Skip To Content

Cat Vaccination - The Role of Cat Vaccinations in Optimal Health

What exactly are cat vaccinations?

You can think of them as a substance or a product, not a medication per se, but used for preventative medicine. It is something that you inject or, in some cases, it can be intranasal or even oral, maybe more so for the dog vaccines. These vaccinations stimulate the immune system in a way to hopefully prevent certain diseases.

Dr. Kristin Christy
Animal Hospital of Statesville

Are cat vaccinations necessary?

Absolutely, of course, they are. We have certain vaccines that we consider core vaccines that we feel all cats are at risk for, no matter their lifestyle. We have some that are lifestyle-type of vaccines, so we determine what they're exposed to, who they're exposed to, and which ones they should get. And then we've also got the legal one, rabies.

What cat vaccinations are typically recommended, and what are they for? What do they protect against?

Some common ones you can think about are FVRP, or the feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia—that is a collection of vaccines that, together, protect against some common cat diseases. That one is considered core. That one protects again mostly upper respiratory diseases, but there's one component in there that's kind of like a dog getting parvo, so the cat equivalent, if you will, of dog parvo, and that's in there as well, so that one is considered core.

We also have the rabies vaccine, and that's also very important and a core one. That's also the only one that's legally required. Some people think that their cat may not need it, may not be exposed to rabies, especially if they're indoors. I think we get into that later, but it's still important to get that one, and we can talk about that later. That one can come in a one-year or a three-year version—there are different choices depending on the cat, the situation, and exposure level.

And then we've got feline leukemia vaccine or FELV vaccine, which is a virus that some cats can get, especially if they're exposed to other cats, especially outdoors, or a cat that's indoors that has an indoor-outdoor cat that it comes in contact with. And that can be a chronic, progressive, and fatal disease. There is no current cure for that.

There is Bordatella; you hear that more in dogs, but it can be an essential factor in cats as well; have that for cats. It can help some cats with the upper respiratory disease for cats that are boarding or grooming. We require it for cats to stay in our facilities here, as it helps keep some infections down.

You may have heard of some vaccines, FIP or FIV, FIV feline infectious peritonitis, FIV being kind of like HIV, or progressive to a cat AIDS if you will. There are vaccinations for that; those are very controversial kinds of vaccines because they don't necessarily; how do I want to say this, the risk versus the benefit? They're not necessarily being shown as completely protective. They can open up some new concerns or questions about the cat being tested for it when it doesn't have it. And those are not considered vaccines that we would recommend at this time.

What is the vaccination schedule for the different age groups of cats?

When they're younger, like kittens, they need to have a series until their immune system has been appropriately stimulated. That's usually every three weeks, and the cat gets a certain series of vaccines. Specific ones come at certain stages; leukemia starts when they're a little bit older towards the end of their kitten series, and then rabies is typically between 12 and 16 weeks or somewhere close to that. Adult cats usually come in about once a year for vaccines, although we recommend twice-yearly exams, and it depends on their rotation, if you will.

Many vaccines can be given every third year—we try to space them out, say, if you have a three-year rabies vaccine, space it out with a three-year FVRCP vaccine. If you're doing the one-year recombinant rabies vaccine, that, of course, is annual. Bordatella tends to be annual as well. And leukemia, if your cat is at risk for that, that one's typically an annual vaccine. And some people question their senior pets and say that their cat is a senior now, and they'll ask if we can stop them. No, they should still fall on the same schedule as the adult cats as well.

If my cat's going to be strictly indoors, why do they need vaccines?

There are many things that an indoor cat can still be exposed to. You may like to open the windows or you have a screened-in porch. Maybe there are scenarios where the cat is exposed a bit to the outdoors, not to mention certain things that you could potentially bring home depending on who you're exposed to.

As far as the rabies vaccine, that is still legally required for indoor-only cats. There are plenty of times you think your cat may never be exposed to rabies, and they probably won't be, but we've heard some significant stories where say there are bats in the house. You'd be surprised how many times a bat gets in people's homes, attics, and fireplaces.

