Your Roadmap to Vaccines For Your Cat

by | Aug 21, 2023 | Cats, Health & Wellness, Preventative Care

Keeping your sweet cat happy and healthy is a priority, so it’s important to stay regular on your cat’s vaccination schedule to keep them protected from serious feline diseases. If you’re overwhelmed about which vaccinations your cat needs and when they need them, this article will help you navigate your cat’s health journey with a comprehensive vaccination guide. We’ll explain core and non-core vaccinations, cat vaccination schedules, and essential vaccinations. 

What Are Cat Vaccinations?

A cat vaccination is an injection of a substance that builds immunity in your cat’s body against a specific disease. Each vaccine contains a modified pathogen that will trigger the cat’s immune response, producing antibodies that protect against the pathogen. Once your cat is vaccinated, if they’re exposed to the disease, they’ll build immunities against it. 

Vaccines help build immunity for cat diseases such as:

  • Feline distemper
  • Feline herpesvirus infection
  • Feline calicivirus infection
  • Feline leukemia 
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus infection
  • Rabies (can spread to people)
  • Heartworm disease

Why Vaccinate Your Cat?

Vaccines protect your cat against infectious diseases caused by bacteria and viruses. When you vaccinate your pet, it boosts their immunity to fight off diseases. Vaccines have prevented disease and death for millions of cats. Vaccinations benefit your cat and other cats in the area. Herd immunity is a term used to explain the benefits of vaccinations for an entire community. Herd immunity provides indirect protection against a contagious disease when a certain percentage of felines in an area are immune to infection due to vaccination prevention. This reduces the chance of infection for cats that don’t have immunity and/or haven’t been immunized. 

Core Vaccines for Cats

Feline Panleukopenia (FPV)

Feline panleukopenia (FPV), or feline distemper, is a highly contagious virus caused by parvovirus. The FPV is a vigorous virus that lasts for years in environments, cat cages, food, water bowls, bedding, and even human hands and clothing. It’s fatal for young and elderly cats. Symptoms of FPV include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Painful abdomen
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unkept and matted fur

In severe cases 

  • Bruising of gums and skin
  • Collapse

The FPV vaccination is critical to prevent this viral infection. This vaccine is a core vaccine in a series. The vaccination protocol is two doses given to your cat two to four weeks apart. The last FPV vaccine is given when your cat is fourteen to sixteen weeks old. After this, the FPV vaccine is given every three years. 

Core vaccines for cats include Feline Panleukopenia (FPV), Feline Herpesvirus (FHV) and Feline Calicivirus (FC), and Rabies.

Feline Herpesvirus (FHV) and Calicivirus (FCV)

Feline herpesvirus(FHV is caused by an acute respiratory infection in cats. It’s transmitted through direct contact via salvia, nasal secretions, or eye discharge. 

Symptoms include:

  • Inflammation of one or both eyes
  • Nasal discharge
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Loss of appetite

Severe cases:

  • Blindness
  • Scarring in the eyes

Feline calicivirus(FCV) is an extremely contagious virus that causes serious oral disease and respiratory infection in cats. It’s spread in communities of cats and is especially dangerous for young and older cats. Symptoms of FCV include

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge and congestion
  • Fever 
  • Drooling
  • Discharge from the eyes

In severe cases 

  • Inflammation 
  • Ulcers on the cat’s tongue
  • Lameness 
  • Loss of appetite

A combination of feline herpesvirus, feline calicivirus, and feline panleukopenia vaccine is given to cats at six to eight weeks. The 1FPV, 1FHVFCV combo core vaccinations series is the best prevention against these life-threatening viruses for your cat. 


Rabies vaccinations are required, but may vary but US state law.

Rabies is an ancient virus that affects cats and all warm-blooded mammals, including humans. Rabies is almost always fatal unless immediately treated. Rabies is a zoonotic disease meaning it spreads between animals and people. Rabies attacks the central nervous system; thus, once symptoms occur, it’s one hundred percent fatal. This fatal disease is preventable with regular vaccinations and bite protection. 

Most states in the U.S. require cat and dog parents to vaccinate their pets at six months of age. You are sent a vaccination tag or form confirming your cat’s vaccination. Depending on where you live, you are subject to a civil penalty without these identifications. Because of rabies vaccination laws, rabies rates are very low in the United States; however, if pet parents do not vaccinate their pets, these rates might rise, endangering both pets and people. 

Non-Core Vaccines for Cats

Deciding to vaccinate your cat with a non-core vaccine is up to you, but it’s important to make an informed decision by assessing your cat’s age, health, and their exposure to other cats. Other things that could come into play in your decision to vaccinate your cat could be:

  • Your cat’s vaccine history
  • Your cat’s lifestyle
  • Any medications your cat is taking

Talk to your veterinarian to decide if core vaccines are something your cat should get to stay healthy. 

