Preparing for Kitty’s Shots. 3 Must-Dos Before Your Cat’s Vaccines


Vaccinating cats is extremely important to protect them from serious and potentially fatal infectious diseases. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, “Vaccination is the administration of a vaccine to stimulate an immune response that will prevent infection, or lessen the severity, should exposure and infection occur.”1 While indoor cats are at lower risk, vaccines help prevent common airborne diseases like feline panleukopenia, calicivirus and rhinotracheitis that could be brought in on shoes or clothing. Vaccines also protect community cats and any cats who go outdoors. Additionally, rabies vaccinations may be required by law. By vaccinating a cat, owners safeguard the pet’s health and public health.

When to Vaccinate Kittens

The recommended vaccination schedule for kittens is to start getting vaccinated as early as 6-8 weeks of age and receive boosters every 3-4 weeks until they reach 16 weeks old or older. According to PetMD, kittens should receive their first round of core vaccines between 6-8 weeks, with a booster 3-4 weeks later. After that, another round of boosters is given at 12-16 weeks old. It’s important to follow this vaccination schedule to protect kittens while their immune systems develop. Waiting longer than 16 weeks for final boosters leaves kittens susceptible to dangerous infectious diseases.

Some key points in the kitten vaccination schedule include:

  • 6-8 weeks: First round of core vaccines
  • 10-12 weeks: Second round of core vaccines
  • 14-16 weeks: Final round of core vaccines
  • 16+ weeks: Optional non-core vaccines, if recommended by your vet

Following this timeline ensures kittens build up sufficient immunity through a series of initial vaccinations and boosters. Check with your veterinarian about the exact schedule they recommend for your kitten.

Core Vaccines for Cats

The core vaccines all cats should receive include:

  • Rabies – Rabies is required by law in most jurisdictions and protects against the fatal viral disease transmitted by the bite of an infected animal. Kittens should receive their first rabies vaccine at 12-16 weeks of age and then again one year later for maximum protection. ([1](
  • Feline panleukopenia virus (FPV) – Also known as feline distemper, FPV is a highly contagious and often fatal viral disease that causes fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration. Kittens should get their first FPV vaccine at 6-8 weeks and a booster 3-4 weeks later. ([2](
  • Feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1) – The feline herpes virus causes upper respiratory infection and ocular disease in cats. Kittens should receive an FHV-1 vaccine starting at 6-8 weeks old with a booster 3-4 weeks later. ([2](
  • Feline calicivirus (FCV) – Another upper respiratory virus of cats, FCV causes oral ulcers, pneumonia, and lameness. Kittens should begin the FCV vaccine series at 6-8 weeks with a booster at 10-12 weeks. ([1](

Non-core Vaccines

In addition to the core vaccines, there are some non-core or optional vaccines that may be recommended for cats in certain situations. According to the AAHA Feline Vaccination Guidelines, non-core vaccines for cats include:

  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) – Recommended for cats with outdoor access or those living in households with FeLV-positive cats
  • Chlamydia felis – Protects against feline chlamydiosis, may be recommended for cats entering a higher-risk environment
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica – Protects against feline bordetellosis (“kennel cough”), recommended for cats boarded frequently or exposed to many other cats

These non-core vaccines provide protection against diseases that indoor-only cats have a lower risk of being exposed to. A vet will assess your cat’s lifestyle and make recommendations on any non-core vaccines that may be beneficial.

Pre-Vaccination Vet Visit

Before administering any vaccines, your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam on your cat to ensure she is healthy enough for vaccination. This pre-vaccine vet visit is crucial to check for any underlying conditions that may preclude your cat from getting vaccinated.

During the pre-vaccine exam, the vet will check your cat’s temperature, listen to her heart and lungs, palpate her abdomen, and assess her overall health. Your vet may also run lab tests such as a fecal exam to check for intestinal parasites or a FeLV/FIV test to ensure your cat is not infected with feline leukemia or immunodeficiency virus before vaccination.

A thorough pre-vaccine exam allows the vet to identify any health issues and determine if it is safe for your cat to receive her scheduled vaccines. It also provides an opportunity for you to discuss any concerns with your vet and establish the vet-client-patient relationship required for legal vaccine administration.

While an exam fee may apply, the pre-vaccine visit is an important step to avoid adverse reactions and ensure your cat receives maximum benefit from vaccination. Do not skip this crucial first step in the vaccination process.


