Cat Vaccination Schedule

Cat vaccination schedules are among the most controversial feline topics currently being discussed.

ALL cats should be seen by their veterinarian AT LEAST once yearly, regardless of how often they are vaccinated.









Almost everyone is in agreement about kitten vaccination schedules, as presented in the chart below:

Kitten Age

Vaccination Administered

6 weeks

Panleukopenia, Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, Feline Leukemia Virus

9 weeks

Panleukopenia, Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, Feline Leukemia Virus

12 weeks

Panleukopenia, Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, Feline Leukemia Virus

15 weeks

Panleukopenia, Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, Feline Leukemia Virus, Rabies

And, almost everyone agrees that Panleukopenia, Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, Feline Leukemia Virus and Rabies should be boostered in one year (in most states, state law requires the Rabies vaccination to be repeated one year after the first vaccination is administered, regardless of age, even if a three-year vaccine was administered at the time of the first vaccination).

These are termed “core vaccines,” although some veterinary immunologists exclude Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) from the list. I find that viewpoint indefensible. There is but one reason not to vaccinate one’s cat against FeLV, and that is, “I can’t afford it.” The “non-core-FeLV group” says each cat’s risk should be assessed in determining whether to vaccinate against FeLV.

Consider this alternative viewpoint:

  • Who can guarantee his indoor cat will never go outside?
  • If he does go outside, who can guarantee he won’t mingle with a diseased stray?
  • Feline Leukemia Virus Disease is uniformly fatal. There is no treatment.
  • Vaccination is over 80% effective (meaning that more than 80% of cats vaccinated will be protected against the disease)
  • Annual revaccination is less than $30.
  • Minimal risks are associated with vaccination.

Feline Leukemia Virus vaccination is like buying an insurance policy for $30 against a catastrophic fatal illness. Therefore, we include FeLV in the “core vaccine” schedule.

For a discussion of non-core feline vaccines, click here.

Then, there is the question of revaccination schedule. Traditionally, veterinarians have boostered vaccinations every year for cats. Questions have arisen as to whether vaccines might actually last longer than one year.

The biggest problem arises when we consider that some cats fail to hold protection for that long. Which cats? We just don’t know.

As veterinarians, we can perform titer testing. By obtaining a blood sample and sending it to a laboratory, we can determine each cat’s antibody production to each of the diseases for which we have vaccinated. However, we know that immune system protection consists of much more than antibodies alone.  What is the correlation of antibody level with actual protection?  We don’t know that, either.

In some practitioners’ and researchers’ minds, the best reason to modify cat vaccination schedules is the theory that some vaccines may induce autoimmune and other disease processes in the body. While both the theory and the argument have some merit, concrete scientific evidence is yet to be found.

What about protecting cats whose immune systems fail to carry protection beyond twelve months? My take on the answer to that question is to vaccinate all cats annually, with the exception being those cats whose immune systems have aberrations, such as autoimmune conditions. By doing so, we are confident that we have protected as many cats as possible from preventible infectious disease.

There is yet another pitfall for the pet owners who have adopted the cat vaccination schedule protocol of not having their cats vaccinated every year. As we have stated repeatedly, the physical examination is the most important part of every pet’s visit. And, that examination needs to occur at least once every year. Failing to have the annual examination just because “he doesn’t get shots every year anymore” leads to physical problems being allowed to fester. That category includes everything from painful ear infections to life-threatening cancer.

Along with that annual examination, a fecal flotation is required to know whether your cat is free from intestinal parasites.

Every pet owner needs to have a talk with his veterinarian, because every cat’s needs are individual.  The regimen your pet’s doctor works out for one of your cats might not be right for your other cat(s).

Regardless of your final decision on your cat’s vaccination schedule, don’t fail to have your cat see his veterinarian at least once every twelve months.

See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.


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  1. Hi there I’m trying to find information on vaccinations and possibly side effects. My cats are about 12 years old. Probably haven’t had shots since they were kittens. I moved to Colorado a year ago and put off giving them the shots needed to be up to code. We finally called a veterinarian three weeks ago and asked to only have the necessary shots. She gave them three shots each and it turns out they only needed one. Since then my male cat has had all sorts of issues. He’s had diarrhea, watery eyes, and has now peed outside the litterbox twice. This is not normal behavior for him. I know my cat is overweight and have been working to reduce it but I don’t think that’s the issue. Could the vaccines have affected him? I’ve made an appointment for a new veterinarian next week but I’m just worried still. Thank you for your time.

    • Morgana, there are people out there who are promoting fewer to no vaccines for pets, but I’m not one of them. My philosophy is outlined in the article above. I have no way of knowing whether you didn’t have your cats vaccinated since they were kittens because you are in that camp, or whether there was some other issue. There is one thing all vaccination camps agree on: Pets need an annual examination. Even if they aren’t getting vaccinations they need their “parts” checked regularly so that abnormalities can be fixed promptly.

      On to vaccinations: You use the terms “necessary” and “needed.” Clearly you and the doctor weren’t on the same page, and that should have been clarified at the beginning of the visit. Had you brought your kitty to our hospital, we would have begun from scratch, just like a cat who had never been vaccinated before because his immune system has probably long ago “forgotten” those kitten vaccinations. That would have consisted of FVRCP, Feline Leukemia Virus and Rabies. We would have scheduled a booster of FVRCP and FeLV in 3 weeks. We would have performed a thorough physical examination. And a stool test to check for intestinal parasites called Fecal Flotation. Of course, if you said something to the effect of “I have only $X.xx to spend,” or, “I am not a fan of certain vaccines and do not want those administered to my kitty,” we would have taken that into account.

      How did you determine that your kitty “needed” only one shot?

      As to his illnesses, it is remotely possibly that the illnesses are related to his vaccinations, but mostly unlikely. In any case, he needs a workup for these problems which, at a minimum, will require Fecal Flotation and urinalysis. Until he has that workup we won’t have any way of knowing the cause or extent of his health problems. This workup should be performed sooner rather than later.

      Please write back and let us know what the test results reveal and how he responds to treatment. Thanks for reading our blog, Dr. Randolph.

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