There are far fewer vaccines available to cats compared to dogs. We will discuss three of the most common vaccines given. Two of these are considered core vaccines, and the other one is specifically for at-risk cats.
The rabies vaccine is given to kittens between 12-16 weeks of age. The first vaccine is good for one year, and each booster is good for either one or three years thereafter depending on the label. This disease is the same in cats as we see in dogs. It is transmitted through the saliva of an affected animal and results in severe neurological disease leading to death.
This vaccine protects against three diseases, which include Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (herpes), Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia (feline distemper). The first dose is given between 6-9 weeks of age followed by boosters every 3 weeks until 16 weeks of age. It is boostered again at one year and then every 3 years thereafter. Feline herpes and calicivirus both cause upper respiratory disease and eye or oral lesions. Feline panleukopenia is a severe, but very uncommon disease in cats today. It causes gastrointestinal and neurological disease.
The FeLV vaccine is the most common non-core vaccine we consider for cats. It can be given to kittens or adults, but it must be boostered 3 weeks after. It is only given to cats who are outdoors and considered high risk. Cats should test negative for FeLV prior to receiving their first vaccination because if they test positive, there is no need for the vaccine. Read more about FeLV in cats here!
In the past there had been controversy regarding vaccines in cats due to the added adjuvant that was used to boost the immune response. Select cats developed injection site sarcomas (masses) from these vaccines. Now, vaccines have been developed that do not contain these adjuvants and are less controversial in veterinary medicine today. Your veterinarian will be happy to go over what vaccines he or she uses and any concerns you have at your cat’s first appointment.