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Should I get my indoor cat vaccinated? Why and when to do it

While it may be tempting to skip vaccinations for your indoor cat, there are some good reasons to have your feline companion vaccinated even if they stay inside. Our Flat Rock vets share some insights in this post.

About Cat Vaccinations

Each year in the United States, numerous serious feline-specific diseases afflict vast numbers of cats. To protect your kitty from contracting a preventable, potentially life-threatening condition, it’s important to have them vaccinated.

It’s equally critical to return to your vet’s for regular booster shots following the initial vaccination, since the effectiveness of vaccines wear off. Even if your kitty is an indoor cat, there are a few reasons to keep up on their shots.

The aptly named booster shots “boost” your feline friend’s protection against a range of feline illnesses after the initial vaccine’s effects wear off. Vaccines are administered on specific schedules, depending on which booster shots your cat needs. Your veterinarian will let you know when you should bring your kitty back for their booster shots.

Reasons to Vaccinate Your Indoor Cat

While you may not think your indoor cat needs vaccinations, many states have laws legislating mandatory vaccinations for cats. For example, several states require rabies vaccinations for cats older than 6 months. Once your cat has received their shots, the veterinarian will provide you with a certificate indicating that your cat has been vaccinated as required.

The two types of vaccinations available for pets are core vaccines and lifestyle vaccines. Our vets strongly recommend that every cat receives core vaccinations to prevent exposure to highly contagious diseases if they happen to visit a groomer, need to stay at a boarding facility while you’re away or escape the safety of your home.

Core Vaccines for Cats

All cats should receive core vaccines, as these are essential for protection against the following common but serious feline conditions:

  • Rabies - rabies kills many mammals (including humans) every year. These vaccinations are required by law for cats in most states.
  • Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus and Panleukopenia (FVRCP) - Typically known as the “distemper” shot, this combination vaccine protects against feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia.
  • Feline herpesvirus type I (FHV, FHV-1) - This highly contagious, ubiquitous virus is one major cause of upper respiratory infections. Spread through sharing of litter trays or food bowls, inhalation of sneeze droplets or direct contact, the virus can infect cats for life. Some will continue to shed the virus, and persistent FHV infection can lead to eye problems.

Lifestyle (Non-Core) Vaccines for Cats

Depending on their lifestyle, we recommend non-core vaccinations for some cats. Your vet can advise you on which non-core vaccines your cat should have. Lifestyle vaccines offer protection against:
  • Chlamydophila felis - Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that causes severe conjunctivitis. The vaccination for the infection is often included in the distemper combination vaccine.
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia (Felv) - These vaccines protect against viral infections that are transmitted via close contact. They are only usually recommended for cats that spend time outdoors.

Getting Your Kitten Their Shots

When they are about six to eight weeks old, your kitten should receive their first round of vaccinations. Following this, we should see your cat for a series of shots at three to four-week intervals until they are about 16 weeks old.

Kitten Vaccination Schedule

First visit (6 to 8 weeks)
  • Review nutrition and grooming
  • Blood test for feline leukemia
  • Fecal exam for parasites
  • Vaccinations for chlamydia, calicivirus, rhinotracheitis and panleukopenia
Second visit (12 weeks)
  • Examination and external check for parasites
  • First feline leukemia vaccine
  • Second vaccinations for calicivirus rhinotracheitis, and panleukopenia
  • First feline leukemia vaccine
Third visit (follow veterinarian’s advice)
  • Rabies vaccine
  • Second feline leukemia vaccine

Booster Shots

Depending on the vaccine, adult cats should receive booster shots either annually or every three years. Your vet will notify you about when your adult cat should be brought back for booster shots.

Vaccine Protection

Your kitty will not be fully vaccinated until they’ve received all of their vaccinations - when they are about 12 to 16 weeks old. After your vet has administered all of their initial vaccinations, your kitten will be protected against the conditions or diseases covered by the vaccines.

We recommend keeping your kitten in restricted to low-risk areas (such as your own backyard) if you plan to allow them outdoors before they have been fully vaccinated against the diseases listed above.

Potential Vaccine Side Effects

Most cats will not experience any side effects as a result of receiving their shots. If a reaction does happen, they are usually minor and short in duration. However, in rare cases more serious reactions may occur, such as:

  • Severe lethargy
  • Lameness
  • Fever
  • Hives
  • Diarrhea
  • Redness or swelling around the injection site
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting

If you suspect your cat may be experiencing side effects due to a cat vaccine, call your veterinarian immediately. Your vet can help you determine whether special care or follow-up is needed.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your cat due for vaccinations or booster shots? Contact our Flat Rock vets at Western Carolina Regional Animal Hospital & Veterinary Emergency Hospital today to book an appointment for your cat.

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