When Do I Vaccinate My Cat?

As cats are such curious and adventurous animals, it’s only natural that they will often find themselves in risky situations. Thankfully, they have the right genetics to deal with awkward falls from a height, and the speed and agility to escape from the danger of aggressive animals.

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Unfortunately, for all of their incredible reflexes, cats don’t have a natural method to fight off more serious illnesses. Like us, there are some diseases cats cannot overcome without the aid of costly procedures.

Different Types of Vaccinations May Be Administered:

-Modified Live Vaccines–

these types of vaccines use a modified version of the disease-causing organism. This cannot develop into a disease, but it can still replicate itself enough to trigger a strong immune response. This means the cat fights it off and develops resistance to the real disease.

-Inactivated Vaccines–

These vaccines only use dead or inactive cells of the disease-causing organism. Although, they are combined with agents that make it seem like a live disease in the body. This triggers the cat’s immune response, and it will develop resistance.

-Recombinant Vaccines–

These types of vaccinations are produced through recombinant DNA technology. Rather than using the entire pathogen, they combine only a piece of it with the animal cell. This triggers a highly targeted immune response to the disease.

Why Vaccinations are Important

As with humans, animal vaccinations have helped save lives, as well as to detect and understand other diseases. Vaccinations aren’t just for the benefit of your cat; they prevent diseases being passed between your cat and other animals in the area. Not properly immunizing your cat is a serious health risk to all the other pets and wildlife in your area.

Cats are susceptible to a number of serious illnesses without proper vaccination. Some of these are more or less common depending on your cat’s living conditions. For example, whether it is an indoor or outdoor cat, it is possible for any cat to develop these viruses.

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Core vaccinations should be given to all cats, even if they are only indoor cats because the diseases these vaccinations protect against are so widespread and the health risks are so significant. The application of non-core vaccinations is much more dependent on the individual cat and takes into account the cat’s age, lifestyle, and sociability with other animals.

While the name ‘non-core’ suggests reduced importance in these types of vaccinations, if your cat is susceptible to any of the diseases, the vaccinations prevent against, neglecting to immunize them could be just as damaging to their quality and length of life.

Core Feline Vaccinations Protect Your Cat Against:

  • Feline panleukopenia virus (FPV) / feline infectious enteritis (FIE)

This virus is highly contagious and can survive for a long time in the environment cats live in, meaning they don’t have to be in contact with cats carrying the disease to be at risk. This disease is frequently fatal to cats.

  • Feline herpesvirus (FHV-1) and feline calicivirus (FCV) also known as cat flu.

These two viruses together cause ‘cat flu’ or respiratory tract infections. They can be spread easily between cats through contact such as sneezing but can also be found in the environment.

  • Rabies

While rabies is more often associated with dogs, it is possible for cats to catch this disease. Cats usually contract rabies through being bitten by an infected animal. It can be transferred to humans in the same way, which can be fatal. Because rabies affects the animal’s brain, even the most docile cat may experience drastic behavioral changes that include biting.

Non-Core Feline Vaccinations Protect Your Cat Against:

  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)

This virus can be spread through contact with other cats and behaviors such as mutual grooming, sharing food bowls and fighting. Persistently infected cats may suffer from immunosuppression, lymphoma, and anemia, and it can be fatal.

  • Chlamydophila Felis

This disease affects the eyes of the cat, causing conjunctivitis and infections. Antibiotics may be used as a treatment, but a cat in a high-risk environment may be better off with vaccination.

  • Bordetella Bronchiseptica

This infection doesn’t always require vaccination and treatment of antibiotics may be sufficient, but cats in areas where outbreaks are common are better treated through vaccines.

  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

This virus is spread through fighting with other cats, commonly through bites, and can lead to significant damage to the immune system.

