Cat Vaccinations: When and Why Indoor Cats Should Be Vaccinated

Our South Charlotte vets provide insights and advice on why it’s important to have your cat vaccinated even if they are indoors. 


What are cat vaccinations?

Several serious feline-specific diseases afflict many cats every year. To protect your kitten from contracting a preventable condition, it’s critical to have them vaccinated. It’s equally imperative to follow up your kitten’s first vaccinations with regular booster shots during their lifetime, even if you expect Fluffy to be an indoor companion.

The aptly named booster shots “boost” your cat’s protection against a variety of feline diseases after the effects of the initial vaccine wear off. There are booster shots for different vaccines given on specific schedules. Your vet can provide advice on when you should bring your cat back for more booster shots.

Why should I get my indoor cat vaccinated?

Though you may not think your indoor cat requires vaccinations, by law cats must have certain vaccinations in many states. For example, a common law requires cats over the age of 6 months to be vaccinated against rabies. In return for the vaccinations, your veterinarian will provide you with a vaccination certificate, which should be stored in a safe place.

When considering your cat’s health, it’s always prudent to be cautious, as cats are often curious by nature. Our vets recommend core vaccinations for indoor cats to protect them against diseases they could be exposed to if they happen to escape the safety of your home.

Cat Vaccines

There are two basic types of vaccinations for cats.

Core vaccinations should be given to all cats, as they are essential for protecting them against the following common but serious feline conditions:

Rabies

Rabies kills many mammals (including humans) every year. These vaccinations are required by law for cats in most states.

Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus and Panleukopenia (FVRCP)
Typically known as the “distemper” shot, this combination vaccine protects against feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia.

Feline herpesvirus type I (FHV, FHV-1)

This highly contagious, ubiquitous virus is one major cause of upper respiratory infections. Spread through sharing of litter trays or food bowls, inhalation of sneeze droplets or direct contact, the virus can infect cats for life. Some will continue to shed the virus, and persistent FHV infection can cause eye problems.

Non-core vaccinations are appropriate for some cats depending on their lifestyle. Your vet will provide advice about which non-core vaccines your cat should have. These offer protection against:

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia (Felv)

These vaccines protect against viral infections that are transmitted via close contact. They are only usually recommended for cats that spend time outdoors.

Bordetella

This bacteria causes upper respiratory infections that are highly contagious. This vaccine may be recommended by your vet if you are taking your cat to a groomer or boarding kennel.

Chlamydophila felis

Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that causes severe conjunctivitis. The vaccination for the infection is often included in the distemper combination vaccine.

When should my kitten receive their first shots?

You should bring your kitten to see your vet for their first round of vaccinations when they are about six to eight weeks old. Following this, your kitten should get a series of vaccines at three-to-four week intervals until they reach approximately 16 weeks old.

Kitten Vaccination Schedule

First visit (6 to 8 weeks)

  • Review nutrition and grooming
  • Blood test for feline leukemia
  • Fecal exam for parasites
  • Vaccinations for chlamydia, calicivirus, rhinotracheitis and panleukopenia

Second visit (12 weeks)

  • Examination and external check for parasites
  • First feline leukemia vaccine
  • Second vaccinations for calicivirus rhinotracheitis, and panleukopenia
  • First feline leukemia vaccine

Third visit (follow veterinarian’s advice)

  • Rabies vaccine
  • Second feline leukemia vaccine

When will my kitten need booster shots?

Depending on the vaccine, adult cats should get booster shots either annually or every three years. Your vet will tell you when to bring your adult cat back for booster shots.

Is my kitten protected after their first round of shots?

Until they have received all of their vaccinations (when they are about 12 to 16 weeks old), your kitten will not be fully vaccinated. Once all of their initial vaccinations have been completed, your kitten will be protected against the diseases or conditions covered by the vaccines.

If you’d like to allow your kitten outdoors before they have been vaccinated against all the diseases listed above, we recommend keeping them restricted to low-risk areas, like your own backyard.

What are potential side effects of cat vaccinations?

Most cats will not experience any side effects as a result of receiving cat vaccines. If reactions do occur, they are usually minor and short in duration. However, keep these potential negative side effects in mind:

  • Lameness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Redness or swelling around injection site
  • Hives
  • Severe lethargy
  • Fever

Call your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your cat may be experiencing side effects from a cat vaccine. They can help you determine any special care or follow-up that may be required.

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