What to Know About Cat Vaccinations


Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on March 16, 2023 photo of cat relaxing outside on patio

Cats don’t actually have nine lives, so you need to do what you can to protect them. The key? The right vaccinations. Shots protect your cat from diseases caused by viruses and bacteria. They can also strengthen their immune system.

Whether you have a kitten or an adult cat, your vet can help you figure out which vaccines are best and how often your kitty should get shots. It usually depends on their age, overall health, and lifestyle. The vet will also think about how long vaccines are supposed to last and how likely your cat might be to come into contact with a certain disease. Also, many local and state governments have laws about vaccines like rabies.

When to give vaccines. Kittens should start getting vaccinations when they are 6 to 8 weeks old until they are about 16 weeks old. Then they must be boostered a year later. The shots come in a series every 3 to 4 weeks. Adult cats need shots less often, usually every year or every 3 years, depending on how long a vaccine is designed to last.

Which shots they need. Some vaccines are recommended for all cats. They protect against:

  • Rabies
  • Panleukopenia (also known as feline distemper)
  • Feline calicivirus
  • Feline viral rhinotracheitis

The feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia vaccinations often come in a combination shot (FVRCP), which is sometimes called the “distemper shot.”

Your cat may need extra shots depending on how much time they spend outside, how often they are around other cats, and the diseases that are common in your area. They include:

  • Feline leukemia: This serious viral infection spreads through many bodily fluids like saliva, feces, urine, and milk. The vaccine is recommended in kittens and then 12 months later. Future vaccine recommendations will be based on the cat’s lifestyle. Feline leukemia cannot be cured, so prevention is a priority.
  • Bordetella: Cats who go to the groomer or stay at a kennel may get vaccinated for this infection that spreads quickly in spaces where there are lots of animals. The vaccine won’t prevent the disease, but it will keep your kitty from getting very sick from it. The leukemia vaccine has to have a booster 3 weeks after the initial vaccine (this is regardless of whether or not the cat is a kitten or an adult at the time of the first vaccine). While it is no longer routinely recommended for grooming or boarding, it may be required by individual businesses. 

If your cat stays inside all of the time, you might think they are automatically protected from these kinds of diseases. But they could still catch airborne germs that might come in through a window or door. And even the most docile kitties sometimes make a run for it. If your cat gets outside, you want to make sure they are protected. Indoor cats may also pick up bacteria and viruses when they stay at a kennel and if you bring a new cat home.

Keep in mind that vaccines don’t offer total immunity from diseases. To help your pet stay healthy, limit their contact with infected animals and to environments where diseases may be more common.

Show Sources


Cornell Feline Health Center: “Feline Vaccines: Benefits and Risks.”

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: “Vaccinations for Your Pet.”

American Humane: “Vaccinating Your Pet.”

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