several core vaccines that are recommended for most cats by veterinary experts and organizations like the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). These include:

  • FVRCP vaccine – protects against three main upper respiratory infections: feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR), calicivirus (FCV), and panleukopenia (FPV). Kittens need a series of FVRCP vaccines starting as early as 6-8 weeks old with boosters every 3-4 weeks until 16 weeks old. Adult cats need FVRCP boosters yearly. 1
  • Rabies vaccine – protects against the rabies virus which can be fatal. Kittens get their first rabies vaccine around 12-16 weeks old with a booster 1 year later. Rabies boosters are required every 1-3 years by law depending on location. 2
  • FeLV vaccine – protects against feline leukemia virus which weakens the immune system. Recommended for kittens and high-risk cats with outdoor access. Kittens get an initial dose as early as 8 weeks old with a booster 3-4 weeks later.

Vaccinating kittens and cats according to this schedule is crucial for protecting them against common but potentially dangerous infectious diseases.

Benefits of Vaccination

Vaccinating cats provides several important health benefits. Vaccines help prevent dangerous feline diseases that can make cats extremely sick if infected. According to Cornell University, core vaccines protect against “viral infections that are transmitted via close contact” (source). Diseases like panleukopenia, calicivirus, herpesvirus and rabies can be fatal for cats if contracted. Vaccinating individual cats helps protect the general communal cat population by reducing the spread of contagious diseases.

Vaccinating also helps pet owners avoid large veterinary bills that can accompany treatment for these viral illnesses. Hospitalization and supportive care for sick, unvaccinated cats can easily cost hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the disease and its severity. Preventative vaccination is much less expensive than reactive treatment. Keeping cats up to date on core vaccines is a cost-effective way to avoid large medical expenses down the road.

Risks of Not Vaccinating

Choosing not to vaccinate your cat comes with significant risks that pet owners should seriously consider. Vaccinations protect feline health and prevent the spread of contagious diseases that could be deadly. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, common feline viruses like panleukopenia and calicivirus can have fatal consequences in unvaccinated cats [1].

Cats who are not up to date on core vaccines like rabies and distemper can spread these diseases to other pets and people. Unvaccinated cats pose a public health hazard, especially if they go outdoors. Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms appear, both for animals and humans. Distemper causes severe upper respiratory infection in cats and is highly contagious [2].

There are also financial risks to skipping vaccines. Treating preventable feline illnesses like distemper or upper respiratory infections can be very expensive, often costing thousands of dollars in veterinary bills. On the other hand, core vaccines only cost $15-30 per dose on average. It’s much more affordable to protect your cat through regular vaccinations [3].

Common Concerns

Some cat owners have concerns about vaccinating their cats. Common concerns include:

Vaccines overload the immune system

Some fear that giving multiple vaccines at once can overload a cat’s immune system, especially in kittens. However, studies show kittens can respond to multiple vaccines without issue. Spreading out vaccines does not decrease the risk of reactions [1].

Adverse reactions

Like any medication, vaccines do carry a small risk of adverse reactions like fever and soreness. However, serious reactions are extremely rare – around 1 in 10,000 to 30,000 vaccinations [2].

Unnecessary for indoor cats

Some believe indoor cats are not at risk for the diseases vaccines protect against. However, even indoor cats can be exposed to viruses and bacteria through people, stray animals, and wildlife coming in and out of the home. Vaccines protect cats in case of exposure.