Vaccinating Your Kitten for the First Time

You may be nervous vaccinating your kitten for the first time, but it is useful to remember that it is for your kitten’s own wellbeing. Qualified vets will be used to handling frightened animals, so you don’t need to be concerned about the procedure. Any discomfort they may experience during the process of their first vaccination will be heavily outweighed by the long, happy life they will be able to live disease-free. If your cat is reluctant to go to the vets, you can try offering them a treat for encouragement.

cute cat scratching a postYou should have your kitten vaccinated within the first few weeks of owning them and, until your kitten is fully vaccinated, they should be kept inside to prevent them coming into contact with other animals. Kittens should not be allowed out or to come into contact with other animals until ten days after their second set of vaccinations.

Kittens should be vaccinated for the first time at nine weeks old and have a second round of vaccinations at twelve weeks old. It is also recommended that kittens have a third round of vaccinations at between 16 and 20 weeks old to fully protect them.

Cats are usually vaccinated via an injection of one of the types of antigen mentioned earlier, but sometimes vaccinations may be given in the form of eyedrops or even administered as drops through the nose. Speaking to your vet is the best way to learn what the most appropriate method of vaccination is for your cat. If you do not already have a local vet, you will need to register your cat at the practice before you can take them for their vaccinations.

How Often Should Cats be Vaccinated?

After their initial vaccinations as kittens, cats should return to the vets for booster shots around once a year. While this may seem excessive, frequent injections are important because new strains of viruses are constantly emerging. Viruses evolve to try and work around vaccinations. But a vaccination that your cat had as a kitten may not fully protect against the same disease years later.

Your vet will provide you with a vaccination record so that you have a detailed history of what your cat has been vaccinated against and when. This means you can easily track when you should take your cat for their next booster shot. Your vet will also be able to advise you on this as, depending on your cat’s lifestyle, they may not need to be vaccinated as regularly as others. This should always be on the vet’s recommendation, however, and will be based purely on the risk to the animal. It’s best to follow the guidelines rather than decide for yourself when the best time to vaccinate your cat is.

Possible Side Effects

There are very rarely any adverse side effects or negative reactions from feline vaccinations. After vaccination, your cat may feel lethargic, have a reduced appetite and be sore around the area of injection. But these will pass with no long-term problems arising from them. Some of the less common side effects that your cat may experience are vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and respiratory tract infections.

There have been rare reported cases of fibrosarcoma; a type of tumor that can appear at the site of the injection. This is not unique to vaccinations; however, and any other type of injection that cats receive have a small chance of causing this condition. Fibrosarcoma is very rare and occurs in less than 1 in 20,000 vaccinations. But it’s best to monitor the site of injection and report lumps or swelling that have not reduced. Vets should also be informed if your cat suffers a hypersensitivity reaction to their vaccination. This is so they can be treated swiftly.

Be Cautious & Stay Safe

Millions of vaccinations happen every year without incident. But no medical procedure or treatment comes without at least a very minor risk. The positive benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks of these very rare side effects. Your cat is more likely to live a long, healthy life through vaccination than they are without it.

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Vaccination programmes have helped to monitor and understand all of these diseases, as well as keep them under control. Before vaccinations were standard practice, these illnesses were extremely common; causing many cats deaths from what are now preventable diseases. Also, if vaccinations were to stop, those viruses would evolve to be stronger than the feline immune system; causing the high illness and mortality rate to become the status quo again.


Speak to your local vet about vaccinations – each cat is unique and, as with humans, it is not possible to use a one-size-fits-all approach to disease prevention. Your vet will advise you on what the best method of treatment and vaccination is for your cat; based on the important factors of their lifestyle, age, and health. Vaccinating your cat will improve the chances of them living a happy, healthy life, and will also prevent disease and illness spreading to and from other cats and animals in your local area.

SynergyVets is a dedicated veterinary recruitment agency, with almost 30 years of collective experience supporting the profession with locum and permanent personnel. They have a great blog which, alongside advice for veterinary candidates, includes useful animal care tips for pet owners.

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