Cat Vaccinations

Kitten and Cat Vaccination Schedule and Information

Our recommendations follow the guidelines of the Vaccination Guideline Group (VGG) of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA). These guidelines incorporate the latest research regarding safety and duration of immunity (DOA). Vaccines are broken into essential (core), as needed (non-core), and those not recommended. Guidelines are revised as new information evolves and can be found at

Essential (core) vaccines include Rabies, Leukemia, and FVRCP (feline viral rhinotracheitis, calici, and panleukopenia). The Leukemia vaccine was recently added as a core vaccine for all cats during their first four years of life, when their risk for this disease is highest.

At GAH, we only use the safest vaccines on the market, these do not have adjuvant. Vaccines that contain adjuvant in rare instances cause injection-site sarcomas (cancers).

Note: the 3-year rabies shot does have this ingredient, another reason we recommend the one-year vaccine.

Here’s an overview of the core cat vaccines:

Rabies: The rabies vaccine is given starting once they are 12 weeks of age, again a year later—then you have an option of one or three year intervals. Rabies is required by law. We recommend the safer one-year vaccine because it has no adjuvant (additive) vs. the 3-year adjuvated version. In certain instances when yearly visits are unlikely or difficult (fractious cats or those difficult to get to a vet), we suggest the 3-year option. There are more cases of rabies in cats than dogs primarily because they are a less vaccinated population. Rabies is fatal and highly contagious to humans. Cats do not show typical symptoms and infection can be mistaken for many other conditions.

Leukemia: This vaccine requires 2 initial vaccines 3-4 weeks apart, followed by one and three years later; then every 3 years after that.

This disease is caused by a retrovirus, often passed from mother to offspring, but it can also pass from cat to cat with direct or indirect contact. Cats are most susceptible in their first four months of life and usually get the virus in their first three years. After that, they are reported to be fairly resistant to infection.

Vaccination is recommended even in indoor-only cats during those first four years. After that, we recommend outdoor cats and or cats that board in confined spaces with other cats should get a booster vaccination every 2-3 years. With an indoor cat you can discontinue vaccinating after the first three years of life. However, many of our “indoor only” cats come to our practice to treat abscesses they got during brief outdoor adventures, so for the sake of your cat, be aware of the risks and make the right decision. Leukemia can be a deadly disease.

FVRCP: This is given 2-3 times as a kitten, one year later, and then every 3 years. The viruses in this combination vaccine include:

Panleukopenia: a preventable infectious disease caused by feline parvovirus (FPV), also called feline parvo or distemper. Symptoms are usually gastrointestinal (vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, fever), but this disease may also attack the bone marrow. Early vaccination offers great protection and we highly recommend it.

Calici: otherwise known as Feline calici virus (FCV) is one of the causes feline upper respiratory syndrome, sometimes referred to as feline respiratory disease complex (FRDC). Vaccination manages the severity of symptoms but does not prevent the disease. Sneezing, congestion, fever, eye swelling, discharge, and loss of appetite are all symptoms. FCV is more often associated with oral ulcerations or limping, but will cause multiple respiratory symptoms.  The FCV virus has multiple strains and mild disease can occur in vaccinated cats.

Rhinotracheitis: otherwise known as feline herpes (FHV-1), is another virus causing FRDC. FHV-1 is more likely to cause eye changes including ulcers and loss of vision, but also causes sneezing, nasal congestion and discharge, as well as oral lesions. With respect to FHV-1, it should be remembered that there is no herpesvirus vaccine that can protect against infection with virulent virus, and that virulent virus will become latent and may be reactivated during periods of stress. Like human herpes it can be spread from seemingly healthy individuals to infect others, and often persists for life.

Non-core vaccines include: Bordetella intranasal vaccine and Chlamydophilia felis and we do not currently recommend either of these. There is also a vaccine for Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) that is not recommended.

What to expect after your pet’s vaccination:  Occasionally your pet may experience some or all of the following mild side effects – usually starting within hours of vaccination and typically lasting no more than a few days.  If these side effects last longer, give us a call.

  • Discomfort and swelling at the vaccination site
  • Mild fever
  • Diminished appetite and activity
  • Sneezing or other respiratory signs

A small swelling under the skin can develop at a vaccination site and should disappear in a couple of weeks.  If it persists for a month, or grows in size give us a call.  More serious but rare side effects, such as facial swelling, vomiting, diarrhea, itchy skin, difficulty breathing and collapse, can be life threatening. If you see any of these symptoms, bring your pet in immediately because they may require urgent care.