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Vaccines & Vaccination Schedule for Cats & Kittens
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith
vaccines & vaccinations
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Veterinarian vaccinating against FeLV in the left rear legExperts generally agree on what vaccines are 'core' vaccines for cats, i.e., what vaccines should be given to every cat, and what vaccines are given only to certain cats (noncore). Whether to vaccinate with noncore vaccines depends upon a number of things including the age, breed, and health status of the cat, the potential exposure of the cat to an animal that has the disease, the type of vaccine and how common the disease is in the geographical area where the cat lives or may visit.

In cats, the suggested core vaccines are feline panleukopenia (distemper), feline viral rhinotracheitis, feline calicivirus, and rabies.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recommends vaccinating against feline panleukopenia (distemper), feline viral rhinotracheitis, and feline calicivirus every three years. But they also suggest that cats at a high risk of exposure to these diseases may benefit from more frequent vaccinations. Since vaccinating every three years does not agree with the current manufacturers' directions of vaccinating annually, when to vaccinate, and with what, must be a personal (and informed) choice for each cat owner. Consult with your veterinarian to determine what is best for your cat.

The noncore vaccines include feline leukemia (FeLV), feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), Bordetella, and Chlamydophila. The AAFP recommends AGAINST FeLV vaccinations in adult totally indoor cats who have no exposure to other cats. It is suggested that all kittens, because they are most susceptible and their lifestyles may change, should receive an initial FeLV vaccination series. FIP and Giardia vaccinations are not recommended. The choice to use a Chlamydophila vaccine is based upon the prevalence of the disease and husbandry conditions.

In general, modified live virus (MLV) vaccines are preferred over killed vaccines because they stimulate immunity faster and longer.

Vaccination Recommendations for Cats
Component Class Efficacy Length of Immunity Risk/Severity of Adverse Effects Comments
Panleukopenia Core High > 1 year Low to Moderate  
Rhinotracheitis Core High; reduces severity and duration of disease, but does not prevent disease or the carrier state > 1 year Low: may see sneezing in cats given modified live vaccine Use intranasal vaccine for faster protection
Calicivirus Core Variable; reduces severity and duration of disease, but does not prevent disease or the carrier state > 1 year Low: may see sneezing in cats given modified live vaccine  
Rabies Core High Dependent upon type of vaccine Low to moderate; Lower for recombinant vaccines  
Feline Leukemia Recommended for all cats that live outside full or part time, or those living full time inside but with exposure to outside cats. Also suggested for all kittens. Variable Revaccinate annually for cats at risk Vaccine-related sarcomas can develop with killed (adjuvanted) vaccines Vaccination not recommended for cats with minimal or no risk, especially after 4 months of age; blood test prior to vaccination
Chlamydophila Noncore Low; reduces severity and duration of disease, but does not prevent disesae or the carrier state < 1 year High Not recommended for cats at minimal or no risk
Feline Infectious Peritonitis Noncore Low     Not recommended
Bordetella Noncore Low Short May be more severe in kittens  
Giardia Insufficient data to comment - not recommended
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Insufficient data to comment - vaccinated cats should be permanently identified since they will likely have positive results if tested for FIV

A possible vaccination schedule for the 'average' indoor house cat is shown below.

Cat Vaccination Schedule
Age Vaccination
6-7 weeks Combination Vaccine*
10 weeks Combination vaccine
Chlamydophila (Pneumonitis): include in combination vaccine where it is a concern.
12 weeks or older Rabies: Given by your local veterinarian (age at vaccination may vary according to local law).
13 weeks Combination vaccine
Chlamydophila (Pneumonitis): include in combination vaccine where it is a concern.
Feline Leukemia (FeLV): for kittens at risk of exposure to feline leukemia virus.
16 & 19 weeks Combination vaccine
FeLV: for kittens at risk of exposure to feline leukemia virus.
Adult (boosters)** Combination vaccine
Chlamydophila (Pneumonitis): include in combination vaccine where it is a concern.
FeLV: for cats at risk of exposure to feline leukemia virus.
Rabies: Given by your local veterinarian (time interval between vaccinations may vary according to law).
*A combination vaccine includes feline distemper, rhinotracheitis, and calicivirus. Some may also include Chlamydophila.

**According to the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Feline Practitioners, cats at low risk of disease exposure may not need to be boostered yearly for most diseases. Consult with your local veterinarian to determine the appropriate vaccination schedule for your cat. Remember, recommendations vary depending on the age, breed, and health status of the cat, the potential of the cat to be exposed to the disease, the type of vaccine, whether the cat is used for breeding, and the geographical area where the cat lives or may visit.

 
References and Further Reading

Ford, R.B. Feline Vaccination Guidelines. In Bonagura, JD; Twedt, JD (eds.) Current Veterinary Therapy XIV. W.B. Saunders Co. Philadelphia, PA; 2008; 1275-1278.

Greene, CE; Schultz, RD. Immunoprophylaxis. In Greene, CE (eds.) Infectious Diseases of the Dog and Cat, ed 3. W.B. Saunders Co. St. Louis, 2006; 1069.

Klingborg, DJ; Hustead, DR; Curry-Galvin, EA; Gumley, NR; Henry, SC; Bain, FT; et al. AVMA Council on Biologic and Therapeutic Agents' report on cat and dog vaccines. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. November 15, 2002 (Volume 221, No. 10); 1401-1407.

Levy, J; Crawford, C; Hartmann, K; Hofman-Lehmann, R; Little, S; Sundahl, E; Thayer, V. 2008 American Association of Feline Practitioners' feline retrovirus management guidelines. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2008; 10:300-316.

Richards, JR et al. The 2006 American Association of Feline Practitioners Feline Advisory Panel Report, Journal of the American Veterinary Associaiton, 2006; 229(9):1405.


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