Cat owners know what a great treasure their feline companions are. Your feline friend will make sure that you never run out of warm cuddles and loyal friendship—as long as you keep them in good health, that is. We all want our furry friend to live a long, disease-free life. There is so much you can do to ensure this, and adhering to a proper cat vaccination schedule tops the list.
Like humans, cats are vulnerable to many diseases. Luckily, for most of these diseases, there are vaccines that can help keep them at bay. When you adopt a cat, be prepared to take the responsibility of ensuring your cat gets all her vaccines. It can be overwhelming for cat owners as they try to figure out the different vaccines and when or how often exactly they should be administered. We are here to help.
This article will outline all the vaccines your feline requires. We will also avail a reliable vaccination schedule you can follow. We will also discuss the side effects you can expect in your cat after the vaccines are administered. Read on to discover a wealth of information that will ensure your kitty enjoys a long, healthy life.
Types of Cat Vaccines
Vaccines are designed to improve the body’s immunity to diseases. They are made of agents that mimic the organisms that cause diseases. Once the vaccine is administered, it triggers the body to treat the agent as a foreign substance.
The body, therefore, produces antibodies to fight the perceived infection. If the body encounters the disease-causing organism again later, it will remember and fight back. This will either prevent the infection entirely or reduce its severity. There are two types of vaccines that are administered to cats:
These are mandatory vaccines for all cats. They shield felines against common and dangerous illnesses. These must be administered to all felines. They cover commonly-occurring feline diseases which are also very dangerous and often fatal. They include the following:
Feline Panleukopenia (commonly known as distemper)
Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR)
Core Vaccine #1: Feline Panleukopenia
Feline Panleukopenia is a highly contagious and fatal feline viral disease that is caused by Feline Parvovirus. It was named Panleukopenia due to the low white blood cell count seen in affected felines.
This virus causes internal ulcers in the cat’s gastrointestinal system. This disease is spread when cats come into direct contact with the blood, urine, or stool of infected cats. Humans handling infected cats can also pass on the virus to other cats. Symptoms associated with this disease include:
Core Vaccine #2: Feline Calicivirus
Feline Calicivirus is a respiratory disease that affects a cat’s nasal passage, mouth, and lungs. This virus often mutates and gives rise to new strains.
The disease can be spread among felines through direct contact with contaminated surfaces like bedding, litter boxes, and feeding bowls. Symptoms associated with this disease are as follows:
Discharge from the eyes and the nose
Ulcers in the tongue and nose
Core Vaccine #3: Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR)
This disease is caused by Feline Herpesvirus 1 and affects the upper respiratory system of cats. It is also commonly referred to as Feline Pneumonia, Feline Coryza, or Feline Influenza.
Kittens are highly prone to this disease. It is common among felines who share crowded spaces. Cats commonly contract this disease after direct contact with an infected cat’s saliva, or eye and nasal discharges. Symptoms associated with this disease are:
Intense sneezing and coughing
The loss of sense of smell
Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the tissues around the eye)
Nasal and eye discharge
Core Vaccine #4: Rabies
Rabies is a serious disease common in mammals in most countries. It affects the spinal cord and the brain. It is mainly spread through bites from infected animals. Such animals may include skunks, raccoons, bats, foxes, dogs, and other cats.
The disease has an average of one to three months of incubation period. In some cases, symptoms can be seen in as little a span of time as a day. In other cases, however, the virus can incubate for as long as a year. Common symptoms among felines suffering from this disease include:
Behavior change, e.g. aggression and restlessness
Uncoordinated muscular movement
Difficulty in swallowing
The bad news is, rabies is more prevalent among cats than any other domestic animals in the USA. The good news is, it can be prevented with routine vaccination.
Non-core vaccines include the following:
Feline Leukemia (FeLV)
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV/ Feline AIDS)
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
Your veterinarian is very critical in determining whether your cat needs these vaccines or not. These are only administered to felines that are deemed to have a high risk of contracting the said specific diseases. A cat’s lifestyle must be reviewed to determine her eligibility for non-core vaccines.
