If you're concerned about over-vaccinating Kitty, ask your vet what shots she recommends for your area and your cat's lifestyle. The American Association of Feline Practitioners publishes guidelines regarding core vaccines, but other shots might be advisable if Kitty goes outside. Not all cat shots are actually necessary.
It's likely the rabies vaccination is mandatory where you live. Even if Kitty doesn't go outside, you are probably required by law to keep him up-to-date on his rabies vaccination. The initial rabies vaccination is generally given between the ages of 3 months and 4 months; a booster shot is administered a year later. That second shot might be good for two or three years, depending on where you live. An older, unvaccinated cat or one with a previously unknown vaccination history (that's the formerly stray cat whose favorite chair happens to be in your home) undergoes the same vaccination schedule. According to the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine feline vaccination guidelines, rabies shots should be given in Kitty's right hind leg.
Another core vaccination is that for the feline herpes, calici and panleukopenia viruses. It's commonly called the FVRCP vaccine. The FVRCP should be given in kittenhood, although older, unvaccinated cats can receive them. Ask your vet about using intranasal versions. Not every practice uses them. Kittens can receive their first dose as early as 8 weeks of age and boosters at 12 weeks and 16 weeks. After that, the cat will get the FVRCP annually. Older cats receive two initial shots spaced a few weeks apart, then annual boosters. Your vet administers these shots in Kitty's right front leg.
Although the feline leukemia virus shot is not considered a core vaccine by vaccination guidelines, many vets recommend it to their clients. If your cat ever ventures outdoors, it's a necessity. Kittens receive an initial shot between the ages of 12 and 16 weeks, and get boosters annually. The same schedule holds true for older, unvaccinated cats. If Kitty is a strictly indoor cat with no feline companions who go in and out, this vaccination is probably not necessary. Cats receive the shots in the rear left leg.
A major reason vets and cat owners are concerned about over-vaccination of felines concerns the development of vaccine-associated sarcoma at the injection site. A malignant tumor forms at the site in a tiny percentage of cats, but it's usually a fatal disease. The rabies and feline leukemia virus shots are the most likely to cause sarcomas, which is why they're given to cats in the hind legs. If Kitty develops a sarcoma there, his leg may have to be amputated to save his life.
- University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine: Canine and Feline Vaccination Guidelines
- VetInfo: Core Feline Vaccines
- Veterinary Practice News: AAFP Revising Feline Vaccination Guidelines
- Rogers Animal Hospital: Pet Information -- Cat Vaccination Information
- Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine: Community Practice Vaccination Protocols -- November 2012
- VetInfo: Understanding Vaccine Associated Feline Sarcoma
- Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images