Although your cat may live strictly indoors, vaccinations are essential for protecting them from infectious diseases. You can easily carry pathogens into the house on your shoes or clothing, or you may adopt another cat, making vaccination necessary to help all your pets avoid infectious disease. Learn to better protect your cat from potentially deadly diseases that have lifelong effects by reading our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team’s guide to feline vaccination, and keep your cat healthy for years to come.

What is the difference between core and noncore vaccinations for cats?

Most vaccinations that are recommended for cats are core vaccinations, ones your veterinarian gives to every cat, regardless of their lifestyle. Core vaccinations protect your cat from serious diseases that are often difficult to treat. However, these conditions are easy to prevent through regular vaccination. Your veterinarian administers noncore vaccinations based on your cat’s exposure risk, and are not mandatory. Veterinarians typically administer noncore vaccinations to cats who venture outdoors, or who live with a large number of other cats. 

What are core vaccinations for cats?

Because the majority of pet cats stay indoors, living a relatively secluded lifestyle, most vaccination recommendations are considered core vaccinations. Your veterinarian will give these vaccinations to every cat because they provide your feline friend with protection against the following diseases:

  • Feline calicivirus —An upper respiratory disease, calicivirus causes sneezing and nasal discharge. This disease can also cause oral ulcerations and is thought to be associated with chronic gingivitis and stomatitis, a painful oral tissue inflammation.
  • Feline herpesvirus-1 (i.e., feline rhinotracheitis) — Feline herpesvirus-1 causes severe upper respiratory disease. As with all upper respiratory diseases, affected cats will sneeze and have nasal discharge, but they can also have conjunctivitis, nasal congestion, oral ulcers, and pneumonia. After an initial herpesvirus infection, the disease can lie dormant, manifesting in times of stress, such as during boarding or other illness.
  • Feline panleukopenia (i.e., feline parvovirus) — Feline panleukopenia is a highly infectious disease that can rapidly lead to death in young kittens. Declines in energy and appetite appear first, followed by vomiting and diarrhea. The virus also kills white blood cells, leaving a cat vulnerable to secondary infections.
  • Feline leukemia — Feline leukemia is a disease that weakens the immune system, allowing other illnesses to sicken your cat. While the virus can become latent, making your cat appear healthy for months or years, most cats die from a secondary disease within three or four years of a leukemia diagnosis.
  • Rabies — A neurologic disease, rabies is ultimately fatal, as no treatment is available. In addition, rabies is a zoonotic disease, meaning your cat can transmit the disease to you via a bite.

What are noncore vaccinations for cats?

Noncore vaccinations for cats include feline leukemia, bordetella, and chlamydia. Leukemia is considered a core vaccination for kittens, but a noncore shot for adult cats. Bordetella and chlamydia vaccinations provide cats with only incomplete protection against these diseases. Therefore, your veterinarian is likely not to recommend your cat receive them

How often should my cat be vaccinated?

Your kitten will receive a combination vaccination of the three core feline diseases (i.e., calicivirus, herpesvirus-1, panleukopenia) every 3 to 4 weeks until they reach 16 to 20 weeks of age. Your veterinarian will not administer this combination vaccination to your cat before they are 6 weeks of age. Depending on your cat’s lifestyle, they should receive booster vaccinations every 1 or 3 years. Your cat should receive their rabies vaccination by the time they are 4 months of age, and then at regular intervals thereafter.

Ideally, your kitten should be vaccinated for feline leukemia. Veterinarians consider feline leukemia a core vaccination for kittens younger than 1 year of age. However, they consider feline leukemia shot a noncore vaccination for older cats. Annual booster vaccination is necessary if your cat has an infection risk.

Although the majority of our feline patients do not appreciate car rides, their carrier, or veterinary visits, wellness care is incredibly important for them, as they are exceptionally skilled at hiding disease until their illness has become advanced. An annual wellness examination is essential, regardless of whether your cat’s vaccinations need boosting. By performing a comprehensive physical examination and diagnostic screening tests, our team can help keep your cat healthy. So make a point to schedule your cat’s wellness visit on time, every time.

House cats need regular vaccinations and wellness care too. Schedule your feline friend’s next wellness visit with our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team.