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The essentials

  • Kittens should start their vaccinations early — 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 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 vaccinations your kitten will need in the first year of their life.

What are vaccines and how do they work?

Vaccinations offer a safe, effective means of protecting the body from harmful diseases. They’re mostly commonly given in the form of injections, though occasionally they can be administered orally or as a nasal spray. 

Each vaccine is formulated with a killed or weakened form of viral or bacterial infections to trigger the production of antibodies and strengthen the immune system against the disease. This works the same for humans and pets, including our beloved feline friends.

Core vs non-core kitten vaccines

There are two categories of cat vaccinations: core and non-core. Core vaccinations protect against common and dangerous diseases, and they’re mandatory for all cats. Non-core vaccinations are no less important but aren’t required for every cat. 

Vets recommend them for cats at a higher risk of contracting the infections they protect against. This depends on several factors including where you live, your cat’s age and breed, and their daily lifestyle.

Core vaccinations for kittens

Veterinarians recommend core vaccines for all cats, regardless of age, breed, lifestyle, or any underlying medical conditions.

Most states legally require cats to get the rabies vaccine, as well as the FVRCP combination shot, which simultaneously protects your cat against flu-like conditions including feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR), feline calicivirus (FCV), and feline panleukopenia (FP). Feline leukemia (FeLV) is also considered a core vaccine for kittens under a year.

Age restrictions tend to vary by state, but most states allow kittens to receive the first round of the rabies vaccine as early as 12 weeks. Rabies is a potentially life-threatening condition in cats that can also be spread to other animals and humans, so take the time to get your kitten vaccinated as soon as they’re eligible. 

Feline panleukopenia (the kitty version of parvo) can also be fatal to cats if left untreated, with symptoms including weight loss, fever, vomiting, and personality changes. FVR and FCV are contagious viral diseases that produce upper respiratory symptoms similar to colds and the flu. 

Your kitten can receive the first vaccine for FVRCP as early as six weeks old, and most are vaccinated with boosters every 3 to 4 weeks until they’re four months or older.

Non-core vaccinations for kittens

As we explained above, vets recommend non-core vaccinations based on individual health and lifestyle factors. 

For example, cats who live outside are more likely to contract a disease than indoor cats and are more commonly given these additional vaccines. On the other hand, vets may recommend fewer vaccines to cats with sensitive systems, especially senior cats.

Common non-core vaccines for cats include those for Chlamydia felis and feline leukemia virus (FeLV). Some vets recommend the FeLV vaccine for all kittens, while others only recommend it to those with a higher risk of contracting the disease.

What diseases do vaccinations protect against?

Core and non-core vaccines both have their place in a kitten’s vaccine schedule, though most cats won’t need to get every vaccine available to them. Let’s take a closer look at the diseases and infections cat vaccines protect against so you can pinpoint the ones your cat needs extra protection from. 




Rabies is a fatal disease that affects cats and other animals, including humans. It’s most commonly transmitted when an infected animal bites another animal or person and their saliva gets under the skin. Cats with rabies usually die within ten days of showing signs. If you are worried that your cat has contracted rabies, contact your vet immediately. 

In most U.S. states, the law requires all domestic cats to have a rabies vaccine. Kittens often receive the first dose of this vaccination at 16 weeks, but may be vaccinated as early as 12 weeks in some cases.


Feline panleukopenia virus , also known as FP, feline distemper, or feline parvo, is a highly contagious,  life-threatening condition that mostly affects kittens and unvaccinated cats. FP is specific to cats and can’t be transmitted to humans. It’s closely related to the parvovirus that affects dogs. 

This virus targets and destroys cells throughout a cat’s body, including bone marrow, intestines, and skin cells. FP suppresses the production of white blood cells in the bone marrow, significantly impacting the body’s ability to fight infection. Symptoms can include weight loss, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, personality changes, and even death. 

There’s no set treatment for feline distemper. Vets commonly employ a mixture of antibiotics and aggressive intravenous fluid therapy to combat infections and dehydration. Prognosis varies depending on the cat’s age and overall health level,  but extremely sick cats can pass away in as little as 12 to 24 hours.