There are scenarios where your pet could be exposed, and it's not worth the trouble when they come in and find an unvaccinated cat in the household where they had to remove a bat from the household because then they do not know for sure that that cat potentially didn't get bit or get exposed. And of course, going on and on and on about what if your cat got out? What if your cat accidentally got out, somebody left the door open; something happened at the house?

Why is it important to avoid missing a cat vaccination or the schedule?

Vaccinations are preventative medicine. How will you prevent something from happening if you don't get it in the correct time frame? It's vitally important not to miss them, to stay on schedule so you can keep them as healthy and protected as possible.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 872-3625, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

Cat Vaccination - FAQs

Dr. Kristin Christy
Animal Hospital of Statesville

Why does my veterinarian require an examination when giving vaccinations?

First of all, we know exams are critical. Not that they necessarily outweigh some of the importance of vaccines, but there's a lot that we need to learn and remember that exams themselves are essential to your cat's health. That's what you're getting the vaccines for is for your cat's health. But as far as some other factors, there does need to be a certain legality of a client-patient relationship that we have to maintain to make recommendations, give medications, and do vaccines like that.

We need to maintain an exam, usually at least once a year, to keep that client-patient relationship. But then, more specifically for the individual cats, we want to make sure that they're well and healthy enough on that day to get the vaccine and make sure they don't have fevers, make sure there's no certain concurrent disease that would interfere with the vaccine function or the safety of the vaccine. We also want to know your pet's history through exams and things like that, so we know whether they have a disease that would make a certain vaccine potentially unsafe to perhaps change the protocol, do pre-meds, or other things like that. It's not that we're just trying to be mean about it. There are many important reasons why we need to have that exam with vaccines.

Are all kitten and cat vaccinations necessary?

Technically, no, they're not all necessary, especially those considered non-core, if you will. There are certain lifestyles that your cat may live and certain things they may be exposed to. But as far as the core vaccines, yeah, we consider those necessary for all pets unless certain medical conditions would go against that, but those are uncommon. And then back to the whole legality of rabies vaccine—that one is considered very necessary. As a matter of fact, it's a legal requirement.

Are core cat vaccinations mandatory?

The only one that's mandatory is the rabies vaccine. If you want to board or groom, though, certain facilities, including ours, have core vaccines that are considered mandatory, or else you can't partake in the boarding or the grooming.

What are the non-core vaccinations, and why would my cat need them?

Non-core vaccinations do include the leukemia vaccine. That would be cats that get exposed to outdoor cats, or they're outdoor cats themselves. You can have a completely indoor cat, but if you have one that goes in and out, that cat could expose the indoor cat. That would be one of the ones that you would use. Bordatella vaccine is common for upper respiratory, boarding, grooming, and other high-density cat situations. Then there are rare instances, if any, for the most part, that FIP or FIV vaccines would be recommended. Those are very non-core.

If my cat seems healthy, do they still need to have vaccinations?

Well, of course. If you want your cat to maintain their health, that's the point of certain vaccines is to maintain a certain degree of health, preventative medicine and protect them against certain diseases. Having a healthy cat is all the more reason to give them vaccines.

Can my cat have an allergic reaction to a cat vaccine?

Technically, yes. Anybody, dog, cat, human can have allergic reactions to foods, medications, and vaccines. Thankfully, as time has gone on and science has progressed, there are much fewer vaccine reactions than there used to be. I would still consider it a relatively rare occurrence, but, yes, technically, your cat could. What I'd say is if you're coming to get your vaccinations done, ideally, try to schedule it when you might be around your cat for the rest of the day. If not, you might have somebody who could monitor the cat during that first several-hour window afterward to make sure that they're feeling okay and don't have any issues.

A reaction may also be considered pain or a little bit of swelling or something like that. And sometimes we'll see that, especially in tiny kittens. They may be a little sore after one of the vaccines, so you just want to watch for that sort of thing. It's not usually a big deal for them to be slightly off for the day or a bit quiet. I wouldn't call that a reaction. It's just a normal response to getting the vaccine and being here and being stressed. So it's possible, but it's typically not a huge deal.

