What Vaccinations Does My Cat Need?

To keep your cat healthy, you must ensure that she is vaccinated against common cat diseases. Check with your veterinarian to find out which vaccinations she will need; this will vary depending on factors such as her breed, where you live and whether she is an indoor or an outdoor cat.

Common Cat Vaccinations

Rabies: The law in your state will determine the frequency of rabies vaccinations, which will start when your cat is a kitten and require a booster every one or three years thereafter.

Feline leukemia virus: You should have your kitten tested for feline leukemia before you start vaccinations. If the test is negative, the first dose is at eight to ten weeks.

Mixed vaccination: Feline panleukopenia virus (incorrectly called feline distemper), viral rhinotrachetis and feline calicivirus (both respiratory viruses) are commonly given as a combined vaccine.

The chart below shows common vaccinations with the ages of first shots and frequency of boosters.

Vaccination Against Age for
First Dose
Revaccination Booster
Calciviral disease* 8-10 weeks 12-16 weeks 12 months
Feline infectious peritonitis 16 weeks 20 weeks 13-14 months
Feline leukemia 10 weeks 12 & 24 weeks 12 months
Panleukopenia* 8-10 weeks 12-16 weeks 12 months
Pneumonitis (chlamydiosis) 8-10 weeks 12-16 weeks 12 months
Rabies 12 weeks 64 weeks 12 or 36 months
Viral rhinotracheitis* 8-10 weeks 12-16 weeks 12 months
  *Combined vaccine

Other Issues

If you adopt a cat or kitten from a breeder, pet shop or other organization such as the ASPCA or Humane Society, ask about the vaccinations the cat has had. If you are told she "has all her shots," ask for a copy of the documentation from the veterinarian who gave the shots. If the person selling you the cat can't produce such documentation then you don't have proof of vaccination, and there is no way to test your new pet for it. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation on starting vaccinations.

Some veterinarians believe that cats that live indoors and are never exposed to other cats in any way, including boarding, don't need annual boosters. Consult your veterinarian for a recommendation.

If you adopt a mature cat and you have no vaccination or medical records, take him to your veterinarian for a leukemia test and booster shots.

Sometimes a pet store, animal shelter or pet rescue operation will hold a free or reduced-cost vaccination day. If the person giving the shots is a licensed veterinarian and you will receive documentation of the shots, you may want to take advantage of this if money is a concern for you. However, this may not be a good idea if your cat is not due for his shots or if your regular veterinarian is treating her for an ongoing ailment with a plan that includes the scheduling of the vaccinations.

Home-Administered Vaccinations

Some people administer their cats' vaccinations themselves to save money, but generally that isn't a good idea. Vaccines can be bought from veterinary medical suppliers directly, through the mail or on the Internet, but if you aren't trained in veterinary medicine you can easily give the wrong vaccine or wrong dosage, administer the shot incorrectly into a muscle or blood vessel, cause infections at injection sites or store the vaccine improperly so it loses its effectiveness. You won't be able to give purchasers of your kittens documentation of their immunizations. You may also be violating laws regarding the practice of veterinary medicine, pet licensing and rabies tag regulations, and you may be liable to purchasers if their kitten becomes sick and infects other pets, dies or incurs large veterinarian bills.