Is Your Kitty Protected? How to Know if Your Cat’s Vaccines are Up-to-Date


Getting your cat fully vaccinated is one of the most important things you can do as a pet owner. Vaccines help protect cats against dangerous and potentially fatal infectious diseases caused by viruses and bacteria. Some of the most common feline diseases that vaccines guard against include panleukopenia, calicivirus, rhinotracheitis, rabies and feline leukemia. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, vaccines represent one of the greatest achievements in preventive medicine. While no vaccine is 100 percent effective, regular vaccination drastically reduces your cat’s risk of contracting a disease and decreases severity if they are exposed.

Without proper vaccination, your cat is vulnerable to highly contagious and deadly viruses. Unvaccinated cats that go outdoors and have exposure to other animals are especially susceptible. However, even indoor cats can be at risk if viruses are brought inside on clothing or other objects. Diseases like panleukopenia are extremely hardy and can survive in the environment for over a year. Some feline viruses are also transmissible to humans, so lack of vaccination puts your health at risk as well. Work closely with your veterinarian to ensure your cat receives all recommended core and non-core vaccines on schedule to provide optimum protection.

Core vaccines

There are four core vaccines that all cats should receive (Source 1, Source 2):

  • Rabies – Rabies is a fatal viral disease that affects the central nervous system. The rabies vaccine is required by law in most areas. It protects against the rabies virus which can be transmitted through bites or scratches from infected animals.
  • Panleukopenia – Also known as feline distemper, panleukopenia is a highly contagious and often fatal viral disease. The panleukopenia vaccine protects against the virus which attacks and destroys white blood cells.
  • Rhinotracheitis – Caused by feline herpesvirus infection, rhinotracheitis causes severe upper respiratory infection. The rhinotracheitis vaccine protects against the feline herpesvirus.
  • Calicivirus – A common and highly transmissible virus that manifests as upper respiratory infections and oral ulcerations. The calicivirus vaccine protects against this respiratory virus.

These core vaccines are recommended for all cats by veterinarians to protect against the most common and serious feline illnesses. Kittens should receive a series of vaccinations for core vaccines starting around 6-8 weeks of age, with boosters continuing through adulthood.

Non-core vaccines

Non-core vaccines are recommended based on your cat’s lifestyle and risk factors. According to Bettervet, some common non-core cat vaccines include:

  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) vaccine – Protects against the feline leukemia virus which suppresses the immune system.
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) vaccine – Protects against the feline immunodeficiency virus which weakens the immune system.
  • Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) vaccine – Protects against the coronavirus that causes FIP, which is often fatal.
  • Ringworm vaccine – Protects against the fungal infection ringworm.
  • Chlamydia vaccine – Protects against chlamydia infection which can cause conjunctivitis.
  • Bordetella vaccine – Protects against bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria which causes kennel cough.

As Cville Cat Care explains, these non-core vaccines are recommended for cats at higher risk of exposure, such as outdoor cats or those in shelters/boarding facilities where they encounter other cats.

Vaccination schedule

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends the following vaccination schedule for kittens and adult cats:

For kittens:

  • 6-8 weeks: Feline herpesvirus 1 (FHV-1 or rhinotracheitis), calicivirus (FCV), and panleukopenia virus (FPV).
  • 12 weeks or older: Rabies vaccine.
  • 12-16 weeks: Second FHV-1, FCV, FPV combo vaccine.
  • 16 weeks or older: Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) vaccine for cats at risk of exposure.

For adult cats:

  • FHV-1, FCV, FPV combo vaccine every 3 years.
  • Rabies vaccine as required by law (usually every 1-3 years).
  • FeLV vaccine annually for at-risk cats.

Some factors like indoor vs outdoor lifestyle, health status, and risk of exposure may affect the recommended schedule. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the optimal vaccination plan for your cat. (AAHA Feline Vaccination Guidelines)

Risk factors

Certain factors may make your cat require more vaccines than the standard core vaccines. These include whether your cat lives indoors or outdoors, your cat’s health status, and your cat’s lifestyle.

Outdoor cats are at higher risk of exposure to infectious diseases spread by other cats, wildlife, and the environment. The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends indoor/outdoor cats receive the non-core Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) vaccine in addition to core vaccines.

Cats with chronic medical conditions or weakened immune systems may not respond as effectively to vaccines. Your vet may recommend additional boosters or titer tests to ensure protective immunity. Underlying diseases like feline immunodeficiency virus increase susceptibility to other illnesses that have available vaccines.

