Vaccine Schedules for Cats & Kittens
Written by Small Door's medical experts
Vaccinations are a crucial tool to help keep your cat healthy. They help your cat build immunity to protect them against serious infectious diseases, and help to stop the spread of those diseases. As immunity fades over time, it’s really important to administer vaccine boosters to your cat throughout their life, at specific times. Read on to learn more about cat vaccines and schedules.
Why Do We Vaccinate?
Vaccines, also known as shots, work by exposing your cat’s immune system to an incomplete or inactive strain of infectious agents. This helps their body build immune cells that are specifically designed to respond effectively when the real thing comes along.
In recent years, vaccines have at times been called ‘dangerous’ for a number of reasons – but there’s little to no scientific evidence to support this claim. And in fact, the diseases they prevent are irritating at best, and potentially deadly at worst. Vaccines are also relatively painless, easy, and cost-effective to administer.
What Do We Vaccinate Cats Against?
There are three vaccines that cats require:
FVRCP: a combination vaccine that protects against Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia, which cause serious respiratory infections and viral diarrhea. The reason the FVRCP is considered a core vaccine is because there are no specific treatments to cure cats; vets can only provide supportive care to help ease their symptoms while they fight the virus.
Rabies: Rabies is a highly contagious and fatal viral disease transmitted via a bite from an infected animal, such as coyotes, raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. It can be transmitted to humans, for whom it is also fatal. The Rabies vaccine is legally required in New York for all cats, regardless of whether they go outdoors or not.
Feline Leukemia Virus: FeLV is an incurable virus transmitted through cat bites during fights. It’s recommended for kittens even if they will not be going outdoors. For older, indoor-only cats, boosters are not required.
Kitten Vaccines & Boosters
Kittens are especially vulnerable to diseases because they have underdeveloped immune systems. That’s why we begin vaccinating at a young age. Kittens also initially receive some immune protection from their mother, but this doesn’t last for very long. This maternal immunity can also interfere with the vaccines we administer, and make them less effective. So, to make sure kittens acquire a high enough level of antibodies to be effective, we have to vaccinate them multiple times – in other words, administer boosters.
Kitten Vaccine Schedule
Typically, kittens will receive their vaccines over three vet visits during the first few months of their life. While the exact dates might vary slightly for your kitten (and your veterinarian will advise on this), it’s important that their boosters are administered within a specific time frame – usually 4 weeks; otherwise your cat may have to repeat the entire series of vaccines. A typical kitten vaccination schedule would be:
8 weeks: FVRCP vaccine (1 of 3)
12 weeks: FVRCP vaccine (2 of 3), Leukemia vaccine (1 of 2) & Rabies vaccine (1 of 1)
16 weeks: FVRCP vaccine (3 of 3) & Leukemia vaccine (2 of 2)
It’s important to administer boosters within a specific time frame, otherwise your cat may have to repeat the entire series of vaccines.
Adult Cat Vaccine Schedule
Adult and senior cats need regular boosters to maintain their immunity levels. Boosters are required every two or three years depending on the vaccine.
FVRCP: every three years
Rabies: every three years
Feline Leukemia Virus: one year after the initial kitten series then every other year for at-risk (outdoor) cats only
Do Indoor Cats Need the Same Vaccines?
As mentioned above, Rabies is required by law in New York State for all cats, both indoor and outdoor. FVRCP is a core vaccine and very strongly recommended for indoor cats, as these diseases are airborne, and so an indoor cat may catch them even though they never venture outside. FeLV is strongly recommended for all kittens and 1-year old cats, but after this, indoor cats do not require boosters as they are low-risk.
Get Your Cat Up-To-Date on their Vaccines
By keeping your cat up-to-date on their shots, you’re protecting them from serious, painful, and often fatal diseases. Speak to your veterinarian if you’re not sure whether your cat needs any boosters – they can review your cat’s medical records and confirm their booster due dates. Or learn more about Small Door’s vaccination services and vaccine FAQs.