The Yearly Shot Your Cat Can’t Miss. Why This Vaccine Matters


Vaccinating cats is an important part of keeping them healthy and protecting them from dangerous diseases. While indoor cats are at lower risk, vaccinations help prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria that can make cats very sick or even be fatal. Core vaccines protect against the most common and deadly diseases, while non-core vaccines target less common regional diseases or those based on lifestyle factors. Kittens need a series of vaccines and boosters in their first year, while adult cats need annual shots. Understanding the vaccine schedule, potential health risks, and possible side effects allows cat owners to make informed decisions with their veterinarian. Vaccinating cats according to recommendations has dramatically reduced rates of once common fatal feline viruses and diseases.

Core Vaccines

There are certain core vaccines that all cats should receive to protect against the most common and deadly feline diseases. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, the core vaccines for cats include:

  • Rabies – Rabies is a fatal viral disease that can affect the central nervous system. Rabies vaccination is required by law in most jurisdictions.
  • Panleukopenia (FPV) – Feline panleukopenia is a highly contagious and deadly disease caused by the feline parvovirus. It attacks and kills white blood cells, leaving cats susceptible to secondary infections.
  • Feline Herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1) – Feline herpesvirus causes feline viral rhinotracheitis, an upper respiratory infection. It is very contagious and can cause lifelong latent infections.
  • Feline Calicivirus (FCV) – A common cause of upper respiratory infections in cats. It is also extremely contagious and causes oral ulcerations and limping.

Kittens should receive a series of core vaccines, starting as early as 6-8 weeks old, to develop protective immunity. Adult cats need regular boosters, typically every 1-3 years depending on risk factors, to maintain immunity against these deadly diseases.

Non-core Vaccines

Non-core vaccines are optional vaccines that may be recommended by a veterinarian based on a cat’s lifestyle and risk factors. Some common non-core vaccines for cats include:

  • Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) – Protects against the contagious retrovirus that suppresses the immune system. Recommended for outdoor cats or those exposed to other cats. (Source)
  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) – Protects against the contagious retrovirus that weakens the immune system. Recommended for outdoor, aggressive cats. (Source)
  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) – Protects against the viral disease that can cause serious illness. Recommended for cats exposed to crowded living conditions. (Source)
  • Chlamydophila felis – Protects against bacterial infection that causes conjunctivitis, pneumonia, and other illnesses. Recommended for cats going into a shelter. (Source)
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica – Protects against bacterial infection that causes upper respiratory illness. Recommended for cats going into a shelter. (Source)

Consult with your veterinarian to determine which non-core vaccines may be recommended for your cat based on lifestyle, exposure risk, and other factors.

Vaccine Schedule

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends the following vaccine schedule for kittens:

  • 6-8 weeks: Feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1), feline calicivirus (FCV), and panleukopenia (feline distemper) vaccine. Also known as the FVRCP vaccine. 2-4 weeks later: Second FVRCP shot.
  • 12-16 weeks: Third FVRCP shot
  • 16-20 weeks: Final kitten FVRCP shot

For adult cats, the AAHA recommends annual or triennial boosters depending on the cat’s risk factors and lifestyle [1]. Core vaccines like FVRCP should be boosted at least every 3 years. More frequent annual boosters may be recommended for outdoor cats or cats with potential exposure to unvaccinated kittens.

Non-core vaccines like feline leukemia virus (FeLV) may also be recommended annually for higher risk cats.

Lifestyle Factors

A cat’s lifestyle and living conditions play an important role in determining what vaccines they need. Indoor cats generally require fewer vaccines than outdoor cats who are exposed to more diseases. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), core vaccines for all cats regardless of lifestyle include rabies, panleukopenia (distemper), herpesvirus, and calicivirus. Non-core vaccines like feline leukemia virus (FeLV) may be recommended based on lifestyle.

Cats with outdoor access are at higher risk of being exposed to infectious diseases through other cats, wildlife, and the environment. As a result, the AAFP recommends outdoor cats receive additional non-core vaccines like FeLV, Chlamydophila, Bordetella, and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) to protect against the diseases they may encounter outdoors (AAFP Vaccine Guidelines).

Indoor cats typically only require the core vaccines, unless recommended otherwise by a veterinarian. Some vets may suggest certain non-core vaccines depending on local disease risks. For example, even indoor cats may be vaccinated for FeLV if there are stray cats in the neighborhood. Overall, indoor cats require fewer vaccines since their exposure risk is much lower.

