It’s important to ensure your kitten receives the necessary vaccinations to protect them from a range of potentially life-threatening diseases. Let’s look at what shots kittens need and at what age vaccinations should be scheduled, to ensure they grow into a healthy adult cat.
Vaccines are a crucial tool in protecting your kitten’s health. They are designed to stimulate your kitten’s immune system by introducing modified or weakened versions of harmful pathogens, usually viruses. When your kitten receives a vaccine, their immune system recognises these viruses as “invaders” and produces antibodies to fight against them.
By vaccinating your kitten, you are helping their body develop a defense mechanism against these viruses. Receiving vaccination shots as a kitten gives your cat an extra layer of protection and improves their ability to fight off infections in the future.
Before adopting Charlie, I fostered him. He was late getting his kitten vaccination booster shots although the rescue organisation had scheduled the vet appointment. The week before I was due to take him to the vet he contracted a severe form of calicivirus. Charlie was very sick, with a raging temperature and so lethargic he could barely lift his head. The vet didn’t expect him to survive the night – thankfully he did and I adopted him shortly afterwards. This awful experience taught me the importance of kitten vaccinations and sticking to the schedule!
What age should a kitten get its first shots?
Kittens should receive their first vaccines when they reach around 6 to 8 weeks of age. It is important to wait until this age because if a kitten is too young, they won’t produce a good immune response to the vaccine.
After the initial vaccination, your kitten will need to receive booster shots every 3 to 4 weeks until they are about 16 weeks old. This period between booster shots is crucial for the development of a strong immune response and to establish long-term immunity against various diseases.
To maintain lifelong immunity, most adult cats require annual booster vaccinations. Some veterinarians recommend booster shots every 3 years, so chat to your vet about what’s best for your cat.
Kitten vaccinations required
Core vaccines for kittens
The core vaccinations for kittens are combined into a single vaccine injection which provides protection against 3 common feline diseases in one shot. This is referred to as the FVRCP vaccine in the United States, and the F3 vaccine in Australia. It includes:
- Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR): This vaccine protects against the feline herpesvirus, which causes upper respiratory infections in cats including symptoms such as nasal discharge, sneezing and conjunctivitis.
- Calicivirus (C): The calicivirus vaccine protects against a respiratory virus that can cause oral ulcers and other respiratory symptoms such as fever and sneezing.
- Panleukopenia (P): The panleukopenia (also known as feline distemper) vaccine, safeguards kittens against this severe and often fatal disease.
Vaccination helps prevent the spread of these highly contagious viruses, reduces the severity of symptoms, and can potentially save your kitten’s life.
In the United States, rabies is also a core vaccine for cats. This deadly disease affects the nervous system and can be transmitted through bites from infected animals. It is also zoonotic, which means it can spread to humans. To protect public health, vaccination against rabies is mandatory by law in most states. The first rabies vaccine usually lasts for one year, but the duration of booster vaccines may differ based on location and the vaccine used. Boosters can provide protection for cats for 1, 2, or even 3 years.
Non-core vaccines for kittens
These are optional vaccinations that may be recommended for your kitten based on their lifestyle and potential exposure risks. Common non-core vaccines for kittens include:
- Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV): This is a viral infection that weakens the immune system and can lead to various health issues. If your kitten is at risk of exposure to other cats in outdoor or multi-cat environments, your veterinarian may recommend this vaccine.
- Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV): This viral infection weakens the immune system in cats, and is similar to HIV in humans. It is primarily transmitted through bite wounds from infected cats. Similar to FeLV, the FIV vaccine may be recommended if your kitten is at risk of exposure.
- Chlamydia felis: This is a bacterial infection that can cause respiratory and eye-related symptoms in cats. Vaccination may be recommended in specific situations, such as in breeding catteries or shelters where the infection is common.
- Bordetella bronchiseptica: This bacterial infection is known to cause respiratory infections in cats. Vaccination may be recommended in multi-cat environments or when there is risk of exposure to other cats with respiratory infections.
The cost of kitten shots can vary based on location, veterinary clinic, and the vaccines your veterinarian uses. Generally, the core vaccinations for kittens, which include feline herpesvirus, calicivirus, panleukopenia, and rabies, can range from US$50 to $100 per vaccine dose. Typically, a series of multiple doses is required for each vaccine to ensure adequate immunity.
Non-core vaccinations including FeLV and FIV may incur additional costs, depending on the specific risks and recommendations for your kitten.
While kitten vaccinations are generally safe and well-tolerated, there can be some potential side effects. These side effects are usually mild and resolve on their own within a few days. The most common side effects include:
- Injection site soreness is a common side effect of vaccinations in kittens. Your kitten may experience mild discomfort or soreness at the spot where the vaccine was administered. It is also normal for a small bump to form at the injection site.
- Some kittens may experience mild fever or lethargy. It is not uncommon for their body temperature to increase slightly, and they may sleep more than usual.
- A decreased appetite is also common in kittens following vaccinations. It is temporary and typically lasts for a day or two. To help stimulate their appetite, offer small, enticing meals.
In rare cases, kittens may have an allergic reaction to a vaccine. Signs of an allergic reaction can include vomiting, difficulty breathing, facial swelling or hives. If you notice any of these symptoms, seek immediate veterinary attention.
Your veterinarian plays a crucial role in determining which shots your kitten needs to protect them against common diseases. If your kitten has a history of adverse reactions to vaccines, talk to your veterinarian first so they can tailor your kitten’s vaccination schedule to prioritise their safety and wellbeing.