Don’t Let Your Cat Miss Out. Why Vaccines Are Vital For Your Feline’s Health


Vaccinating cats is crucial for protecting their health and preventing serious and even fatal diseases. While indoor cats are less exposed to potential risks, vaccinations provide an important safeguard against illness. Core vaccines, like rabies, feline distemper and respiratory infections, help create immunity against the most common and deadly diseases. Even indoor cats can be exposed through open windows, other pets, and carriers like humans. Vaccinating not only protects the individual cat, but also provides herd immunity to reduce spread in the general cat population. Kittens need a series of vaccines and periodic boosters are necessary for adults. Though no vaccine is 100% effective, they greatly reduce the risk and severity of illness. Understanding the importance of timely vaccination, following recommended schedules, and addressing any concerns with your vet, allows cat owners to make the best decisions for the long-term health of their furry companions.

Core Vaccines

There are several core vaccines that are crucial for cats to receive in order to prevent serious and potentially fatal illnesses. These include vaccines for panleukopenia (feline distemper), upper respiratory infections, and rabies.

The panleukopenia vaccine protects against the feline distemper virus, which attacks a cat’s gastrointestinal system and white blood cells, often leading to severe dehydration, fever, vomiting, and death. This highly contagious and deadly virus is fortunately preventable through vaccination. The panleukopenia vaccine is considered a core vaccine for all cats by the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) [1].

Upper respiratory infections in cats are commonly caused by feline herpesvirus (FHV-1) and feline calicivirus (FCV). These viruses spread easily between cats and can lead to severe symptoms like eye and nasal discharge, oral ulcers, fever, and pneumonia. Vaccines for FHV-1 and FCV are recommended as core vaccines for all cats according to the AAFP [2]. When given routinely, these vaccines greatly reduce a cat’s risk of contracting and spreading these viruses.

Rabies vaccines are considered core for cats in most jurisdictions because rabies is a fatal zoonotic disease that is transmissible to humans. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system and causes neurological symptoms and death. Vaccinating cats against rabies is important for protecting individual pet health as well as public health.

Non-Core Vaccines

Non-core vaccines are optional based on the cat’s risk of exposure. These include:

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) – This retrovirus suppresses the immune system and increases risk of other infections like FIV. It spreads through saliva, urine, feces, and milk from an infected cat. Kittens and outdoor cats are at higher risk. The vaccine is recommended if there is potential exposure. [1]

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) – Similar to HIV in humans, this weakens the immune system. It spreads through bite wounds from infected cats. Outdoor, aggressive cats are at higher risk. Vaccination can reduce infection risk for cats with exposure. [1]

Chlamydia – This bacterium causes upper respiratory infection. It spreads easily between cats. The vaccine may help reduce infection severity. [2]

Bordetella – This causes upper respiratory illness called kennel cough. Recommended for cats boarded frequently. [2]

Vaccine Schedule

The core vaccines for kittens include panleukopenia, rhinotracheitis, and calicivirus (known together as FVRCP) as well as rabies. Kittens should receive the FVRCP vaccine starting at 6-8 weeks old, with a booster 3-4 weeks later and then again at 12 weeks old (Source 1). Kittens should receive their first rabies vaccine at 12-16 weeks with a booster 1 year later (Source 2).

For adult cats, the FVRCP and rabies vaccines should be boostered every 1-3 years depending on the cat’s lifestyle and risk factors. Indoor cats typically only need boosters every 3 years, while outdoor cats or cats with potential exposure should receive annual boosters (Source 1). Rabies boosters are required by law every 1-3 years depending on local laws (Source 2). Discuss an appropriate vaccine schedule with your veterinarian based on your cat’s individual needs.

Herd Immunity

Herd immunity refers to a form of indirect protection that occurs when a large percentage of the population has become immune to an infectious disease. Once herd immunity is achieved, it makes it much more difficult for the disease to spread because there are not enough susceptible individuals for sustained transmission. According to a 1976 study, cats less than one year of age accounted for 70% of the total morbidity. Therefore, vaccinating kittens and cats under one year helps protect the most vulnerable population and contributes to herd immunity.

Unvaccinated cats rely heavily on herd immunity within their community. The higher the vaccination rate, the lower the risk of disease exposure. Kittens and ill cats who can’t be vaccinated depend on herd immunity for protection against dangerous viruses like panleukopenia and feline leukemia. Maintaining herd immunity can prevent outbreaks that threaten vulnerable cats. Vaccinating your own cat protects not only their health but the health of other cats in your area.