The severity of this condition underscores the importance of scheduling your kitten’s core vaccines. 

Feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR, of feline herpesvirus 1)

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 symptoms impact the upper respiratory system and include congestion, sneezing, and discharge from the eyes and nose. 

Herpesvirus is spread through direct contact, most commonly with saliva and discharges from the eyes and nose of an infected cat. Symptoms appear two to five days after initial infection, with active infection lasting anywhere from 10 to 20 days.

All cats infected with FVR are lifelong carriers of the virus, which stays mostly dormant inside the cat’s body. Stress and illness may cause the virus to reactivate, during which time the cat will be contagious again and may or may not display symptoms of a respiratory infection. 

 FVR is treated with the FVRCP vaccine and, while immunization won’t prevent infection completely, it will significantly reduce the severity and length of symptoms.

Feline calicivirus (FCV)

CV 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 may need antibiotics for secondary infections and veterinary care. The symptoms are similar to those of FVR and include sneezing, fever, and conjunctivitis.

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)

Feline leukemia virus can cause a variety of diseases, in addition to leukemia itself. This disease is specific to cats and can’t be transmitted to other animals or humans.  

FeLV is common around the world, with an estimated 1 to 2% of the cat population persistently infected. The virus works by incorporating itself into the cat’s genome and infiltrating the cells that make up a cat’s immune system and blood-forming tissues, creating mutations that could eventually cause the cells to become cancerous — though in some cases they can lay dormant for months or even years after a cat is infected.

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

 👉 If your cat tests positive for FeLV, they’ve already been infected, and they won’t receive any benefit from the vaccine. 


Bordetella bronchiseptica is the bacteria responsible for infectious bronchitis and kennel cough in dogs, but it can also affect cats. Cases among young cats can be serious and even life-threatening, but most adult cats present mild symptoms including sneezing, coughing, nasal and ocular discharge, and fever. 

This infection is commonly treated with an antibacterial medication like doxycycline , but a non-core vaccine exists that can keep cats from experiencing severe symptoms. It’s a good idea to give your cat the Bordetella vaccine if they frequently come into contact with other animals.


Cats can develop chlamydia after being exposed to the bacteria Chlamydophila felis. This most commonly presents as chlamydial conjunctivitis, a condition in which the membranes around the eyelids swell and turn pink. Affected cats may also experience fever, loss of appetite, and green or yellow discharge from their eyes.

Vaccination for chlamydia isn’t required, but it could be a good idea for cats with a higher risk of exposure to the infection. This includes cats who spend a lot of time in multi-cat environments. While chlamydia vaccines prevent the outbreak of symptoms, cats can still contract the disease. 

Kittens are most commonly vaccinated for chlamydia at around 8 or 9 weeks of age, with a second injection 3 to 4 weeks later at around 12 weeks old.

Kitten vaccination schedule

Cat vaccination recommendations are a contentious topic in veterinary medicine. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by conflicting information on different vaccines and their supposed side effects, but you can cut through a lot of the noise just by contacting a vet and asking questions. 

These numbers apply to kittens of all breeds but may differ depending on risk factors including age, medical history, vaccination history, and state laws.

Cat’s age Core vaccines Non-core vaccines and other procedures
6 to 8 weeks FVRCP, FeLV Deworm, FeLV/FIV test
10 to 12 weeks FVRCP booster, FeLV booster Heartworm & flea prevention, deworm
14 to 16 weeks FVRCP booster, rabies Deworm, FeLV/FIV test
1 year and older FVRCP and rabies boosters (both one year after initial series) N/A
Every 1 to 3 years FVRCP and rabies one or three-year vaccine FeLV

*While this is a general guide to kitten vaccinations, your veterinarian will guide you on when, how often, and what vaccinations are best for your individual kitten.

Titer test

For an additional cost, owners may opt to give their cat a titer test, which measures their immunity levels to determine which vaccines they need. Keep in mind that rabies vaccinations are not optional for a titer test, as it’s required by law across most of the United States.

