“What vaccines should my cat get?” This is a question veterinarians hear on a fairly regular basis. Because of advances in science and vaccine technology, and a growing body of information about infectious diseases, the answer you may have gotten 15 years ago is different from the answer you will get today.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Council on Biologic and Therapeutic Agents, “medical decisions concerning vaccine selection and administration protocols are among the most complicated medical decisions facing veterinarians today.” Here’s why:

“The reasons are numerous and include, but are not necessarily limited to,

  • continual changes in our understanding of the immune system
  • changes in local/regional population susceptibilities to various diseases
  • increased animal valuation with related liabilities
  • longer animal life expectancies, and
  • improved medical record systems, which allows for better tracking of the short, medium, and long-term effects of vaccine use/administration"

Other contributing factors that affect a veterinarian’s decision as to whether any given cat should receive a vaccine include:

  • veterinary medicine’s constantly evolving understanding of infectious diseases,
  • veterinarians’ concerns regarding the regulations behind vaccines (licensing, labeling, etc.), and
  • veterinarians’ awareness of the risks associated with vaccines.

Much has been made of the risks of vaccination in recent years. Unfortunately, this debate has fueled a largely unwarranted backlash against vaccinations in general, which protect cats from dangerous (and sometimes fatal) diseases while also protecting humans from diseases (such as rabies) that are transmissible across species.

In light of the oft-politicized and sometimes emotionally charged discussion of vaccination, it’s crucial to remember that vaccines have played a significant role in enabling both humans and animals to live longer and healthier lives in a world rife with microbial pathogens.

Nonetheless, not all vaccines are appropriate for all pets. This is why a thorough evaluation of each individual patient’s potential for disease exposure and the risks/benefits associated with his vaccination are fundamental to deciding whether a pet gets vaccinated. Vaccination decisions should always be made in consultation with a veterinarian so they can be tailored to meet a cat’s individual needs.

According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners’ vaccination guidelines, the following vaccines are considered “core” (indispensable) vaccines for all cats in the United States:

  • Rabies virus
  • Panleukopenia virus (FPV)
  • Feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1)
  • Feline calicivirus (FCV)

For kittens, the rabies vaccine should be administered as a single dose as early as 8 to 12 weeks of age (depending on vaccine type and label recommendations). For adults receiving an initial rabies vaccine, one dose is considered protective. For all cats, a second dose one year after the initial vaccine is recommended. Following that, the vaccine should be administered every one to three years, depending on the product’s labeling.

The panleukopenia virus (FPV), feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1), and feline calicivirus (FCV) vaccines are typically administered as a combination vaccine according to the following schedule: All kittens should receive two vaccinations three to four weeks apart between the ages of 6 and 16 weeks. Should the initial vaccination take place after 16 weeks, two vaccines three to four weeks apart are recommended. All kittens should receive a booster one year after vaccination and then at intervals of every three years.

The following vaccines are considered “non-core,” which is to say they are optional vaccines that cats can benefit from based on their risk for exposure to the diseases in question:

  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
  • Feline chlamydiosis
  • Bordetella

The American Association of Feline Practitioners has categorized another group of vaccines as “not generally recommended.” This categorization does not mean that the vaccines are bad or dangerous. This designation simply means that widespread use of the vaccine is not currently recommended for pet cats. They are:

  • Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)
  • Feline giardia (no longer available as of this writing)

Vaccination remains one of the most important services your veterinarian offers, and although vaccination is a routine procedure, it should not be taken for granted. It also allows a regular opportunity for your veterinarian to perform a physical examination, which is very important for keeping your cat healthy. Protecting patients is your veterinarian’s primary goal, and developing an appropriate vaccine protocol for your pet is as important as any other area of medicine.

For more information on all these vaccines and the diseases they target, reference each of these vaccine’s individual discussions.


American Association of Feline Practitioners 2006 Feline Vaccination Guidelines

AVMA Vaccination Principles

This article has been reviewed by a Veterinarian.