Are cat vaccines necessary?

Yes. Certain cat vaccines are necessary, or what we would call core vaccines, which means we recommend them in all cats. That's going to include the rabies vaccine and the core viral vaccine called FVRCP; some people call it feline distemper. And then, other vaccines might be necessary based on the lifestyle of your cat, particularly the feline leukemia vaccine. The FIV vaccine is very controversial. We do not recommend it because once your cat has the FIV or feline AIDS vaccine, they will show up positive on the test pretty much for the rest of their life. The vaccine also has debatable efficacy or ability to protect against the virus. Most vets, including ourselves, do not recommend the FIV vaccine.

Dr. Shawn McCorkle
Summer Creek Animal Clinic

What is the different vaccine schedule for kittens, adult cats, and senior cats?

Kittens, in particular, have a standard schedule of vaccines that are recommended based on the most current research that's available—including the core viral vaccine called the FVRCP, which is feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia. That vaccine is recommended every three to four weeks, starting somewhere between six and eight weeks of age. And then the last vaccine is very vital in that it's given after 16 weeks of age, and that's because, at that age, we can be more confident that their immune system is going to respond adequately to provide the full year of immunity that we want from that vaccine. That's the FVRCP schedule.

We give the rabies vaccine, which is the only one required by law and is required in the state of Texas, between 12 and 16 weeks of age. We typically do that at the second or third kitten visit. And then, we recommend that all kittens receive a feline leukemia vaccine to provide a baseline of immunity, and they get two of those separated by three to four weeks. As an adult, the vaccines, the FVRCP, and the rabies are continued because those are the core vaccines recommended in every cat. In Texas, rabies can be given every year or every three years. Here in Tarrant County, we give it every three years after the initial one-year vaccine but check with your county for the rabies vaccination laws.

We typically give the other core vaccine, the FVRCP, as a three-year vaccine because the data shows that it's effective for at least that long in an adult cat, so we want to vaccinate only as often as necessary to provide the immunity and no more than that. We do the FVRCP every three years as well. And then, the leukemia vaccine is one in which we look at the lifestyle. If your cat has outdoor access, potential exposure to other cats, or if you are exposed to a lot of rescue cats or something, then we recommend the leukemia vaccine. But if your cat is strictly indoors, with no exposure to other cats, then we do not continue the leukemia vaccine at that time.

Are there any risks or side effects associated with cat vaccines?

There's always going to be some inherent risk. Fortunately, nowadays, the vaccines are going to be minimal risk. The most common thing you'll see is a bit of lethargy for the rest of the day after the vaccines, but it's usually pretty minimal. Sometimes your cat might have a decreased appetite or soreness over the site where the vaccine was given, but most of the time, these things are very minimal. The more rare side effects are vomiting, diarrhea, severe lethargy, hives, swelling of the face, and, while they aren't very common, they require immediate evaluation. The most discussed vaccine reaction in the cat is called the feline injection site-associated sarcoma. Fortunately, that is extremely rare. Some studies show it's as rare as 0.0001% of the time, but that is always a possibility that's important to consider, which is why we only want to vaccinate as often as we need to keep their immunity up, and no more than that.

If my cat is going to live strictly indoors, do they still need to be vaccinated?

As I said previously, the core vaccines are vital regardless of your cat's lifestyle. Rabies is required by law regardless. Because the FVRCP viruses have been so devastating to cat populations, they are crucial vaccines from a herd immunity perspective. This means that these vaccines ensure that as many cats as possible have a robust immunity to those viruses and have demonstrated over time that it's significantly reduced the incidence of those viruses. We recommend those in every cat, regardless of lifestyle. And then again, leukemia, as we already discussed, is strictly based on lifestyle in an adult cat.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (817) 523-1139, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Cat Vaccination FAQs

Dr. Shawn McCorkle
Summer Creek Animal Clinic

Once my cat is vaccinated, will they need booster shots?

If your cat has never had vaccines before, most of the vaccines require a booster. The one notable distinction is the rabies vaccine, which does not need a booster right after. In Tarrant County, Texas, the law states the first vaccine given for rabies has to be one year. After that, it can be every three years if we have a documented record of a one-year rabies vaccine. So that's how rabies works. The initial FVRCP vaccine—which is the other core viral vaccine in cats—is typically boostered a month later. As an adult cat, it's been shown that the FVRCP vaccine produces a robust immune response. With cats with a history of at least a vaccine previously with FVRCP as an adult cat, we give that vaccine every three years. The non-core leukemia vaccine, which is given based on the cat's lifestyle, has to be boostered a month after the initial vaccine and then annually after that.

What should I do if I miss my cat's vaccine due date?

Stuff happens, and sometimes the vaccine dates are off. The best thing to do is get in as quickly as possible so that the veterinarian can discuss lifestyle with you and make the appropriate recommendations on which vaccines need to be continued and how often. If you've missed the initial booster series—for example, if a leukemia vaccine was given, and then you miss the booster a month later, if it's beyond six weeks from the initial vaccine, it does have to be started over. And so you have to do the initial series of two vaccines a month apart. The immune system must get that initial boost to provide the full immunity that we want.

If my cat is vaccinated, is it safe to be around other animals that are not vaccinated?

That's a great question. With core vaccines like rabies and the FVRCP, if your cat is vaccinated, the protection there will be excellent. So the answer to that is yes. The leukemia vaccine is also highly effective, but ideally, the information you would need would be the other cat's status. If you have another cat that you're bringing into the house, they must have a leukemia and feline AIDS test done before understand if they are positive because that will potentially put your cat at risk. With that said, the leukemia vaccine is very effective, so most of the time, we are pretty comfortable with that. Still, it's vital to understand the status so that you can help control environmental exposure.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (817) 523-1139, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.