Which Vaccines Does My Cat Need?

What you need to know about core and non-core vaccines for cats.

what vaccines do cats need

Vaccines can be super important for your cat, but it feels like there are so many of them. So how are you supposed to know which ones he really needs?

The key is knowing which vaccines are considered core and which ones are considered non-core.

The Dodo spoke with Dr. Cristina Bustamante, an associate veterinarian with Caring Hands Animal Hospital in Florida and founder of Dr. B. Vet, to find out which vaccines all cats need.

Core vaccines for cats

Core vaccines for cats are the ones that every cat needs, and there are a few of them.

“FVRCP, rabies and FeLV vaccine are considered core vaccines for cats,” Dr. Bustamante told The Dodo.

FVRCP vaccine

The FVRCP vaccine is actually a combination vaccine that protects your cat against a couple different diseases.

“FVRCP vaccine protects against three viruses: feline viral rhinotracheitis (feline herpes virus), calicivirus and panleukopenia virus,” Dr. Bustamante said.

Both the feline herpes virus and the calicivirus can cause pretty major respiratory issues.

Panleukopenia virus is pretty serious, too, because it messes with your cat’s white blood cells, which decreases his defense against infections.

Rabies vaccine

Rabies is a deadly disease that affects your cat’s central nervous system.

“Rabies is a fatal and preventable disease that is transmitted by the saliva of infected animals,” Dr. Bustamante said. “Cats can get rabies from other cats, dogs and wildlife.”

Rabies can cause aggression and result in paralysis or even coma. The disease is so serious that the vaccine’s legally required.

“Laws require cats to be vaccinated against rabies since this disease is transmissible to humans and is fatal,” Dr. Bustamante said.

FeLV vaccine

The FeLV vaccine protects your cat against the fatal feline leukemia virus (FeLV).

FeLV is considered a core vaccine for cats under 1 year old because kittens are more susceptible to infection (though cats of any age can get FeLV if they’re exposed).

The vaccine is only considered non-core for adult cats who are considered low-risk for getting the virus — aka cats who aren’t exposed to cats who are positive for FeLV, or whose FeLV status is unknown.

A FeLV infection can cause anemia or cancer, and it can mess with your cat’s immune system.

This is a global virus among cats and there’s no treatment, so it's a super crucial vaccine.

Non-core vaccines for cats

Non-core vaccines for cats are ones that are administered on a case-by-case basis, depending on how much a cat is at risk for contracting those illnesses.

“Veterinarians recommend vaccination plans for each individual patient based on their age, lifestyle and the risk of exposure to certain diseases,” Dr. Bustamante said.

Non-core vaccines for cats include:

  • Chlamydia vaccine
  • Bordetella vaccine

Recommended cat vaccination schedule

You should always consult with your veterinarian about a vaccine schedule that works best for your cat. That being said, here are the recommended ages you should get your cat vaccinated, according to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA):

  • 6 weeks old: FVRCP vaccine
  • 8 weeks old: FeLV vaccine

For rabies, the timing depends on your local laws and the vaccine label instructions. And for bordetella and chlamydia, that’ll also depend on your vaccine’s specific instructions (so check with your vet).

Now that you know which vaccines your cat definitely needs and which ones he might be able to skip, you can make sure he’s up to date on all the shots that will keep him safe and healthy.

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