Expert Opinions

Veterinarians overwhelmingly recommend core vaccines for cats to prevent dangerous diseases. According to Dr. Margret Casal, DVM at Cornell University Veterinary Specialists, “In general, we recommend that all kittens and cats be vaccinated against panleukopenia virus, calicivirus, herpesvirus, and rabies virus.” 1

Dr. Gary Richter, DVM and veterinary health expert, states “There are definitely diseases we vaccinated for years ago that we no longer vaccinate for today, but the core feline vaccines are vital to keeping your cat healthy and disease-free.” 2

According to Dr. Danielle Bernal, DVM at WellHaven Pet Health, “We always recommend the core vaccines for all kittens and cats. The risks of these preventable diseases are far worse than any minor vaccine reactions.” She emphasizes, “It’s not worth leaving your cat vulnerable when we have safe and effective vaccines to protect against fatal contagious diseases.”3

Alternatives to Core Vaccines

Some pet owners are concerned about over-vaccinating their cats and prefer alternatives to the core vaccines like distemper, rabies, and respiratory diseases. There are a few options to consider:

Non-core vaccines like feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) may not be necessary for all cats. FIP is relatively rare and kittens may receive some immunity from their mothers. Discuss your cat’s risk factors with your vet before administering non-core vaccines like FIP. [1]

Titre testing can check your cat’s existing immunity levels instead of automatic yearly boosters. A simple blood test can reveal if your cat still has protective antibodies from previous vaccines. If antibody levels are high enough, your vet may advise delaying boosters. This avoids over-vaccinating when immunity already exists. [2]

Some vets may recommend decreasing vaccine frequency for low-risk adult cats, such as vaccinating every 3 years instead of annually. Discuss your cat’s lifestyle and risks with your vet.

Homeopathic nosodes are controversial but may provide a level of protective immunity. More research is still needed on nosode efficacy. Work closely with a holistic vet if interested in this alternative.

While core vaccines are important, there are alternatives to explore if you wish to avoid over-vaccinating your cat. Partner with a trusted vet to make the best decisions for your pet’s unique needs.

Making a Decision

Deciding which vaccines are right for your cat involves carefully weighing the pros and cons. Have an open discussion with your veterinarian about your cat’s lifestyle and risk factors. They can provide guidance on the core vaccines they recommend, as well as any optional vaccines that may be suitable.

For example, the risks associated with not vaccinating for panleukopenia or rabies far outweigh any potential side effects of the vaccine. However, for an indoor-only cat, the risks of contracting FeLV may be low, so your vet may feel the vaccine is unnecessary.

Consider your cat’s exposure to other cats and the outside environment. An outdoor cat faces higher risks of being exposed to dangerous diseases that warrant vaccination. On the other hand, an indoor cat may not require non-core vaccines unless there are other cats in the household.

Your vet can help assess your individual cat’s lifestyle, health, and risk factors. Make the decision together based on a balance of risks versus benefits for your cat.

Other Preventative Care

In addition to vaccines, there are other important preventative care measures to keep cats healthy. These include parasite control, dental care, and proper nutrition.

Controlling parasites like fleas, ticks, worms, and heartworms is critical. Parasites can cause diseases, discomfort, and even death in cats if left untreated. Products like flea/tick collars, spot-ons, or oral medications can eliminate parasites and prevent infestations. Kittens should start parasite prevention early, and adult cats require year-round parasite control tailored to your geographic area.

Dental care is another component of preventative care. Regular teeth brushing and professional cleanings remove tartar and bacteria, preventing dental disease. Annual dental exams let vets check for problems. Dental issues are painful and can lead to other health complications if neglected.

Feeding a high-quality diet formulated for your cat’s needs provides proper nutrition. Wet and dry food options give complete, balanced nutrition. Consult your vet on the ideal diet for your cat’s age, activity level, and health status. Proper nutrition supports immunity, energy, skin and coat health, digestion, and more.


While there are some valid concerns around over-vaccination, most experts agree that core vaccines are vital to protecting your cat’s health. Vaccines greatly reduce the risk of serious and potentially fatal diseases like distemper, calicivirus, and rabies. Though adverse reactions can occur, they are extremely rare. Work closely with your veterinarian to determine the optimal vaccination schedule for your cat based on lifestyle, risk factors, and your comfort level.

To keep your cat protected, stay up to date on vaccines, provide parasite control, feed a nutritious diet, limit outdoor access, and schedule annual wellness exams. With appropriate preventative care, your cat can live a long and healthy life. Do your own research and discuss any concerns openly with your vet so you can make informed decisions together.

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