HEALTH & CARE

A Cat Vaccination Schedule: Get the Facts Right Where Kitty’s Health is Concerned

a fat cat resting on the couch
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

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.

Fat tabby cat is lying at the wood ground

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.

Cat getting a vaccine at the veterinary clinic.

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:

Core Vaccines

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 Calicivirus

  • Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR)

  • Rabies

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.

grey cat lying on the table at the vet

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:

  • Blood-laced diarrhea

  • Anemia

  • Appetite loss

  • Body weakness

  • Fever

  • Severe dehydration

  • Malnutrition

  • Depression

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.

cat at veterinarian visit

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

  • Arthritis

  • Labored breathing

  • Lethargy

  • Pneumonia

  • Appetite loss

  • Ulcers in the tongue and nose

  • Limping

  • Fever

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.

Veterinarian examining cat in vet's surgery

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

  • Fever

  • The loss of sense of smell

  • Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the tissues around the eye)

  • Appetite loss

  • 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.

Gray and white cat at the vet

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:

  • Appetite loss

  • Behavior change, e.g. aggression and restlessness

  • Uncoordinated muscular movement

  • Lethargy

  • Seizures

  • Fever

  • Dropped jaw

  • Paralysis

  • 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

Non-core vaccines include the following:

  • Feline Leukemia (FeLV)

  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV/ Feline AIDS)

  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)

  • Chlamydophila Felis

  • Feline Giardia

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica

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.

a cat at the vet sitting on the table

Some of the factors that may influence the administration of non-core vaccines include:

  • The age of the cat

  • Geographical location

  • 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.

grey cat being examintaed by the vet

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:

  • Unhealthy coat

  • Weight loss

  • Anemia

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • Fever

  • Uneven pupils

  • Seizures

  • Lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes)

  • Diarrhea

  • Uncoordinated muscular movements

  • Swollen gums

  • Jaundice

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.

Veterinarian listening to cat's heart during an examination. ** Note: Slight blurriness, best at smaller sizes

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:

  • Inflamed gums

  • Recurring infections

  • Diarrhea

  • Malnutrition

  • Fever

  • Kidney malfunction

  • 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.

black and white far cat lying on the grass

The disease affects the gastrointestinal tract. Affected felines usually exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Nasal discharge

  • Appetite loss

  • Paralysis

  • Diarrhea

  • Vision loss

  • Watery eyes

  • Sneezing

  • Uncoordinated movement

  • Labored breathing

  • Weight loss

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.

A fat cat lying on the floor with some grass for cats next to her

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:

  • Labored breathing

  • Sneezing and running nose

  • Infertility

  • Appetite loss

  • Fever

  • Pneumonia

  • Watery eyes

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.

A far cat lying on her cat tree

The disease is also airborne and is common among felines living in crowded shelters. The symptoms of this disease are:

  • Bloating

  • Diarrhea

  • 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.

a fat cat lying on the sofa

This may happen when feeding bowls and bedding are shared. Symptoms reported among felines suffering from this disease are:

  • Lethargy

  • Enlarged lymph nodes

  • Wheezing

  • Sneezing/coughing

  • Watery eyes

  • Nasal discharge

  • Fever

  • Labored breathing

The usage of the Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccine is, however, not usually recommended. This is because the disease is relatively easy to treat using antibiotics.

Vaccination Schedule

The table below is a representation of what you can expect your feline’s vaccination schedule to look like:

VaccineCategoryFirst VaccineSubsequent VaccinesYearly Boosters
PanleukopeniaCore6-7 weeks (FVRCP-Combination vaccine)FVRCP combination vaccine at 10, 13, &16 weeksFVRCP combination vaccine
RhinotracheitisCore6-7 weeks (FVRCP-Combination vaccine)FVRCP combination vaccine at 10, 13, &16 weeksFVRCP combination vaccine
CalicivirusCore6-7 weeks (FVRCP-Combination vaccine)FVRCP combination vaccine at 10, 13, &16 weeksFVRCP combination vaccine
RabiesCore12 weeks. Vaccination age may vary depending on location and lawsWhere necessary as per local laws
Feline LeukemiaNon-Core13 weeks to prone kittens16 & 19 weeks if necessaryApplicable to cats exposed to the disease.
ChlamydophilaNon-Core10 weeks if deemed necessary. Can be included in the combination vaccine13 weeks if necessaryIf necessary. It can be included in the combination vaccine
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)Non-CoreFollow schedule as advised by veterinarianFollow schedule as advised by veterinarianFollow schedule as advised by veterinarian
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)Non-CoreFollow schedule as advised by veterinarianFollow schedule as advised by veterinarianFollow schedule as advised by veterinarian
Feline GiardiaNon-CoreFollow schedule as advised by veterinarianFollow schedule as advised by veterinarianFollow schedule as advised by veterinarian
Bordetella bronchisepticaNon-CoreFollow schedule as advised by veterinarianFollow schedule as advised by veterinarianFollow 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.

fat cat sitting on the floor

Mild side effects that do not last longer than two days may include the following:

  • Decreased activity

  • Reddening of the injection site

  • Mild sneezing/coughing

  • Low appetite

Severely Negative Side Effects

There are, however, some cases where felines may need observation from a vet following a vaccination.

Lazy fat cat sleeping on the couch

Below we give a list of possible negative side effects that owners should be wary of after vaccinations:

  • Severe body weakness

  • Appetite loss

  • Diarrhea and vomiting

  • High fever

  • Swollen injection site

  • Itchy skin

  • Lameness

  • Labored breathing

  • Seizures

Wrap Up

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.

fat cat sitting on the grass

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.

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

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