If your cat has exposure to boarding facilities, groomers, or multi-cat households, they are at higher risk of exposure to infectious respiratory illnesses. Your vet may suggest vaccines like feline herpesvirus and calicivirus in addition to the core vaccines.

Side Effects

Like any medication, cat vaccines can sometimes cause side effects. According to, the most common side effects include:

  • Soreness or swelling at the injection site
  • Mild fever
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy or reduced activity
  • Sneezing or other respiratory signs
  • Vomiting or diarrhea

More severe reactions like hives, difficulty breathing, or facial swelling are possible but less common, per These signs typically resolve within 24-48 hours but you should contact your vet if they persist or seem severe.

According to, very rarely cats can develop a sarcoma (cancer) at the vaccine site. So monitor the injection location for any unusual lumps or bumps. Report anything suspicious to your vet promptly.


There are some cases where a veterinarian may recommend not vaccinating a cat or postponing vaccines. According to Keeping It Pawsome, exemptions may include:

  • Kittens younger than 6 weeks old, as maternal antibodies can interfere with vaccination
  • Sick or injured cats
  • Cats with compromised immune systems, such as cats positive for feline leukemia virus or FIV
  • Cats who have had a previous severe reaction to a vaccine
  • Pregnant cats for certain live vaccines that could potentially infect the fetus

There are also some factors where risks and benefits of vaccination should be carefully considered and discussed with a vet, such as very old cats with health issues or cats with cancer who are undergoing chemotherapy.

In general, exemptions should only be made under the advice of a licensed veterinarian familiar with the cat’s health history and risks. Pet owners should not avoid core vaccines without strong medical reasons.

Record keeping

It is extremely important to keep detailed records of your cat’s vaccinations. Having an accurate vaccination history allows you and your veterinarian to ensure your cat receives the necessary vaccines at the appropriate times. It also provides proof of vaccination, which may be required for boarding, grooming, travel or showing. Some key things to track include:

  • The name and date each vaccine was administered
  • The name, contact, and license number of the veterinarian who administered it
  • The vaccine manufacturer, serial number, and expiration date
  • Any reactions or side effects observed

There are many options for vaccine record keeping. Some veterinary clinics provide physical vaccine cards or certificates. You can also request or download vaccine templates to fill out by hand. For digital record keeping, some clinics offer online patient portals to view vaccine history. There are also apps and online services specifically for managing pet records. Keeping an organized, up-to-date log ensures you know which vaccines your cat has received and when they are next due.

Ask your vet

Every cat’s vaccination needs are unique based on their lifestyle and other risk factors. Your veterinarian is the best resource for determining the appropriate vaccination schedule for your cat.[]( They will take into account your cat’s age, health status, environment, and potential exposure to other cats in order to recommend the proper vaccines and timing. Be sure to discuss any changes in your cat’s lifestyle with your vet, as the vaccination schedule may need to be adjusted.[](

Some key questions to go over with your veterinarian include:[](

  • What are the core vaccines you recommend for my cat based on lifestyle factors?
  • Are there any non-core vaccines you suggest based on disease risks in my area?
  • What is the recommended schedule and cost for these vaccines?
  • What are signs of vaccine reactions I should watch out for?
  • How often do you recommend wellness exams to review vaccination needs?

Remember, your vet wants to provide the best protection for your cat. Being open about any concerns or questions you have about vaccinations will help them develop the optimal wellness plan.


In conclusion, keeping your cat up-to-date on core vaccines like rabies, feline distemper, feline herpesvirus, calicivirus, and feline leukemia virus is crucial for protecting their health and preventing dangerous diseases. The vaccination schedule typically starts around 8-12 weeks old and continues with boosters throughout their life. While vaccines are extremely important, it’s also vital to monitor your cat for potential side effects and discuss any concerns with your veterinarian.

Some non-core vaccines may be recommended by your vet depending on your cat’s lifestyle and risk factors. Be sure to keep detailed records of their vaccination history and follow up on the timing for future boosters. Although no vaccine is 100% effective, following the recommended vaccination protocols give your cat the best chance at staying healthy and living a long and happy life.

If you have any doubts about whether your cat’s vaccinations are up to date, schedule an appointment with your vet. They can review your cat’s health records and tailor a vaccination plan that provides the right protection based on age, medical history, environment and activities.

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