When it comes to the health and happiness of our feline friends, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of purrs.
And what's on the front line? Cat vaccines.
Vaccines are one of the most effective ways to prevent disease in cats and minimize the chance that they'll contract a painful or life-threatening illness.
Let’s unravel the mystery behind those all-important jabs, how they work, common costs, and even a purr-tential cat vaccination schedule.
Why do cats need vaccines?
Vaccines are a critical line of defense for cats and a key part of preventative care. They work by preparing a cat's immune system to recognize and fight off viruses and bacteria.
They don't provide 100% protection, but even if your cat does contract an illness they've been vaccinated against, their bodies should be able to fight it more effectively.
Vaccinations don't prevent your cat from being exposed to infectious diseases. The goal is to help them either not develop symptoms or develop symptoms that are much milder.
For outdoor felines or those in multi-cat households, vaccinations are particularly crucial as they are more frequently exposed to potential pathogens. But even indoor cats need vaccines, as some viruses can be brought into the home through shoes or clothing.
Oh, and is that a halo we see on your head? Well, there should be. Getting your cat vaccinated helps minimize diseases for other cats, which is just plain neighborly pet parenting.
After the puppy or kitten booster series, vaccines are given every 1 or 3 years, depending on the type, your pet’s lifestyle, the product used, and local regulations.
Cat vaccination schedule and potential costs
Kittens typically start their vaccine series at around 6–8 weeks of age, with boosters every 3–4 weeks until they’re about 16 weeks old.
Why not earlier? A fascinating fact from the folks at Cornell: earlier vaccinations for kittens aren't effective because the antibodies kittens get from mom's milk interfere with their vaccine response.
Adult cats will need regular boosters too, about every 1–3 years, depending on the vaccine and their current vaccination status. If you just adopted an adult cat with an unknown vaccination history, your vet will likely treat them as they would an unvaccinated cat, just to be safe.
|Vaccine||Core/non-core||Protects against||Initial vaccination age||Booster schedule||Average vaccine cost (USD), excluding exam fees*|
|Rabies||Core||Rabies||12 weeks||Every 1-3 years, as per state law||$20-$75|
|FVRCP||Core||Feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, panleukopenia||6-8 weeks||Every 3-4 weeks until 16 weeks, then every 1-3 years||$20-$75|
|FeLV||Non-core||Feline leukemia virus||8 weeks||At 12 and 16 weeks, then annually based on risk||$20-$75|
|Chlamydia felis**||Non-core (rarely administered)||Feline chlamydiosis||9 weeks||Three to four weeks later, then annually for at-risk cats||Varies|
|Bordetella bronchiseptica**||Non-core (rarely administered)||Bordetella bronchiseptica||16 weeks||Annually, especially for cats in multi-cat environments or shelters||Varies|
|Felin coronavirus (FIP)**||Non-core (rarely administered)||Feline coronavirus (FCoV)||Varies||Varies||Varies|
As always, this is just (hopefully!) helpful information we've pulled together. Your vet can provide the best schedule for your cat.
What vaccines do cats need? (core vs. non-core vaccines)
Some vaccines for pets are technically considered more important than others. Vets call these "core vaccines."
Non-core vaccines might still be important for your cat to get, based on their unique makeup or living situation. Always refer to your vet.
Core vaccines for cats
Rabies is a fatal viral disease affecting the nervous systems of not only cats but also humans and other animals. Transmission occurs through the bite of an infected animal, with the virus traveling via the nervous system to the brain, causing inflammation. Symptoms include behavioral changes, paralysis, and ultimately death.
The rabies vaccine is not just about keeping your cat safe—it’s a public health concern. That's why it's required by law in many areas of the United States.
This combo vaccine is essential for cats as it covers several serious diseases in one go. FVRCP stands for Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (Feline Herpes), Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia. Here are some more details about each of the illnesses this vaccine helps prevent:
Feline herpesvirus (FHV-1) is a major culprit behind upper respiratory infections in cats. This virus can manifest with a range of symptoms, from sneezing, nasal congestion, and discharge to more severe outcomes like conjunctivitis, oral ulceration, and even pneumonia.
