Your new kitten may seem like a fearless little conqueror, but their developing immune system makes them highly vulnerable to contagious—sometimes fatal—illnesses. By helping your tiny whiskered pal build a strong defense against the most common feline viruses, vaccines are the easiest and safest way to ensure your pint-sized panther is as tough on the inside as they appear on the outside. To help you make informed and confident decisions about your kitten’s veterinary care, read our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team’s answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about kitten vaccines. 

Question: Why does my kitten need vaccines?

Answer: Kittens are susceptible to myriad viral illnesses, many of which are present in everyday life. Unlike an adult cat who has developed a protective immune response through vaccination or real-life exposure, a kitten who contracts a contagion can quickly succumb to illness and in some cases, death. Although most kittens receive temporary immunity through their mother’s milk, this maternal (i.e., passive) immunity fades, often before your whiskered pal reaches 12 weeks of age, leaving them susceptible to illness and infection.

Q: How do vaccines protect my kitten from transmissible illness?

A: Each vaccine contains a tiny modified or inactivated (i.e., harmless) virus portion. When injected under your kitten’s skin, their immune system meets this inert pathogen. Because the disease particle poses no threat, your kitten’s immune system can study it, create protective antibodies, and respond rapidly and effectively if they encounter the virus in the future.

Q: What vaccines are necessary for my kitten?

A: To ensure we deliver the highest standard of care, our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers teams adhere to the most recent American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) vaccination guidelines for cats. Current recommended kitten vaccines include:

  • Panleukopenia
  • Feline herpesvirus type 1 (i.e., [FVR] feline viral rhinotracheitis)
  • Calicivirus
  • Rabies 
  • Feline leukemia

We usually administer the feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia (FVRCP) as a combination vaccine at regular intervals during your kitten’s growth and development stage to ensure adequate protection. Most jurisdictions require the rabies vaccine by law, and our veterinary teams generally administer this core vaccine before or when your kitten reaches 16 weeks of age. Finally, we administer the feline leukemia vaccine as a two-shot series, given three to four weeks apart. If your kitten requires professional grooming or you plan to board them at our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers facility in Groves, our veterinary team recommends your whiskered pal have a Bordetella vaccine to protect them against respiratory pathogens.

Q: Why do kittens need multiple vaccines?

A: Your kitten will likely receive their first FVRCP vaccine when they are between 6 and 8 weeks of age. After that, we recommend additional doses every three to four weeks until your kitten is 16 to 20 weeks of age. Although this frequency may seem excessive, FVRCP vaccine administration is the only way to protect your whiskered pal fully from these life-threatening respiratory diseases and ensure an adequate immune response.

If your kitten is vaccinated while their passive immunity is still active, their inherited defenses render the vaccine ineffective. However, veterinary professionals have no way to identify when your whiskered pal’s passive immunity has faded, and waiting to vaccinate kittens until they are older than 12 or 16 weeks of age would leave them dangerously vulnerable to viruses and diseases. Remember, having your kitten vaccinated at regular intervals is completely safe and the best way to ensure consistent illness protection.

Q: Will my kitten experience vaccine side effects?

A: Vaccines provide safe protection for kittens and cats, however, as with any veterinary treatment, your whiskered pal is always at risk for side effects or complications. Feline vaccine side effects are generally mild and may include injection site pain, tenderness, or swelling, lethargy, and temporary appetite loss. In rare cases, a kitten may experience a hypersensitivity (i.e., allergic) reaction, including vomiting, diarrhea, facial swelling, and respiratory distress. We recommend closely monitoring your kitten after each vaccine visit and returning to Neighborhood Veterinary Centers if your whiskered pal exhibits any concerning signs.

Q: Does my fully vaccinated kitten still need routine veterinary care?

A: Once your kitten is spayed or neutered and has completed their initial vaccine series, they should receive a comprehensive veterinary exam at least every 12 months. In addition to receiving booster vaccines, regular veterinary care is the best way to help ensure your whiskered pal remains in good health. In addition, regular wellness visits allow our veterinary teams to identify your cat’s potential minor problems before they become severe diseases.

Vaccines protect your kitten during their formative months and provide a foundation for their lifelong health. Ensure your feisty little feline friend can live a long, bold, and adventurous life that is free from preventable illness and suffering. Contact Neighborhood Veterinary Centers to schedule your kitten’s initial vaccine series or their annual wellness visit.