Some of the factors that may influence the administration of non-core vaccines include:
The age of the cat
Susceptibility to the ailment
The health status of the cat
The cat’s lifestyle (outdoor or indoor)
Is the cat used for breeding?
Non Core Vaccine #1: Feline Leukemia (FeLV)
Feline Leukemia is a deadly viral disease that severely weakens the immune system of affected cats and often leads to various types of cancer. This disease is a leading cause of feline deaths all over the world. It is more common among kittens, outdoor cats, and male cats.
Feline Leukemia is spread when cats come into contact with nasal discharges and saliva from infected cats. This may happen through bites, cats grooming each other, shared feeding bowls, bedding, and litter boxes. The disease is also passed on from a mother to her kittens. Symptoms exhibited by cats suffering from this disease are as follows:
Swollen lymph nodes
Lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes)
Uncoordinated muscular movements
Non Core Vaccine #2: Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV/ Feline AIDS)
FIV is similar to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). FIV severely suppresses the infected cat’s immune system. The infected cat is thereby prone to a myriad of infections. The disease can remain dormant for years before its effect is felt.
FIV is mainly transmitted through bites and blood interaction from infected cats. It tends to be more prevalent among male cats—probably because they are more aggressive than female cats. Common symptoms in cats suffering from this disease are:
Glaucoma (damaged optic nerves)
Lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes)
Non Core Vaccine #3: Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
FIP is a highly progressive viral disease caused by a strain called Feline Coronavirus. Once infected, it almost always leads to death. FIP is not very common, generally speaking, but is often found among cats living in crowded spaces like shelters. FIP is spread when felines come into contact with feces produced by infected cats.
The disease affects the gastrointestinal tract. Affected felines usually exhibit the following symptoms:
The administration of the FIP vaccine, however, remains controversial as the vaccine is considered ineffective. The vaccine offers immunity only for a short period of time.
Non Core Vaccine #4: Chlamydophila Felis
This is a bacterial infection that affects the eyes as well as the respiratory, reproductive and gastrointestinal system of felines. Most of the affected cats will develop conjunctivitis—an inflammation of the tissues around the eyes.
Chlamydophila Felis is more prevalent among kittens and cats living in crowded shelters. It is spread through direct contact with infected cats. The incubation period of this disease ranges from three to ten days. Clinical symptoms among cats suffering from this disease are as follows:
Sneezing and running nose
This vaccine will often reduce the severity of the symptoms but may not be able to prevent the infection entirely.
Non Core Vaccine #5: Feline Giardia
Feline Giardia is a parasitic infection that affects the gut of the cat. This disease is spread when cats ingest contaminated materials that have been contaminated with the feces of affected felines.
The disease is also airborne and is common among felines living in crowded shelters. The symptoms of this disease are:
Foul-smelling fecal matter
The administration of the Feline Giardia vaccine is, however, not yet embraced by all experts as there are questions about its effectiveness. Furthermore, the infection is relatively easy to treat even without the vaccine.
Non Core Vaccine #6: Bordetella bronchiseptica
Bordetella bronchiseptica is a highly contagious bacterial infection that affects the upper respiratory tract. It is more prevalent among kittens and felines living in crowded places. This disease is spread through the respiratory secretions and saliva of sick felines.
This may happen when feeding bowls and bedding are shared. Symptoms reported among felines suffering from this disease are:
Enlarged lymph nodes
The usage of the Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccine is, however, not usually recommended. This is because the disease is relatively easy to treat using antibiotics.