Feline calicivirus (FCV) is another highly contagious pathogen responsible for respiratory infections and oral diseases in cats. It's especially prevalent in environments such as shelters and breeding colonies, where it's estimated that up to 40% of the population may carry the virus. The virus is notorious for its mutation capability, which means new strains often emerge, making complete prevention a challenge (something we hoomans are pretty familiar with). Despite this, vaccination is essential as it provides a level of protection against the majority of circulating strains, which generally cause only mild disease.
Panleukopenia (feline distemper) is a highly contagious and often lethal disease. While this has the same name and virus family as parvo in dogs, typically in cats, this form of the virus is associated with respiratory symptoms. Keeping distemper at bay is a vital part of your cat’s healthcare routine, and kittens are particularly susceptible.
Non-core vaccines for cats
FeLV (feline leukemia) vaccine
Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a disease that impairs the cat's immune system and can lead to certain cancers. The FeLV vaccine is recommended for cats at risk of exposure, especially those who spend time outdoors or with other cats, but it's not considered a "core" vaccine. Check with your vet to see if your cat should get it.
Feline chlamydia felis vaccine**
Chlamydiosis in cats, caused by the bacteria Chlamydophila felis, often presents as conjunctivitis and a respiratory infection. While not life-threatening, vaccination against it is often a good call for outdoor cats or those frequently around other cats. The vaccine diminishes the severity of symptoms but doesn't prevent infection or shedding. Initial dosing starts as early as 9 weeks of age, followed by a booster and annual boosters for cats at continued risk.
Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccine**
The Bordetella vaccine is used to prevent Bordetella bronchiseptica, a highly contagious respiratory disease in cats with symptoms like coughing and fever. It's administered via a live intranasal vaccine, recommended for kittens older than 16 weeks and especially for those in multi-cat environments.
Feline coronavirus vaccine**
Feline coronavirus (FCoV) is a common virus in cats that usually causes mild gastrointestinal symptoms. However, mutations can transform it into the feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) virus, leading to a potentially deadly systemic disease. FIP is challenging to diagnose due to varied clinical signs and has no FDA-approved treatment in the U.S.
How much are cat vaccines?
The cost of cat vaccinations can vary, but consider it an investment in your pet's long-term health. You can refer to the chart above to see some common averages.
Remember, the cost of treating the illnesses that these vaccines are designed to prevent is often far more expensive than the vaccines themselves.
Bonus: A non-insurance wellness plan like ours at ManyPets can help you pay for wellness visits and vaccines up to an annual limit! See your plan for details.
Cat vaccine side effects
Many cats handle vaccinations like champs, but some may experience mild side effects such as soreness at the injection site, fever, or lethargy.
These usually resolve without intervention, but it’s good to be aware and monitor your cat post-vaccination.
More serious vaccine side effects might include:
Allergic reactions, such as hives, difficulty breathing, or facial swelling
Respiratory issues such as difficulty breathing or severe cough
Gastrointestinal upsets such as vomiting and diarrhea
If you notice any of these or other more serious symptoms, call your vet immediately.
Comforting your cat after vaccines
Caring for your cat after vaccinations is key to a smooth recovery. Here are some tips:
Always follow your vet's post-vaccine-care instructions, and reach out if anything seems off.
Create a calm sanctuary for them to rest, away from the hustle and bustle. Soft music or a steady clock can be soothing.
Ensure fresh water is always within a paw's reach.
Tempt them with their favorite healthy snack if they're not interested in eating.
Offer gentle pets or brush your cat (unless physical touch is at the bottom of their love language list, of course)
Ideally, you or someone you trust would be able to watch your cat for the next 24-48 hours after a vaccine for anything unusual, but that's not always possible. Do your best, and try to schedule their vaccines on a day when you don't have much going on.
The bottom line: Why vaccines matter
Remember, vaccinating your cat is a responsibility that comes with the joy of having a pet. It's an act of love, ensuring your furry family member stays healthy and keeping other furry friends safe. Keep your cat up-to-date on their vaccines, and they’ll be thanking you with head bunts and contented meows for years to come!
*These figures are estimates based on typical veterinary pricing across the United States as reported by vet clinics and pet health websites. However, it's important to note that the prices can vary widely depending on geographic location, individual veterinary practices, and whether the vaccine is given as part of a package or individually. For the most accurate and up-to-date pricing, it's best to consult directly with a local veterinarian.
**These vaccines may be recommended based on risk factors, but they are generally rarely given. Ask your vet for more information.