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First-time pet parents might wonder where to start when it comes to vaccinating their cats. With kittens, pet parents should consider several core vaccines. Other non-core cat vaccines may be given depending on the cat’s lifestyle.
Kittens spend the first few weeks of their lives nursing. During this time, they obtain certain antibodies from their mother’s milk. These antibodies help keep them safe from illnesses during their first few weeks to several months. Once their maternally derived antibody — or MDA — levels lower with age, it's important to give kittens their first set of vaccines.
Starting anywhere between 6 and 8 weeks, kittens need their first set of shots, with subsequent second doses a few weeks to about a month after. Routine vaccinations are an essential part of kitten care and building a strong immune system — especially in the early stages of life.
Even adult cats need to continue getting routine vaccinations — but less frequently than kittens do. Cat boosters are usually due about 1 year after a kitten's initial vaccine, while adult cats may need to receive certain preventative vaccines every 1 to 3 years — this will help ensure they maintain optimal health.
Some vaccines are simply needed for all cats, whether or not they lounge at home or lead a more active outdoor lifestyle. These core vaccines include:
Rabies is transmitted through a rabies-infected animal’s saliva. The most common way for cats to get it is if they sustain a bite from a wild animal infected with rabies. Though not as common, cats can also get rabies from other cats and also pass it on to humans. A rabies vaccine and boosters every 3 years are legally required in most US states.
FVRCP is a set of three core vaccines — FHV-1, FCV, and FPV vaccines — combined into one. This single combined vaccine makes for a stress-free visit to the vet.
A kitten should receive their first FVRCP dose at the age of 6 to 8 weeks. After the first shot, they need to receive boosters every 3 to 4 weeks until the kitten is aged around 16 weeks. From that point on, the cat should be given boosters every 3 years.
Feline rhinotracheitis is an upper respiratory viral infection caused by FHV-1 — which is feline herpesvirus. This infection can be compared to a “head cold” in humans. Though cats of all ages are susceptible to FHV-1, it's seen more often in kittens aged around 5 weeks.
FHV-1 can be caused by overcrowding in animal kennels and even in households with several cats, so it’s important to make sure there’s proper ventilation and sanitation in a cat’s living space.
Signs of FCV — which is feline calicivirus — can happen in 8 to 12-week-old kittens who are unvaccinated. The virus mainly affects the lining of the mouth and lungs and is usually transmitted between cats when they're boarded or in a shelter. Vaccinating kittens with the FVRCP vaccine will ensure they stay fit and spry.
FPV is feline panleukopenia virus — commonly known as feline distemper. This viral disease is similar to canine parvovirus that can affect dogs. FPV compromises a cat's white blood cells.
Cats may get it when they come into contact with an infected cat's blood, feces, urine, or other bodily fluids. Kittens aged 2 to 6 months are at a higher risk of getting FPV infection, so getting young cats vaccinated as soon as they are old enough is important.
Some "non-core" vaccines may only be essential depending on a cat’s lifestyle. One such vaccine is the FeLV vaccine.
Pet parents who plan on letting their cats roam free outdoors may want to consider vaccinating them for FeLV — which is feline leukemia. FeLV is a worldwide infection that's spread through body fluids, including saliva, urine, and feces. An infected cat might infect others just from grooming or sharing the same bowl.
The vaccine is also recommended for indoor cats that live with outdoor cats. It is also recommended for all kittens, though once they reach adulthood, cat boosters may not be necessary.
Being a pet parent to a new kitten is fun and exciting. Vaccines play a critical role in protecting cats from preventable diseases and infections.
Even though cats don't really have “nine lives,” when cats are vaccinated at the right times, they are sure to live a long and happy life.