Which vaccinations does my outdoor cat need?

Because outdoor cats are exposed to other neighborhood cats and wildlife, they face a higher risk of health issues. Our South Charlotte vets explain how cat vaccinations can help protect your furry friend against serious illnesses. 

Are vaccines safe for cats?

Believe it or not, vaccinating our pets can be a controversial topic - much like human vaccinations.

Our vets at Sharon Lakes Animal Hospital believe vaccinations are safe for cats, and that vaccinating your outdoor cat can help protect him or her from a number of serious conditions that can be costly to treat - and even potentially deadly.

However, not all cats will have the same health risks, so vaccination needs can differ depending on the cat. While all cats should receive core vaccines and most states require the Rabies vaccine by law, certain ‘lifestyle vaccines’ are designed for cats who spend time outdoors with other cats.

What are core vaccines for cats?

Core vaccines are designed to prevent diseases typically found in your area that can spread very quickly, and leave a high fatality rate in their wake. If your cat is an outdoor feline, it’s important to protect your cat with these core vaccinations:


Rabies is one of the few diseases that people can catch from cats and other pets. Typically transmitted via the bite of an infected animal, the rabies virus causes brain inflammation (acute encephalitis) and will gradually infect a person’s or animal’s entire nervous system, causing death.

In many states, including North Carolina, dogs, cats and ferrets are mandated by law to be vaccinated for rabies, without exception.

Feline Calicivirus

This highly contagious respiratory disease can affect both cats and kittens. The illness invades a cat’s respiratory tract, including the lungs and nasal passages, in addition to the mouth, musculoskeletal system and intestines.

Feline calicivirus can be very challenging to eliminate once a cat has contracted it, which is why we strongly recommend vaccinating him or her against the disease.

Feline Herpesvirus Type I (Rhinotracheitis)

Also known as feline viral rhinotracheitis - FVR - Feline Herpesvirus is a major factor in upper respiratory disease for cats, in addition to tissue inflammation around the cat’s eyes.

Cats who become infected with VR can be carriers of the virus, and pass it to other cats they interact with. Although symptoms can be treated, they will still have the virus. Illness or stress can cause a reactivation of Feline Herpesvirus, and the cat may become infectious.

Panleukopenia (Feline Parvo or Feline Distemper)

Panleukopenia is closely associated with canine parvovirus. This extremely contagious, life-threatening viral disease attacks a cat’s blood cells, including cells in the bone marrow, skin, developing fetus or intestinal tract.

Spread through nasal secretions, urine and stool of infected cats, Panleukopenia can also hitch a ride with fleas who have bitten an infected cat.

What ‘lifestyle vaccines’ does my outdoor cat require?

Cats who often explore outdoors are exposed to more parasites and diseases, which means it’s critical to protect them against serious diseases. ‘Lifestyle vaccines’ are recommended mainly for cats who spend a lot of time outdoors, or around other cats.

Your vet may recommend these lifestyle cat vaccinations for your intrepid feline wanderer:

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

The leading viral killer of cats and kittens can lurk undetected for long periods, while it gradually weakens a cat’s immune systems and increases their vulnerability to other diseases, including cancer. Common fungi, bacteria, viruses and protozoa that would not normally infect healthy cats may cause FeLV-infected cats to become severely ill. It can also cause a number of blood disorders. 

Cats can spread feline leukemia through saliva while grooming one another and biting wounds. The disease can also be transmitted to kittens through a mother’s milk or via a shared litter box. Unfortunately, many infected cats do not receive a diagnosis until after they have lived with other cats for some time. 

In these cases, all other cats in the household should be tested for FeLV.

Because kittens are at high risk for getting this disease they should be vaccinated against Feline Leukemia virus starting at about 9 to 12 weeks old.

Chlamydia (Clamydophila felis)

Chlamydia can lead to eye infection and respiratory disease in cats, and is easily spread between cats who closely interact with each other. Our vets recommend that all cats in catteries, or living in shelters or with breeders, be vaccinated against this illness. Talk to your vet to learn whether your cat may be vulnerable to this condition.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your cat due for annual vaccinations?

Contact our veterinary hospital today to book a vaccination appointment for your pet.

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