The Recommended Vaccines for Cats

Start your kitten's vaccinations at age 6 to 8 weeks.
i Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

After you've chosen a name for your tiny fur ball and equipped her with food and toys, you'll need to get her vaccinated to protect her health. There are some basic vaccines that vets recommend for all cats, and others that your kitten may only need in certain circumstances.

Core and Non-Core Vaccines

Veterinary medicine national guidelines recommend four core vaccines: feline herpesvirus 1, feline calcivirus, feline panleukopenia virus and rabies. Every kitten should receive these because the diseases they protect your pet from are so widespread and pose a serious threat to your cat's health. Non-core vaccines are optional. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the decision to use these non-core vaccines depends on your cat's lifestyle, geographic location and risk of exposure to the disease. This group of vaccines includes feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus, virulent calcivirus, chlamydia and bordetella viruses. It's vital you discuss immunization with your vet in order to make an informed choice about your kitten's needs.

Feline Herpes Virus 1 and Feline Calcivirus

According to the AVMA, both the highly infectious herpesvirus 1 and calcivirus are responsible for 80 to 90 percent of cat upper respiratory tract diseases. It also points out that nearly all cats are exposed to one or both of these viruses at some time in their lives, hence the inclusion of both as core vaccines. Also, if your cat catches one of these viruses, there's a high probability that she'll never be rid of it, in which case she'll become a carrier cat who spreads the disease to other furry friends. Vaccine guidelines recommend giving both these vaccinations to your kitten at three to four week intervals from the age of 6 to 8 weeks, with a final booster shot given around 16 weeks. A booster is given one year from the initial vaccination and then at three-year intervals.

Feline Panleukopenia Virus

Panleukopenia refers to feline distemper. This is highly contagious and life-threatening to your kitty. The virus is extremely tough: it's able to survive in extreme temperatures and resists disinfectants. This virus caused the deaths of thousands of cats annually before the vaccine appeared, according to the AVMA. Now the disease is rare, but vets strongly recommend giving your kitten the vaccination as a preventative measure. Your kitten should receive this vaccine at the same time as the herpesvirus 1 and calcivirus. The national guidelines recommend that this vaccine is never given to kittens younger than 1 month old or to pregnant queens.


Rabies is usually associated with dogs, but the AVMA states that rabies in cats is on the rise, and that the number of reported cases of cat rabies in the United States exceeds that of any other domestic animals. The organization also says it's a public health concern because of the risk of human exposure to the virus through a cat. Added to which, rabies is fatal for your furball. The vaccination is not only highly-recommended, it's also required by law in most parts of the country. Kittens are given a single dose at 12 to 16 weeks, with a booster given annually.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

the nest