What Shots Does Your Cat Need for a Healthy Life?


Getting your cat properly vaccinated is one of the most important things you can do as a pet owner to keep them healthy. Vaccines help prevent cats from getting seriously ill from dangerous infectious diseases. Kitten and cat vaccination schedules provide immunity against contagious illnesses that can make your pet extremely sick or could even be fatal. Staying current on recommended vaccination schedules is crucial to protecting your cat throughout their life. This article will provide an overview of the core and non-core vaccine schedule for kittens and adult cats.

Core Kitten Vaccines

There are four core vaccines that are recommended for all kittens:

Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR)

Feline viral rhinotracheitis is an upper respiratory infection caused by the feline herpesvirus type 1 (FHV-1). It is highly contagious and causes symptoms like sneezing, eye and nasal discharge, fever, and ulcers in the mouth and nose (AAHA Feline Vaccination Guidelines). The FVR vaccine is considered a core vaccine because it helps prevent this common and potentially serious respiratory infection in cats. Kittens should receive their first FVR vaccine as early as 6-8 weeks of age, with a booster 3-4 weeks later.

Feline Calicivirus (FCV)

Feline calicivirus is another upper respiratory infection that causes oral ulcers, conjunctivitis, fever, and pneumonia in cats. It is extremely contagious between cats. The vaccine helps prevent disease and reduce viral shedding. Kittens should receive their first FCV vaccine at 6-8 weeks, with a booster 3-4 weeks later (All Pets Vet Hospital).

Feline Panleukopenia (FPV)

Feline panleukopenia, also known as feline distemper, is a severe and often fatal gastrointestinal virus. It causes fever, lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea. Kittens are routinely vaccinated against panleukopenia starting as early as 6 weeks of age, with boosters every 3-4 weeks until 16-20 weeks of age. The panleukopenia vaccine is considered core because the disease is widespread and can affect both domestic and wild felines.


Rabies vaccines help protect cats against the rabies virus infection, which affects the central nervous system. Kittens should receive their first rabies vaccine at 12-16 weeks of age, with a booster 1 year later. Rabies vaccines are core because the disease is fatal and can be transmitted from cats to people.

Core Adult Cat Vaccines

Adult cats should receive core vaccines to protect against serious and potentially fatal illnesses. The core vaccines for adult cats include:

Rabies – Rabies is a fatal viral disease that is transmissible to humans. All cats should be vaccinated for rabies as kittens and receive a rabies booster 1 year later. After that, rabies vaccines should be boosted every 1-3 years depending on municipal and provincial regulations (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/vaccines-for-cats). It is extremely important for cats to stay up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations for their own health and public safety.

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) – FeLV is an infectious disease that causes immune deficiency and cancer in cats. All kittens and cats under 1 year should receive an initial FeLV vaccine, with a booster 1 year later. After that, adult cats only need FeLV vaccines if they go outdoors or have exposure to infected cats (https://www.aaha.org/aaha-guidelines/2020-aahaaafp-feline-vaccination-guidelines/). Indoor adult cats typically don’t require FeLV boosters. But for cats with outdoor access or potential exposure, FeLV vaccines should be boosted annually.

Non-Core Vaccines

In addition to the core vaccines, there are some non-core vaccines that may be recommended for cats depending on their lifestyle and exposure risks.

Some of the most common non-core vaccines for cats include:

  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) – Protects against the feline coronavirus that causes FIP. Recommended for cats going into a multi-cat environment.
  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV or Feline AIDS) – Protects against FIV which weakens the immune system. Recommended for cats with outdoor exposure or that fight with other cats.
  • Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) – Protects against the retrovirus FeLV that suppresses the immune system. Recommended for outdoor cats or cats exposed to other cats.
  • Ringworm – Protects against the fungal infection ringworm. Recommended for cats going into shelters.

These non-core vaccines provide protection against viruses and infections that, while not extremely common, can be very dangerous for cats. Vets may recommend certain non-core vaccines depending on the cat’s lifestyle and risk factors. However, some non-core vaccines like FIP have been controversial in terms of effectiveness. Discuss options with your vet.




Vaccine Schedule Timeline

The core vaccine schedule for kittens recommended by veterinarians is as follows:

  • 6-8 weeks: Kittens receive their first round of FVRCP vaccination, which protects against feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia (distemper). (source)
  • 10-12 weeks: Kittens receive their second round of FVRCP vaccination and their first FELV vaccination, which protects against feline leukemia virus. (source)
  • 14-16 weeks: Kittens receive their third round of FVRCP vaccination and their second FELV vaccination. They also receive their first rabies vaccination at this time. (source)
  • 1 year: Kittens should receive a booster FVRCP vaccination and may receive a booster rabies vaccination depending on the vaccine used. (source)

It’s important to follow this vaccination schedule as recommended in order to provide full protection for kittens at their most vulnerable stages of development.

