A Guide To Cat Vaccinations

5 min read
Jan 11, 2022

If you’ve recently adopted a cat or kitten you might find yourself wondering “what vaccines does my cat need?” With so many different vaccines on the market, it can be difficult to determine which ones you need and which are just optional. While a good vet will be able to help you determine the best options for your cat, it’s still a good idea to do research ahead of time so you have an idea of what to expect.

With that in mind, we’ve put together this guide to cat vaccinations which should help you determine which shots your cat may need and which are non-essential.

Core Cat Vaccines

These core vaccines are the shots that all cats should have in order to protect them from the most common feline illnesses. Both indoor and outdoor cats should receive all of these immunizations. Some of these vaccines, like rabies, may even be required by law, depending on where you live.


Rabies is without a doubt the most essential shot your cat needs. In fact, rabies vaccines are typically required by law because it is so contagious. Rabies can be passed from cats to other animals as well as humans and is fatal if left untreated, so there’s no doubt this vaccine is critical.

Feline Distemper Virus

Feline distemper is a deadly virus that is extremely contagious. Commonly known as feline parvovirus, this illness can affect any cat, but older cats, kittens, and cats with compromised immune systems are the most susceptible. Because of its fast onset, this illness is really difficult to control and is often fatal. Fortunately, the feline distemper vaccine can protect your cat from danger.

Feline Calicivirus

Feline Calicivirus is a highly contagious respiratory disease that causes oral ulcers, fever, and other symptoms in cats. Because it is so easily passed from cat to cat, vaccination is highly recommended to prevent this virus. If your cat has suffered from calicivirus in the past he will be a carrier for the virus but the vaccine is believed to help suppress the symptoms should they return. For this reason, the vaccine is recommended for all cats.

Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR)

Commonly referred to as FVR, this respiratory disease is linked to feline herpesvirus type-1. The most common manifestation of this virus is conjunctivitis (also known as “pink eye”), in other words, inflamed eye tissue. It can also cause severe upper respiratory problems including sneezing, discharge, and corneal ulcers, among other symptoms.

The virus is passed between cats through their saliva or the discharge from their eyes or noses. It cannot be passed to other species. Once a cat is infected with this virus they become a carrier, which means the virus could return at any time. Feline viral rhinotracheitis vaccinations are not 100% effective in preventing this virus, but they do severely lessen the chances that your cat will catch it. Because the virus is so contagious, it’s highly recommended to vaccinate your cat against it.

Additional Cat Immunizations to Consider

The following vaccines are considered non-core vaccines for cats but some of them could still be a good idea depending on your cat’s lifestyle. If your cat remains solely indoors and has no contact with other animals or cats, he likely won’t need as many immunizations as a cat that spends lots of time outdoors. Ultimately it’s best to speak to your vet to determine which vaccines are necessary for your cat.  

Feline Leukemia (FeLV)

Feline Leukemia is a contagious illness that affects your cat’s immune system and causes cancer. This disease can be passed from cat to cat through bites and general proximity to a contagious cat. There is no known cure to FeLV, though it can be managed medically. If your cat has contact with other cats he could be at risk for infection. Speak to your vet to determine whether vaccinating against FeLV is recommended for your cat’s lifestyle.

Feline AIDS

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) can cause your cat’s immune system to become severely compromised. While cats can still live full lives with the virus, it’s preferable to prevent them from contracting it in the first place. FIV is passed between cats through bites and scratches. If your cat stays indoors at all times he’s not likely to be infected and the vaccine could be overkill. However, if your cat likes to venture outdoors you may wish to consider protecting him from FIV with this


This vaccine protects cats against Bordetella bronchiseptica, a bacteria that causes respiratory illness in cats and dogs. This condition is often referred to as “kennel cough” and is easily passed between cats and dogs when kept in close quarters or poorly ventilated spaces. If you board your cat or have a multi-animal household it may be a good idea to vaccinate against bordetella, which is highly contagious. While this illness isn’t often fatal (though, it can be in weak or older cats), it isn’t much fun for your pet.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cat Vaccinations

Do Indoor Cats Need Shots?

Indoor cats may not need as many shots as cats who spend time outdoors since they aren’t as likely to contract illnesses. However, they should receive core vaccinations. If you have a multi-pet household and other animals who go in and out, your cat may require additional vaccines, even if he doesn’t venture outside himself.

When Do Kittens Need Shots?

Your kitten’s vaccination schedule depends partly on which vaccines he will be receiving. Some vaccines, including some of the core shots, can be started when your kitten is just 6 weeks old. Other shots, such as rabies, shouldn’t be administered until your kitten is at least 12 weeks old. Your vet will be able to provide you a vaccination schedule tailored to your kitten’s particular needs.

Do Older Cats Need Vaccinations?

Older cats may have been exposed to many illnesses in their lifetime, but that doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from vaccinations. If your cat is getting on in years his immune system could be weaker and lack the defenses necessary to fight off some illness. Vaccinating him against said illnesses could increase his life expectancy. Of course, if your cat has a weakened immune system he may not be able to tolerate vaccinations. It’s best to discuss the best course of action with your vet, but generally speaking, yes, older cats should be vaccinated if possible.

Do Indoor Cats Need Rabies Shots?

Because rabies is so contagious it is recommended (and sometimes even required) for all cats, regardless of whether they venture outside or not. This is partly due to the fact that rabies can be passed between cats and humans. While your indoor cat is not likely to contract rabies, it’s still a good idea to vaccinate against it.

Vaccines are a powerful way to protect your furry friend against illness and disease. They may require a bit of investment up front, but they will surely save you money (as well as prevent your cat from suffering) in the long run.

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Nothing in this article should be construed as financial, legal or veterinary advice. Please consult your own advisors for questions relating to your and your pet’s specific circumstances.

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