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The essentials

  • Kittens should start their vaccinations while young — Book your first appointment when your pet is between six and eight weeks old.
  • Your kitten will need multiple vet visits — Multiple core vaccines and boosters are required for cats over the first two years.
  • Vaccines protect not only your kitten but also humans and other pets — They cover a range of preventable, contagious diseases.

While you can’t protect your cat from everything, you can prevent them from contracting (and spreading) some common infectious diseases and illnesses. Ensuring that your kitten gets its necessary vaccines is part of being a responsible pet owner and helping your cat have a long, happy, healthy life.

Let’s dive into the four vaccinations your kitten will need in the first year of its life.

Core vs non-core kitten vaccines

There are two categories of vaccinations: core and non-core. 

Core vaccinations will protect your kitten from common and dangerous diseases. These are mandatory for all kittens and cats.

Non-core vaccinations aren’t necessary for every kitten, but rather are recommended by vets for kittens who are at higher risk for contracting these infections. It usually depends on where you live and on your kitten’s lifestyle. (i.e. Cats who live outside are more likely to contract a disease and are usually given these additional vaccines.)

What vaccines does a kitten need?


This is one of the core vaccinations. In most U.S. states, the law requires all domestic cats to have a rabies vaccine. Rabies can be a fatal disease that can affect cats and other animals, including humans. 

Kittens can receive the first dose of this vaccination as early as 12 weeks, but it can vary based on which state you live in and the veterinarian you use.


This is a combination of core vaccines that protects your cat from three different illnesses:

  • Feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR). FVR is a highly contagious feline herpes virus that can lead to severe respiratory complications, including pneumonia. It can be fatal, especially in young kittens, or require lifelong treatment. The first symptoms often include sneezing and a fever.
  • Feline calicivirus (FCV). FCV is another contagious feline respiratory disease. It’s a type of “cat flu” that spreads through saliva and mucus. There are different strains, and the severity of the disease can vary. Cats can recover, but they may need antibiotics and veterinary care. The symptoms are similar to those of FVR and include sneezing, fever, and conjunctivitis.
  • Feline panleukopenia (FP). FP is a type of feline parvovirus. It’s contagious between cats but can’t be transmitted to humans. Symptoms can include weight loss, fever, vomiting, and personality changes. FP can be fatal for your furry friend.

You can expect the first vaccine for FVRCP as early as six weeks old, and kittens are typically vaccinated with boosters every 3-4 weeks until they’re four months or older.


The feline leukemia virus vaccine isn’t a core vaccination. Rather, it’s recommended by some vets for all kittens and by others for kittens only at more risk of the disease. This is based on your kitten’s lifestyle and should be decided between you and your vet.

If your cat does get FeLV, it will be a lifelong disease with no cure and it can have long-term health impacts. This vaccine can start around eight weeks old with a booster 3-4 weeks later, and kittens should be tested for the disease prior to getting vaccinated.

Kitten vaccination schedule

The series of vaccines for your kitten over their first year will likely look something like this:

6-8 weeks:

  • FVRCP initial dose required
  • FeLV recommended

10-12 weeks:

  • FVRCP booster required
  • FeLV booster recommended

14-16 weeks:

  • FVRCP booster required
  • Rabies (required by law)
  • FeLV booster recommended

1-year booster:

  • FVRCP booster required
  • Rabies booster required
  • FeLV booster, recommended depending on the cat’s lifestyle

👉 Kittens usually have some immunity given to them by their mothers. This gives them protection until they’re old enough for their first shot. Despite this, you should try to limit your kitten’s exposure to diseases by keeping them indoors until you get the go-ahead from your vet.

Potential side effects of kitten vaccines

Vaccinations can sometimes run the risk of side effects, though they tend to be mild if they do occur. 

It’s normal for the injection site to feel tender and for your kitten to be lethargic afterward. If your kitten starts vomiting, having diarrhea, or turning away their food, you may want to consider seeking vet care to ensure it’s not a more severe reaction.

🚨 If you notice your kitten having any of the following reactions after a vaccine, take them to the vet immediately —

  • Hives
  • Facial swelling
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Unresponsiveness

If you have any questions or concerns during the vaccination process, contact your vet. They’ll be happy to help or give advice (such as giving your kitten an antihistamine before a booster) moving forward.

Do adult cats need to be vaccinated?

If your adult cat has missed their primary doses, you can catch up with adult vaccinations. Or, if they haven’t had a booster in a while, another shot may be needed.

The adult cat vaccination schedule usually includes booster shots every few years. Schedule yearly vet checks to make sure your furry friend is in good health.