The table below is a representation of what you can expect your feline’s vaccination schedule to look like:
|Vaccine||Category||First Vaccine||Subsequent Vaccines||Yearly Boosters|
|Panleukopenia||Core||6-7 weeks (FVRCP-Combination vaccine)||FVRCP combination vaccine at 10, 13, &16 weeks||FVRCP combination vaccine|
|Rhinotracheitis||Core||6-7 weeks (FVRCP-Combination vaccine)||FVRCP combination vaccine at 10, 13, &16 weeks||FVRCP combination vaccine|
|Calicivirus||Core||6-7 weeks (FVRCP-Combination vaccine)||FVRCP combination vaccine at 10, 13, &16 weeks||FVRCP combination vaccine|
|Rabies||Core||12 weeks. Vaccination age may vary depending on location and laws||Where necessary as per local laws|
|Feline Leukemia||Non-Core||13 weeks to prone kittens||16 & 19 weeks if necessary||Applicable to cats exposed to the disease.|
|Chlamydophila||Non-Core||10 weeks if deemed necessary. Can be included in the combination vaccine||13 weeks if necessary||If necessary. It can be included in the combination vaccine|
|Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)||Non-Core||Follow schedule as advised by veterinarian||Follow schedule as advised by veterinarian||Follow schedule as advised by veterinarian|
|Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)||Non-Core||Follow schedule as advised by veterinarian||Follow schedule as advised by veterinarian||Follow schedule as advised by veterinarian|
|Feline Giardia||Non-Core||Follow schedule as advised by veterinarian||Follow schedule as advised by veterinarian||Follow schedule as advised by veterinarian|
|Bordetella bronchiseptica||Non-Core||Follow schedule as advised by veterinarian||Follow schedule as advised by veterinarian||Follow schedule as advised by veterinarian|
Working with your veterinarian in identifying a suitable vaccination schedule for your kitty cannot be overemphasized. To help you get a better idea of which aspects should be brought to the discussion table, below you’ll find some important things to note about the administration of these vaccines:
Boosters for core vaccines are given one year after the first vaccine. Thereafter, more boosters may be given every one to three years. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) encourages that boosters for Panleukopenia, Calicivirus, and Rhinotracheitis be administered every three years. AAFP suggests that only felines at a higher risk of contracting any one the three core vaccinations should receive more frequent vaccinations.
All kittens should receive an initial FeLV vaccination. A blood test should first be done to assess the risk. AAFP, however, does not recommend the vaccination for felines who are kept exclusively indoors with no contact with outside cats.
There is a combination vaccine that constitutes Feline Panleukopenia, Feline Calicivirus, and Feline Rhinotracheitis. This vaccine is known as FVRCP. Some combination vaccines include Chlamydophila as well.
FVRCP vaccination can be administered to kittens as young as 6 weeks. The vaccine is thereafter offered every three to four weeks up to when the kitties are 16 weeks old.
The FIP, Giardia, and Bordetella vaccines are not widely administered as they do not seem to help much in preventing the diseases. The buck stops with the veterinarian on whether your feline needs these vaccines or not.
The Possible Side Effects of Vaccinations
Vaccinations may spark mild side effects that do not need medical care. In some cases, however, severely negative side effects have been reported. These may require medical attention.
Mild Side Effects
Most cats do not need special care after receiving their vaccinations. The side effects are normally easily tolerated and short-lived.
Mild side effects that do not last longer than two days may include the following:
Reddening of the injection site
Severely Negative Side Effects
There are, however, some cases where felines may need observation from a vet following a vaccination.
Below we give a list of possible negative side effects that owners should be wary of after vaccinations:
Severe body weakness
Diarrhea and vomiting
Swollen injection site
For your cat to lead a disease-free life, it is your role as the cat owner to keep up with all of her vaccines. There are two types of feline vaccines: core and non-core. Core vaccines must be administered to all felines.
Non-core vaccines are given after an assessment of the cat’s lifestyle. Where does the cat live? Is she used for breeding? Is she an indoor or outdoor cat? These questions hold the answer to determining the eligibility of your cat for non-core vaccines.
Some of the non-core vaccines we have discussed are still not widely embraced as they do not fully shield felines from the diseases. They are, therefore, only administered in a small percentage of felines. These include the FIP, Giardia, and Bordetella non-core vaccines. They should only be given when the veterinarian recommends them.
In the vaccination journey, the role of the veterinarian cannot be overlooked. He/she will offer professional guidance to that ensure you do not fumble along in the dark where your cat’s vaccines are concerned. Most felines only get mild side effects from vaccinations that go away in a day or two. Some cats, however, suffer severely negative side effects and may require medical attention.
Has your cat been given all of her core vaccines? Are there any non-core vaccines the vet has recommended? We would love to hear all about them. Please let us know in the comments.