As a responsible pet owner, you want to protect your precious kitten from disease. While newborn kittens can't handle vaccines, Fluffy will probably be ready for her first series of shots at about 6 weeks old. However, she may have to wait a little longer for some vaccines.
Core Feline Vaccinations
The core vaccinations are those that every kitten should receive. The two main feline core vaccines are those for feline panleukopenia virus and feline viral respiratory disease, which protects against both calicivirus and feline herpesvirus 1. These vaccines are generally combined in a single shot. Most vets give this shot when a kitten is about 6 weeks old. Some vets also recommend a new vaccine, which protects your kitten from virulent systemic feline calicivirus, a form of feline viral respiratory disease. Your cat has to be at least 8 weeks old to get this vaccine.
Many states and counties require that cats have rabies shots, and most vets recommend a rabies shot even if it isn't legally necessary. There are three different types of rabies vaccines, so the age your kitten gets her rabies shot depends on the specific vaccine your vet uses. Generally, your little fuzzball will need her rabies shot at the age of 8 or 12 weeks. Your vet may recommend holding off on her core vaccinations until 8 weeks so she can get those and her rabies shot all at once.
If your kitten lives outdoors or has frequent contact with cats carrying a specific disease, she might need a few extra shots. The vaccine against feline leukemia virus is given to vulnerable kittens at about 8 to 12 weeks old. Before getting this vaccine, your kitten needs to be tested for the virus because if she has already been exposed, the vaccine is useless. Feline immunodeficiency virus vaccine, Chlamydophila felis vaccine, Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccine and feline infectious peritonitis vaccine are only recommended when the kitten will be exposed to a population of cats infected with these diseases, such as when he is housed in a shelter or cattery where the disease has been detected. Household kittens generally don't get these vaccines at all.
If you are taking care of a stray or feral kitten in your neighborhood or fostering a rescued kitten, she may be more vulnerable to diseases than a household cat would. In a shelter setting or capture-vaccinate-release situation, a kitten may be vaccinated as young as 4 weeks old. Before the fourth week of life, a kitten should still be nursing. While nursing, a kitten receives antibodies from her mother's milk that protect her from disease, so there is no need to vaccinate before this point.
Bridget Coila specializes in health, nutrition, pregnancy, pet and parenting topics. Her articles have appeared in Oxygen, American Fitness and on various websites. Coila has a Bachelor of Science in cell and molecular biology from the University of Cincinnati and more than 10 years of medical research experience.