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Should I get my indoor cat vaccinated? Why and when to do it

While you may be tempted to forgo vaccinations for your indoor cat, there are some good reasons to vaccinate your feline friend, even if they don't go outside. Our Central Illinois vets share their rationale in this post. 

About Cat Vaccinations

Vast numbers of cats are afflicted by numerous feline-specific diseases every year in the United States. To protect your cat from contracting a preventable, potentially life-threatening illness, it's imperative to have them vaccinated. 

It's equally essential to bring your cat back to the vet's for regular booster shots after their initial vaccination, since the effectiveness of vaccines wear off. Even if your feline friend is an indoor cat, there are still a few reasons to ensure their shots are up to date. 

Aptly named booster shots "boost" your cat's protection against many feline conditions after the initial vaccine's effects have worn off. Depending on which booster shots your cat needs, the vet will administer vaccines based on specific schedules. Ask your veterinarian when you should bring your cat back for their booster shots. 

Why You Should Vaccinate Your Indoor Cat

While you may not think vaccinations are required for your indoor cat, many states have laws legislating mandatory vaccinations for cats. For example, cats older than 6 months are required to receive rabies vaccinations in many states. Once your cat has gotten their shots, your vet will provide you with a certificate stating that your cat has been vaccinated as required. 

The two types of pet vaccinations are core vaccinations and lifestyle vaccines. Core vaccinations are strongly recommended to prevent cats from becoming exposed to highly contagious diseases if they need to stay at a boarding facility, happen to escape the safety of your home or visit a groomer. 

Core Vaccines for Cats 

All cats should receive core vaccines, as these are necessary for protection against the following common but serious conditions:

  • Feline herpesvirus type I (FHV, FHV-1) — This ubiquitous, highly contagious virus is a major cause of upper respiratory infections. Spread through direct contact, inhalation of sneeze droplets, or sharing food bowls or litter trays, the virus can infect cats for life. Persistent FHV infection can lead to issues with the eye and some cats will continue to shed the virus. 
  • Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus and Panleukopenia (FVRCP) — Usually known as the "distemper" shot, this combination vaccine protects cats against feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia. 
  • Rabies — Rabies kills many mammals (including humans) annually. In most states, these vaccinations are required by law for cats.

Lifestyle (Non-Core) Vaccines for Cats

Depending on their lifestyle, we recommend non-core vaccinations for some cats. Your vet can advise you on which non-core vaccines your cat should have. Lifestyle vaccines offer protection against:
  • Chlamydophila felis - Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that causes severe conjunctivitis. The vaccination for the infection is often included in the distemper combination vaccine.
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia (Felv) - These vaccines protect against viral infections that are transmitted via close contact. They are only usually recommended for cats that spend time outdoors.

Getting Your Kitten Their Shots

When they are about six to eight weeks old, your kitten should receive their first round of vaccinations. Following this, we should see your cat for a series of shots at three to four-week intervals until they are about 16 weeks old.

Kitten Vaccination Schedule

First visit (6 to 8 weeks)
  • Review nutrition and grooming
  • Blood test for feline leukemia
  • Fecal exam for parasites
  • Vaccinations for chlamydia, calicivirus, rhinotracheitis and panleukopenia
Second visit (12 weeks)
  • Examination and external check for parasites
  • First feline leukemia vaccine
  • Second vaccinations for calicivirus rhinotracheitis, and panleukopenia
  • First feline leukemia vaccine
Third visit (follow veterinarian’s advice)
  • Rabies vaccine
  • Second feline leukemia vaccine

Booster Shots

Depending on the vaccine, adult cats should receive booster shots either annually or every three years. Your vet will notify you about when your adult cat should be brought back for booster shots.

Vaccine Protection

Your kitty will not be fully vaccinated until they’ve received all of their vaccinations - when they are about 12 to 16 weeks old. After your vet has administered all of their initial vaccinations, your kitten will be protected against the conditions or diseases covered by the vaccines.

We recommend keeping your kitten in restricted to low-risk areas (such as your own backyard) if you plan to allow them outdoors before they have been fully vaccinated against the diseases listed above.

Potential Vaccine Side Effects

Most cats will not experience any side effects as a result of receiving their shots. If a reaction does happen, they are usually minor and short in duration. However, in rare cases more serious reactions may occur, such as:

  • Severe lethargy
  • Lameness
  • Fever
  • Hives
  • Diarrhea
  • Redness or swelling around the injection site
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting

If you suspect your cat may be experiencing side effects due to a cat vaccine, call your veterinarian immediately. Your vet can help you determine whether special care or follow-up is needed.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is it time for your cat to get vaccinations or booster shots? Our veterinary professionals at Pekin Veterinary Clinic have experience in identifying and treating emergency veterinary situations. Contact us right away.

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