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

The Feline Leukemia virus (FeLV)is a leading cat killer. This disease attacks and weakens a cat’s immune system making them susceptible to other diseases. It also causes blood disorders, and FeLV is a common cause of cat cancer. There are no symptoms in the early stages of the disease, but over time, your cat’s health will decline. Eventually, symptoms occur, including:

  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Breathing problems
  • Diarrhea
  • Yellowish color in the eyes or around the mouth
  • Pale gums

This virus is contracted through nasal secretions, urine, saliva, feces, or milk from an infected cat. It can also be spread through:

  • Sharing litter boxes
  • Bite wounds
  • Mutual grooming
  • Mother cat nursing kittens

Cats living outdoors are more likely to get this virus than indoor cats. The FeLV vaccination is treated as a core vaccine for cats less than one year old and a non-core vaccination for cats over one year old with no chance of being exposed to a FeLV-infected cat or wild cats that could have the virus. 

Non-core vaccines for cats include Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a viral disease that affects a cat’s immune system making them susceptible to other infectious diseases. It’s spread through saliva from bite wounds. Cats outside are likelier to get it from other cats that roam outdoors. Because FIV vaccines aren’t as effective as the core vaccines, and this vaccine is no longer available in North America. The FIV vaccination was withdrawn, not because of safety concerns but because it wasn’t embraced by vets due to the testing uncertainty situation. 

Vaccination Schedule and Considerations

All kittens should receive these vaccinations

  • Feline panleukopenia virus (FPV)
  • Feline calicivirus (FCV)
  • Feline herpesvirus (FHV)
  • Rabies

Kitten Vaccination Schedule

Age of kitten Vaccination(s)
6 to 8 weeks FHV, FCV; FeLV, FIV
10 to 12 weeks FHV, FCV #2, FIV series; FeLV booster
14 to 16 weeks
FHV, FIV, FCV,(#3 in series); Rabies (varies by state law) FeLV 
1year booster FHV, FIV, FCV booster; FeLV Booster, Rabies (varies by state by law)

Adult Cat Vaccination Schedule

Adult cats /Senior cats Vaccination(s)
Yearly FeLV (non-core optional vaccine)
Every one to three years FHV, FCV – every 3 years for indoor, indoor/outdoor, outdoor only cats, young cats or senior cats. Rabies-one to a three-year vaccine depends on your state’s law

Maintaining your pet’s regular vaccinations is important to protect them from these life-threatening diseases. 

Vaccination Side Effects and Precautions

Common side effects from vaccinations in cats may include:

  • Slight fever
  • Mild soreness in the injection site
  • Lack of appetite 
  • Localized swelling in the injection site
  • A small bump in the injection site

These side effects are temporary, lasting 24 to 48 hours. Once in a while, a cat may react more seriously to a vaccine. Rare side effects include:

  • Trouble breathing or severe cough
  • Persistent Vomiting 
  • Persistent Diarrhea
  • Swelling of the cat’s face, neck, or eyes
  • Intense itching or hives

Contact your vet immediately if a pet shows any of these severe side effects. 

How Much Do Cat Vaccinations Cost?

Vaccination costs vary depending on where you live, but in general, these are the costs you may incur for your cat’s vaccinations. 

Core vaccinations

  • Rabies( one year only) $20 to $30 
  • Three-in-one vaccination (FHV,  FCV, FVP) combined  $40 to $80

Non-core vaccinations

  • Feline Leukemia Virus (FLV) $25 to $45
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) $40

Working with Your Veterinarian and Pet Insurance

Consultation with Your Veterinarian

Your veterinarian will create a vaccination plan based on your cat’s health and lifestyle. It’s important that you ask questions and voice concerns about any vaccinations you aren’t comfortable giving your cat. 

Pet Insurance and Vaccinations

Odie Pet Insurance offers a wellness plan add-on to help with routine care items including vaccinations.

Pet insurance supports you as a pet parent in managing your pet care costs. Odie’s Illness and Injury Insurance is our most comprehensive plan, offering flexibility and extensive coverage. The Accident Only plan provides reimbursement for veterinary care due to accidental events. Additionally, Odie offers an optional Wellness Plan add-on to help with the costs of vaccinations.

Wellness Plan

Odie’s Wellness Plan covers routine care like vaccinations for your cat. This is an add-on plan that can be purchased with any insurance policy. The basic plan covers routine care items, such as:

  • Neutering or spaying
  • Teeth cleaning
  • Rabbie vaccinations
  • Flea and Tick meds
  • Vaccinations
  • Heartworm meds and screening tests
  • Blood tests
  • Fecal tests
  • Parasite examination
  • Urinalysis
  • Deworming
  • Microchipping

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