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5 Essential Vaccines for Kittens

The world is full of surprises, good, bad, and sometimes scary. Viruses like rabies and feline viral rhinotracheitis can run rampant if they’re not taken care of appropriately. Sure, kittens often get some immune system protection from their mothers by receiving maternal antibodies, but it's never 100%. This is why vaccinating your kittens is essential to fostering and maintaining their strong immune system and good health. As a cat parent myself, I am so happy I could provide this kind of protection against detrimental and devastating diseases for beloved Cyndie Laupurr. If you’re new to being a cat parent, you must ask yourself many questions about what vaccines your cat needs to live a happy and healthy life. You might also be wondering what infectious disease they can be vaccinated from. Well, here are some answers!

“What are the essential vaccines for kittens?”

Kitten vaccines are usually divided into two categories: core and non-core.

Core vaccines for kitten


Protects against the disease that attacks the central nervous system known by the same name. Rabies is fatal among cats. Wildlife like coyotes, bats, and raccoons are known carriers. It’s transmitted through saliva, and outdoor cats are at high risk. Indoor cats are still required to get the vaccine because of the disease’s severity and the high risk it poses to humans. Most states require this vaccine for all cats.


This vaccine is a combination of three core vaccines in one. Each one protects against highly contagious viruses:

  • Feline Calicivirus -This is one of the most common viral causes of feline upper respiratory infections. Symptoms of calicivirus include fever, sneezing, eye and nose discharge, swollen eyes, and lethargy. Infected cats may produce ulcers in the mouth, eyes, or skin.
  • Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis -This highly transmittable viral infection is caused by feline herpes virus type 1. Infected cats will always be carriers. The symptoms of feline viral rhinotracheitis are very similar to and often overlap with symptoms of feline calicivirus.
  • Feline Panleukopenia -Also known as distemper, this infection is caused by parvovirus. It is highly contagious and fatal among cats. It causes symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, fever, nasal discharge, and weakened bone marrow.

FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus)

Not necessarily a core vaccine; however, it is considered an essential one due to the severity of the disease and its fatality, if given enough time without treatment. This vaccine is typically administered twice in a kitten’s early weeks. Infected cats with this virus will often have symptoms like a loss of appetite, irregular digestive symptoms, fever, dull coat conditions, and swollen lymph nodes. Through its progression, an infected cat’s weakened immune system will put them at risk for other diseases, such as cancer, and is generally fatal over time.

Non-core vaccines

The following vaccines are non-core vaccines and may only need to be administered if deemed necessary by your veterinarian:

  • FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) -Only very high-risk cats should get this vaccine.
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica -Doesn’t usually affect healthy cats. Kittens with suppressed immune systems are more likely at risk. When necessary, this vaccine is given intranasally.
  • Chlamydophila -Vaccines are available but not given to most. Cats are more often given antibiotics if they contract the disease.
  • FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis) -This vaccine is unfortunately rarely effective in real-world scenarios and should rarely ever be given.

When should I vaccinate my kitten?

Many factors are considered when a veterinarian determines the appropriate core vaccination schedule for a kitten. Your veterinarian should consider your kitten’s age, medical history, the likelihood of exposure to certain viruses, state laws, and lifestyle before administering an individualized and ideal vaccination schedule.

Below is a generalized schedule of when core vaccines are recommended for a kitten up to 1 year of age.

Kittens 6 - 8 weeks old

  • FeLV - First dose recommended
  • FVRCP - First dose recommended

Kittens 10 - 12 weeks old

  • FeLV - First dose recommended, if not already given at 6 - 8 weeks. A second dose is required if the first dose was already given.
  • FVRCP - First dose recommended, if not already given at 6 - 8 weeks. A second dose is required if the first dose was already given.

Kittens 14 - 16 weeks old

  • FeLV - Second dose required if the first dose was given at 10 - 12 weeks.
  • FVRCP - Second dose required if the first dose was given at 10 - 12 weeks.
  • Rabies - Required by law at this time.

A 1-year booster after the initial series

  • FVRCP - A booster is required after 1 year.
  • Rabies - A booster is required by law after 1 year.

What if I don’t know my kitten’s vaccine history?

If you adopted your kitten and didn’t have clear insight into their past medical history, that’s okay!

Since that’s usually the case with many kittens that get adopted, it’s recommended that your kitten receives two distemper vaccinations around 3 - 4 weeks apart. They should also receive vaccinations for feline leukemia about 3 - 4 weeks apart as well. Also, rabies vaccines are required whether past vaccine history is known or not.

What are some possible side effects that may come from vaccinating my kitten?

Typically kitten vaccination side effects tend to be mild, if they happen at all. However, severe reactions can occur from time to time. Discussing these possible side effects with a veterinarian will better familiarize you with what signs to look out for.

Mild side effects

  • Fatigue
  • Sore injection site
  • A lump at the injection site
  • Mild fever

Moderate side effects

  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea

Severe side effects

  • Swelling in the face
  • Breaking out in hives
  • Respiratory problems
  • Shock

If you suspect your kitten has severe reactions to their kitten vaccination, take them to an emergency veterinarian immediately. They may alter your kitten’s vaccine protocol or even prescribe an antihistamine for their severe reactions.

Despite possible mild to severe side effects, all kittens should be vaccinated against the scary viruses that lurk around the corner. It's our duty as responsible cat parents to protect our beloved kittens against these potentially fatal diseases one shot at a time.

What if you adopted an adult cat instead of a kitten? Does your new pet still need a cat vaccine? It depends on how you adopted your new cat. If you adopted them in a shelter, ask the people in charge if your new pet has their shots in order. However, if you adopted an outdoor cat, find out if your new cat was part of a TNR program. Reach out to your local TNR agencies to ask if they caught and released your cat and if they include cat vaccination in their cat services. Why do cats get vaccinated? As adult cats get older, they are susceptible to common cat diseases, such as panleukopenia, feline herpes, and feline calicivirus. While the interval of cat vaccinations is much longer compared to kittens, you should still be just as vigilant in getting them vaccinated.

Learn more about how to keep your kitten happy and healthy from the start at PrettyLitter.


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