Importance of Sticking to Vaccine Schedule

It is crucial to follow the recommended vaccine schedule for your cat and not allow delays or lapses in vaccines. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, “Preventing a serious disease is much easier and safer than treating it after it occurs. In the case of a highly contagious disease like panleukopenia (“feline distemper”), prevention can be a life or death matter for an unvaccinated cat.”1

Some of the risks of delayed or lapsed vaccinations include:2

  • Increased susceptibility to dangerous infectious diseases like panleukopenia and rabies
  • Puts unvaccinated cats at risk if there is an outbreak
  • Disrupts herd immunity within the cat population when vaccination rates decline
  • Increases expense and stress if the full vaccine series must be restarted due to long delays

Veterinarians recommend sticking as closely as possible to the initial kitten and adult booster vaccine schedule to maintain optimal immunity. Follow-up with your vet if your cat experiences vaccine reactions or you have concerns about their vaccine schedule.

Vaccine Boosters

Most core and non-core vaccines for cats require periodic boosters to maintain immunity. According to the 2020 AAHA/AAFP Feline Vaccination Guidelines, the recommended interval for core vaccine boosters is every 3 years. For non-core vaccines like FeLV, an annual booster is recommended.

Boosters are important because immunity from vaccines can wane over time. Getting regular boosters ensures cats maintain protective antibody levels against dangerous diseases like panleukopenia, calicivirus, herpesvirus, and rabies. Boosters also provide an opportunity to update a cat’s immunity against any new viral or bacterial strains that may be emerging.

Some factors vets consider when determining an appropriate booster schedule include the cat’s age, health status, breed, lifestyle, and risk of exposure. More frequent boosters may be advised for shelter cats, outdoor cats, or cats with health conditions that weaken their immune response. Following the vet’s recommended booster timeline helps provide continuous protection throughout the cat’s life.

Vaccine Reactions

While most cats receive their vaccinations with no issues, some cats can develop mild to moderate side effects. According to PetMD, some common vaccine reactions in cats include: https://www.petmd.com/cat/general-health/possible-vaccine-reactions-cats

  • Mild soreness or tenderness at the injection site
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Slight fever

More severe vaccine reactions are less common, but can include facial swelling, vomiting, diarrhea, hives, itchiness, and breathing issues. According to Argyle Veterinary Care, contact your vet if any concerning symptoms develop after vaccination. https://www.argylevet.com/site/blog/2021/07/09/side-effects-to-vaccines-in-dogs-and-cats Most vaccine reactions resolve on their own within 24-48 hours. To help your cat feel better, provide ample fresh water, nutritious food, and a comfortable place to rest. Monitor your cat closely and call your vet with any severe or persistent reactions.

Lifestyle Factors

There are some important differences to consider when vaccinating indoor versus outdoor cats. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), indoor cats generally require fewer vaccines than outdoor cats who are at greater risk of exposure to certain diseases.

Indoor cats still need core vaccines like rabies, panleukopenia, calicivirus and herpesvirus. However, they do not require vaccines against feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or Bordetella unless they go outdoors or live with other cats who go outdoors. Outdoor cats or indoor/outdoor cats should receive the additional FeLV and Bordetella vaccines as recommended by a veterinarian.

Outdoor cats face higher risks of contracting infectious diseases through encounters with other cats, wildlife, fleas and ticks. They need comprehensive protection through timely vaccination. Indoor cats may receive a slightly reduced protocol if they do not interact with outdoor cats and stay strictly indoors. But core vaccines are still essential even for indoor cats, as diseases could be introduced in other ways.

According to the AAFP and Dunnellon Animal Hospital, the ideal scenario is to vaccinate all cats, whether indoor or outdoor, according to protocols recommended for outdoor cats. This ensures full protection from preventable feline diseases. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the optimal vaccination schedule for your cat’s lifestyle.


In conclusion, following the recommended vaccination schedule for kittens and adult cats is crucial to protecting them against dangerous, potentially fatal diseases. Kittens should receive a series of core vaccines for panleukopenia, calicivirus, herpesvirus, and rabies, starting as early as 6-8 weeks old and continuing until 16-20 weeks old. Adult cats need booster shots for the core vaccines, plus annual rabies vaccination depending on local laws. Some non-core vaccines may also be recommended based on lifestyle and risk factors.

By sticking to the schedule for initial shots and boosters, cat owners ensure their pets build maximum immunity against these viruses and bacteria. Not only can vaccinations save a cat’s life, but also prevent painful and expensive treatments for illnesses. While cats may experience brief side effects from vaccines, these are minimal compared to long-term complications of infectious diseases. Consulting with a veterinarian allows customizing a schedule to a cat’s individual needs.

In summary, proper vaccination provides cats the best defense against dangerous diseases and allows cat owners peace of mind knowing they have protected their pet’s health to the fullest extent possible. Following the schedule provides maximum safety and immunity to support a happy, healthy life.

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