No matter their lifestyle, all kittens should receive a full series of core vaccines on the recommended schedule. Adult cats need vaccine boosters depending on vaccine type and risk factors. Discuss your cat’s lifestyle with your vet to determine the optimal vaccination plan.

Health Risks

Cats that do not receive their core vaccines are at risk for several dangerous and potentially fatal diseases according to the Cornell Feline Health Center (Source). Core vaccines protect against panleukopenia (feline distemper), herpesvirus, calicivirus, and rabies. Panleukopenia is a highly contagious and deadly disease that causes severe vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. Herpesvirus and calicivirus lead to upper respiratory infections, fever, painful ulcers, and pneumonia. Rabies is almost 100% fatal in unvaccinated cats.

In addition to the core vaccines, cats may require non-core vaccines depending on lifestyle factors. Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is recommended for cats going outdoors, while cats with potential exposure to infected cats should receive the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) vaccine. These diseases weaken the immune system and dramatically shorten lifespan. According to Affordable Pet Care (Source), unvaccinated pets are also susceptible to deadly diseases such as parvovirus, distemper, hepatitis and Lyme disease.

Vaccine Reactions

Like all medicines and vaccines, cat vaccines carry a potential risk of adverse reactions. According to PetMD, the most common side effects are mild and temporary, including soreness at the injection site, lethargy, decreased appetite, and a slight fever (1). However, some cats may experience more severe reactions.

Facial swelling, vomiting, diarrhea, hives, and itchiness have been reported after vaccination, per Argyle Vet (2). Difficulty breathing is another potential sign of a more serious reaction. These symptoms tend to arise within hours of the vaccine being administered.

In very rare cases, a cat may develop anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction. This requires immediate veterinary care. Signs include sudden vomiting, facial swelling, hives, difficulty breathing, pale gums, collapse, and seizure (3).

Lethargy or reduced appetite that persists for more than a day warrants a veterinary checkup to rule out a delayed vaccine reaction. Most side effects clear up within a couple days, but some can last 1-2 weeks.



The cost of cat vaccines can vary depending on the specific shots given, the vet clinic, and location. However, there are some general estimates for common cat vaccines and vet exam fees.

According to the American Animal Hospital Association’s most recent surveys, the average cost of the feline distemper vaccine is $18, while the feline leukemia vaccine averages $25. The average cost for the rabies vaccine is around $20. These core vaccines are typically given every 1-3 years, depending on the specific vaccine.

Wellness exams at the vet usually cost $45-$55 per visit. Kittens will need about 3-4 wellness exams in their first year for vaccinations and deworming, so total first year costs are $150-$300 depending on the specific vaccines given. Adult cats need annual wellness exams which run about $100 per year including the vaccine costs.

There are also non-core vaccines like the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) vaccine that costs around $35-50. Other optional vaccines may be recommended based on lifestyle and risk factors.

Overall, pet owners can expect to spend $100-$300 in the first year for a kitten’s vaccinations and vet exams. Adult cat yearly vaccine and wellness costs are around $100 per year.

Vet Visits

It is important to take cats to the veterinarian for annual exams to keep their vaccines and other preventative care up-to-date. According to Pumpkin, kittens should visit the vet every few weeks during the first 6 months of life to establish a vaccine schedule. After this initial period, most experts recommend annual veterinary exams for adult cats to monitor their health and administer core vaccines like rabies, panleukopenia, calicivirus, and herpesvirus.

While some adult cats may only need an annual vet visit, senior cats over 7 years old or cats with medical conditions may benefit from exams every 6 months. More frequent vet visits can catch age-related diseases like kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and cancer earlier. Annual exams are also a chance to update tests, refill medications, and address any new health issues. By maintaining annual veterinary care, cat owners can best protect their pet’s health and keep them up-to-date on preventative medicine like vaccines.


Proper vaccination is an essential part of keeping cats healthy. Core vaccines like rabies, FVRCP, and FeLV protect against serious and potentially fatal diseases that remain prevalent in the environment. While the rabies vaccine is required by law for all pets, other core vaccines are recommended based on lifestyle factors like indoor/outdoor access. Non-core vaccines can provide additional protection from diseases like Chlamydia, Bordetella, and FIP based on risk level. Kittens need a series of vaccines and boosters in their first year, while adult cats need annual boosters for core immunizations. Reactions can occur but are typically mild. Regular vet visits ensure cats receive necessary vaccines on schedule for lifelong immunity. In summary, following vaccine guidelines tailored to each cat’s lifestyle provides the best disease protection.

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