Can a cat get cancer from vaccinations?

Technically, yes, but that is even rarer. This has been known for years. The numbers haven't changed a whole lot in how common it is, although you'll see some, one in 1,000, 1 in 10,000. It does appear to have a genetic nature to it, but it is a rare occurrence. However, if it were your cat or my cat, I mean, who cares if it's rare.

It's significant, and it's a big deal. It's a big problem, but it's not a reason to be afraid of vaccines. The benefits of vaccines far outweigh that risk. Still, if you have a cat that you know is related to a cat that had one of those cancers related to injection, then we would have a serious talk about whether or not your cat should be vaccinated as well if they're actual siblings. So the risk is there. It is pretty low.

I guess another thing to think about, too, would be the recombinant vaccines. I know we haven't talked about that a whole lot, but that's part of the reason why those came out. There are different ingredients in vaccines. An adjuvant is a common word that they use for extra ingredients, and some of them are designed to cause stimulation to further make the immune system react to the vaccine. Well, they aren't sure, and they do see some link potentially to that. But the more reactive a vaccine could be for a cat with a genetic predisposition, that might make that cat more likely to get a cancer response to certain vaccines.

That's the reason we talk about the recombinant rabies vaccine, the non-adjuvanted rabies vaccine, and leukemia vaccines that come in that form where we talk about the risk versus benefit of considering one of those vaccines as it may decrease the risk for cancer in some cats.

Is it safer to opt out of non-core vaccinations?

If your cat needs a non-core vaccine, then there's probably a reason why your cat should get that. If your cat has a significant autoimmune medical condition or something that would make it unsafe to get vaccines, we may have conversations about that. Or if your cat is a sibling or has had previous cancer from an injection, we'd have serious discussions about that. But all in all, if your cat has a risk factor for a non-core vaccine, then we're going to recommend that vaccine.

Are certain cat breeds prone to vaccine reactions?

I'd say typically, no. There is some debate on that, even with dogs. There aren't a lot of good studies that show that, yes, this breed is necessarily different from another breed. We want to be careful in general, depending on age, size, and how many vaccines are given. But no. I would say that there's not a breed predisposition for that.

Is it safe to get multiple cat vaccinations at one time?

I'd say, typically, the answer is yes. Often we do multiple at a time, but there are some considerations. Even when people get many vaccines, some people do feel more groggy or just a little sick or don't feel well in general. So when necessary for timing or certain situations of the cat, absolutely. We can and do multiple vaccines together, but that is why we split things up as they get older.

We try to rotate things. We have three-year vaccines if they can stretch out that far. We try to do, say, the rabies vaccine on an alternating year, change things up a bit so that they're not getting as much at once.

Once my cat is vaccinated, will they need boosters?

Yes, absolutely. As a kitten, they'll be closer together until they achieve their appropriate immunity. As adults, they go to different intervals as we space them out—the FVRCP can ever be every three years, and rabies and Bordetella, depending on which ones your cat gets.

What should I do if I miss my cat's vaccine due date?

I guess the answer would be to get in ASAP and get it done. In some cases, like how I mentioned before, if you go too long between certain intervals depending on their age or what vaccine it is, you may have to restart the series. You may have to start back over and give an extra booster. So the timing is essential, and you don't want them to have a lapse in it. Get them updated as soon as you can.

If my cat is vaccinated, is it safe to be around other animals that are not vaccinated?

I'd say yes and no. For the most part, the vaccines are very effective, and probably if your animal was around an unvaccinated and even sick other cat, chances are they would be okay. But vaccines aren't 100%. Not everyone's immunity is not the same. So I'd say, why take that risk? Ideally, I would just have your cat associate with other vaccinated cats when appropriate, if possible.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 872-3625, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

decor image decor image
decor image decor image
Back To Top