Preventing Serious Illness

Vaccines have been crucial in reducing the rate of serious and sometimes fatal illnesses in cats. Studies show dramatic reductions in disease rates when populations have higher vaccination coverage. For example, panleukopenia used to affect up to 30% of cats prior to vaccination, but now the incidence is less than 1% in vaccinated populations [1]. Similar reductions have been seen for feline herpesvirus, calicivirus, rabies, and feline leukemia virus in vaccinated cats.

One study found the incidence of panleukopenia was near zero in vaccinated cats, but 13.3% in unvaccinated cats over the same time period [1]. Another study found the preventable fraction for core vaccines like panleukopenia, herpesvirus, and calicivirus to be over 90% [2]. This demonstrates the clear protective effect vaccines provide against these potentially fatal diseases.

While adverse reactions can occur, the risks posed by these serious illnesses far outweigh the small risks associated with vaccination. Vaccinating your cat is crucial to prevent the suffering and early death these diseases can cause.


Vaccines given to cats are extensively tested for safety before being approved for use. According to Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, “All vaccines undergo rigorous testing prior to licensure, and once in clinical use they are continually monitored for safety and efficacy.”

While some side effects can occur after vaccination, they are typically mild and temporary. The most common side effects are soreness at the injection site or a mild fever lasting a day or two. More severe reactions are very rare. Cornell notes, “In general, the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks. Vaccines prevent many serious infectious diseases that were once common and frequently fatal in cats.”

Overall, decades of research and clinical experience demonstrate that core vaccines like rabies, panleukopenia and others are very safe for the vast majority of cats when properly administered.


Getting your cat vaccinated can save you money in the long run by preventing costly illnesses. According to the ASPCA, the average cost to vaccinate a kitten in its first year ranges from $100 to over $200 if you include the rabies vaccine. Adult cats require fewer vaccines and typically cost between $45 to $75 per year for the recommended core vaccines.

Compare this to the average costs to treat common feline illnesses that vaccines prevent:

  • Feline distemper: $500 to $5,000 (
  • Feline leukemia: $200 per month for treatment (
  • Rabies: $10,000 to $50,000 if human exposure occurs (AVMA)

While the upfront cost of vaccines may seem high, the potential expenses from treatment of these preventable diseases is far greater. Protecting your cat through a routine vaccination schedule can save you thousands in emergency vet bills down the road.

Common Concerns

Some pet owners have concerns about potential risks from vaccines, often stemming from anti-vaccine misinformation online. However, veterinarians overwhelmingly agree on the importance of core vaccines for cats. According to a 2021 survey of over 1,000 vets in Canada and the US, 95% considered core vaccines “very important” for feline patients (Kogan et al.). Still, myths persist that vaccines are unnecessary, dangerous or overload the immune system.

In reality, the risks of vaccine reactions are minimal, especially compared to the risks of deadly diseases like panleukopenia or rabies. Serious side effects are extremely rare, occurring in less than 1 in 10,000 vaccinated animals according to veterinary research. It’s understandable to have questions, but pet owners should always consult their vet rather than trust unsourced claims online. Vets can explain the proven benefits of vaccination and tailor recommendations based on your pet’s lifestyle and medical history.


In summary, there are numerous compelling reasons why it is crucial to vaccinate your cat on a regular schedule and comply with the core and non-core vaccines recommended by your veterinarian. The core vaccines for feline parvovirus, herpesvirus, and calicivirus provide essential protection against highly contagious viruses that can cause severe, debilitating symptoms and often result in death if contracted (Vaccinating your cat, 2018). Receiving the recommended booster shots on schedule will strengthen your cat’s immunity and prevent dangerous outbreaks (Are Cat Vaccinations Necessary?, 2021).

Additionally, ensuring your cat is up to date on vaccines helps establish herd immunity and protect vulnerable feline populations from exposure to deadly diseases like distemper and rabies. Not only can severe illness be costly and traumatic for pet owners, but declining to vaccinate also increases public health risks. Ultimately, with the tremendous benefits in preventing suffering and saving lives, the minimal risks and reasonable costs make vaccination an essential part of responsible cat ownership.

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