Vaccine Reactions

Be aware of possible vaccine reactions in cats so you can monitor your pet after their shots. The most common reactions are mild and temporary, including soreness at the injection site, decreased appetite, and lethargy. According to one source, up to 25% of cats will experience some reaction to vaccines (

More severe vaccine reactions may occur in rare cases. These can include facial swelling, vomiting, diarrhea, hives, itchiness, and difficulty breathing ( If your cat experiences a concerning reaction, contact your veterinarian right away. Vaccine reactions typically start within hours of the vaccination and last about 24-48 hours.

To help your cat feel better after vaccines, allow them to rest, provide easy access to food and water, and give pain medication if prescribed by your vet. Monitor their symptoms closely and follow up with your veterinarian if reactions seem severe or long-lasting.

Home Vaccination Preparation

There are some simple steps you can take at home prior to your cat’s vaccination appointment to help make the process smoother and less stressful for both you and your feline companion:

  • Get your cat used to the carrier. Take the carrier out several days before the appointment and place treats and toys inside so your cat associates it with positive experiences. Try taking short car rides around the neighborhood too. Per Preparing Your Pet for a Vaccine Appointment: 5 Tips …, having the carrier out and sitting flat beforehand can help minimize stress.
  • Make sure your cat’s identification is up to date on their collar in case they escape from the carrier.
  • Withhold food starting the night before to avoid car sickness and vomiting.
  • Consider starting Feliway or other pheromone products to maintain calm.
  • Trim nails to minimize scratching if your cat tends to be anxious.
  • Gather vaccination records so your vet has all the information about prior vaccines.

Taking these simple preparation steps can go a long way towards reducing anxiety for both you and your cat before going to the vet’s office for vaccines.

At the Vet’s Office

When you arrive at the vet’s office for your cat’s vaccination appointment, you can expect the visit to go something like this:

The veterinary team will ask you questions about your cat’s health history and any reactions to previous vaccinations. Be prepared to provide details about your cat’s age, medical conditions, medications, and vaccine records.

The vet will do a full physical examination, checking your cat’s eyes, ears, mouth, skin, coat, heart, lungs, abdomen, and body condition. This is to rule out any underlying health issues before vaccination.

Your vet will discuss which specific vaccine(s) your cat needs based on lifestyle factors like indoor/outdoor access, health status, and risk of exposure. Core vaccines like rabies, panleukopenia, rhinotracheitis, and calicivirus are recommended for all cats [1]. Non-core vaccines may also be recommended.

The vet tech will administer the vaccine injections subcutaneously (under the skin), typically on your cat’s back between the shoulder blades. The vaccines protect against specific feline diseases but do not cause them.

Your vet may want to keep your cat for 15-30 minutes after vaccination to monitor for immediate allergic reactions, which are rare. Signs include facial swelling, hives, or vomiting.

The vet will send you home with vaccine labels showing the date and type given. Expect to pay $30-60 per vaccine injected. Kittens typically need a series of boosters, so costs add up [2].

After Vaccination Care

It’s important to monitor your cat after their vaccinations and provide care to help them feel better. The vaccination area may be sore, swollen or have a mild scab, so avoid excessively petting or rubbing the area so it can heal (VCA Hospitals). Apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel to the injection site for 5-10 minutes to reduce swelling. But call your vet if there is significant swelling, oozing or redness.

Your cat may feel lethargic for 24-48 hours after vaccines, which is normal as their immune system responds. Let them rest in a comfortable, peaceful area with easy access to food, water and litter ( Monitor their eating and litter habits to ensure they are not decreasing. Loss of appetite or not using the litter box may be signs of a more serious reaction that requires prompt veterinary care.

Limit play and activity for 24 hours after vaccination. And restrict access to the outdoors for 1-2 days, as the vaccines take time to stimulate immunity (Vetwest). Observe your cat closely in the days following vaccination and call your vet if any abnormal behavior or symptoms develop that have you concerned.

Importance of Boosters

Getting booster vaccinations for your cat is crucial for maintaining immunity against dangerous diseases. After the initial kitten vaccination series is complete, boosters are needed 1-3 years later depending on the vaccine (VCA Hospitals). Core vaccines like rabies, feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia should be boostered every 1-3 years. Boosters keep your cat’s existing immunity high against these preventable diseases.

According to VCA Hospitals, there is no evidence that annual booster vaccination is anything but beneficial for most cats (VCA Hospitals). Immunity can begin fading within weeks or months without boosters, leaving your cat susceptible to infection. Work with your vet to determine the optimal booster schedule for your cat based on lifestyle, risk factors, and vaccine types. Staying current on boosters protects your cat and community health.

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