How much does it cost to vaccinate a kitten?

Most cat vaccinations are relatively affordable, though costs will ultimately vary based on fees for associated testing and other veterinary services your cat may need, including a physical exam. There may also be cost differences depending on the brand and type of vaccine used.

It’s important to note that many vets will test for FeLV and FIV before vaccinating. This adds $40 to $80 to your vet visit.

In general, here’s what you can expect to pay for different cat vaccines:

Vaccination Cost
Rabies $20 to $30
FVRCP $20 to $30
FeLV $25 to $45
Chlamydia $20 to $40
Bordetella $10 to $30

Potential side effects of kitten vaccines

While vets universally agree that the benefits of vaccines outweigh the risks involved, adverse reactions can occur. Tenderness around the injection site, lethargy, and mild fever are all normal after getting a shot and should go away on their own. 

You may want to see a vet if your cat starts vomiting, having diarrhea, or turning away their food to make sure it’s not a more severe reaction.

🚨 Take your cat to the vet immediately if they develop hives, facial swelling, difficulty breathing, or if they become unresponsive at any point.

More serious conditions linked to kitten vaccines include: 

  • Allergic reactions. Some cats can be allergic to ingredients within a vaccine. Severe reactions are rare but can be lethal without the right treatment. Mild allergic reactions may clear up on their own, but call your vet and let them know how your kitten’s doing just to play it safe. 
  • Injection site tumors. In extremely rare cases (about 1 in every 30,000) , cats can develop a form of cancer called an injection site sarcoma. That’s why vets usually only inject kitten vaccines in certain parts of the body, such as the front and back legs on the right side. Sarcomas often present as a firm lump that persists for three months or longer after your cat’s vaccine, or a lump that continues to increase in size. Injection site sarcomas are highly invasive and must be treated quickly to prevent it from spreading to other parts of the body. 
  • Autoimmune disorders. Because vaccinations stimulate the immune system, they pose a slight risk of triggering an autoimmune condition in humans and other animals, including cats. This is the rarest side effect on this list, but it can happen. 

All cats need vaccines to stay safe from life-threatening illnesses. This starts with their kitten vaccinations when they’re just a couple of months old and continues for the rest of their lives. 

Schedule your cat’s vaccination appointments ahead of time and take them in for regular check-ups with your local vet. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about an illness or vaccine — the more you know, the better. Remember that the professionals are there to keep your cat healthy and keep you informed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do adult cats need to be vaccinated?

You can catch up with adult vaccinations if your adult cat has missed their primary doses. 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 one to three years. Schedule yearly vet checks to make sure your furry friend is healthy.

Are kittens already protected after the 1st dose of the vaccine?

It depends on the vaccine. Shots like FVRCP and FeLV must be given in two doses spaced three to four weeks apart. The rabies vaccine provides sufficient protection after a single dose, but your cat will need to keep getting booster shots every one to three years after that to maintain their immunity. 

Is it okay to vaccinate and spay on the same day?

Usually, yes. Cats and kittens can be vaccinated the same day they are spayed, as long as they don’t have a prior history of adverse reactions to vaccines. Some veterinarians, however, will opt to split up these procedures.

At what age should kittens be vaccinated?

Immunizations for cats begin between 6 and 8 weeks of age, and shots are re-administered every 3 to 4 weeks until the kitten is 4 months old.

How many shots do indoor kittens need?

Indoor kittens should be vaccinated for core vaccines, including rabies and the FVRCP combination shot, which simultaneously protects your cat against feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR),  feline calicivirus (FCV), and feline panleukopenia (FP). Kittens can get their first FVRCP shot between six and eight weeks old and a second one three to four weeks later. The rabies vaccine is administered in a single round and can be given to kittens between 14 and 16 weeks old. 

FeLV vaccine is also considered a core shot for kittens, which protects them against feline leukemia virus and is administered in two doses: one between six and eight weeks of age and another three or four weeks later.