Bringing a kitten into your home is exciting and fun, but also added responsibility.
Besides buying the essentials like food, a litter box, and toys, your kitten will need a series of shots or vaccinations to prevent harmful and potentially fatal diseases.
But what vaccinations does your kitten need?
Questions about vaccinations with kittens are pretty common, so keep reading to find out what shots the veterinarian recommends for your precious kitten during their first few months of life.
What Shots Should Kittens Receive?
Your veterinarian will do an exam and assess your young cat’s lifestyle, helping you decide which vaccinations are best for them. However, all kittens should receive a set of core vaccinations. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recommends that all cats should receive vaccinations for:
Rhinotracheitis, panleukopenia, and calicivirus are given as a multivalent vaccine (more easily known as a combo vaccine) called FVRCP.
Optional vaccinations include:
5. Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
Vaccinations for kennel cough and feline chlamydia can be given as well, but these are much less common and the average veterinary clinic won’t have them available.
How Often Should Your Kitten Be Getting Shots?
Kittens should receive an FVRCP vaccine every 3-4 weeks, starting not earlier than 7 weeks of age until they are 16 weeks old. Rabies will be given at the final set of vaccinations.
There is a good reason why their vaccine schedule needs to stick to what is recommended and that is because of maternal antibodies. Any vaccinations done before 6 weeks of age will not be effective because their mother’s protective antibodies will interfere with the vaccines.
These antibodies only stay in the system for a few weeks, which is why it is recommended to start vaccinating between 7 and 8 weeks of age.
Your Kittens Vaccination Schedule at a Glance
What are Kitten Vaccines Protecting Them Against?
Kitten vaccines are protecting them against several infectious and life-threatening diseases. It’s important to be well-informed and understand what your veterinarian is recommending and why. Here is a breakdown of what the core and non-core feline vaccines are protecting our cats from.
Feline Rhinotracheitis (FVR)
Also known as the feline herpes virus, rhinotracheitis is a highly contagious and infectious disease caused by feline herpes virus type 1. This particular illness is very species-specific and is only known to affect wild and domesticated felines.
Cats with FVR will often suffer from frequent upper respiratory infections and eye discharge or conjunctivitis. Even if they are vaccinated against this disease, they are still likely to have flare-ups of sneezing and eye discharge when stressed or immunocompromised.
Panleukopenia is caused by a viral strain of the parvovirus. While parvo doesn’t usually affect cats, this is the closest thing they have to it. Cats with panleukopenia will suffer from a decreased number of white blood cells within the body. This makes them prone to recurring infections.
Symptoms of feline panleukopenia are vomiting and persistent diarrhea, dull hair coat, dehydration, discharge from the eyes or nose, and frequent infections.
Treating panleukopenia can be difficult, but as long as the cat received quick and supportive veterinary care along with IV fluids, then they should make a full recovery.
The feline calicivirus is one of the most common infectious agents isolated in cats with chronic respiratory infections and oral diseases. It not only will affect wild and domestic cats but it can also be seen in large and exotic cat species.
Symptoms of the calicivirus include sneezing, nasal congestion, eye infections (conjunctivitis), and green or yellow discharge from the nose and eyes. Some of the more severe clinical signs are painful sores on the tongue, gums, lips, hard palate, and nose. Some less common signs are lethargy and lameness.
The best way to treat calicivirus is with supportive care. Treating secondary infections, like conjunctivitis, may be necessary. However, this is a viral infection and most oral antibiotics will not completely treat the symptoms.
Rabies is extremely deadly and almost every pet owner is aware of its risks. That’s why nearly every state of the US and several countries around the world have very strict rabies laws.
In the US, 48 out of 50 states legally require the rabies vaccine, even if the owner just doesn’t want to do it. They can incur a hefty fine if their pet is picked up by Animal Control without a current rabies vaccine.
Symptoms of rabies include headache, anxiety, change in behavior and temperament, excessive drooling, paralysis, and death. There is no cure for rabies. If a human was bitten by an animal suspected of rabies, they will undergo an intense series of inoculations.
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)
The leukemia virus is the leading cause of virus-associated deaths in cats. It is easily spread in many ways, like through casual contact, bites, nasal secretion, urine, feces, and the milk of infected mothers.
Infected cats will often be anemic and have a suppressed immune system or eventually develop cancer. Over 50% of cats that are diagnosed with feline leukemia will pass away from the disease within less than 3 years.
While the leukemia virus vaccine is considered “non-core” it is still something that all kittens benefit from receiving. Even if they don’t go outside and are at low risk of contracting leukemia, it is such a debilitating and life-threatening disease. It is worth just having it done every year.
Are Shots Safe for My Kitten?
Vaccinations are extremely safe and beneficial for all young pets, especially kittens. With their vulnerable, young immune systems, they are susceptible to several infectious diseases and illnesses. Vaccinating kittens plays a critical role in protecting them from preventable conditions.
Injection-Site Sarcomas in Cats
In very rare cases, cats can develop what is called “injection-site sarcomas” over the location where they received a vaccination. These tumors are often cancerous and should be removed right away.
There is no real scientific evidence that points to why it happens, but it is speculated that the inflammatory process that arises after an infection leads to the formation of sarcomas.
Are There Any Risks with Giving My Kitten Shots?
There is always an inherent risk with any kind of medical intervention such as vaccinations. Most cats will be completely fine and in some cases, they may act lethargic or painful.
In mild cases of a vaccine reaction, your cat may show symptoms of lethargy, decreased appetite, fever, facial swelling, or even swelling over the injection site.
More severe cases are scarier and cats can have vomiting, weakness, diarrhea, pale gums, and even collapse. These reactions happen in less than 1 cat out of every 10,000 that are vaccinated.
Please inform your veterinarian of any adverse side effects or reactions with your kitten after vaccinations. Many responsible vets and vaccine companies want reports of reactions for their data and future improvements.
How Do Vaccines Work?
This is an excellent question and really helps to know what your veterinarian is recommending and why. Let’s clear up any confusion about how vaccines work in our pets.
Vaccines include small amounts of microorganisms that resemble an infectious agent without actually being infectious. This causes the immune system to attack these microorganisms and destroy them, preparing them for the real thing in the future.
It is often described as “training” the immune system. Once your kitten has received all the necessary vaccines, their body is theoretically “trained” with protective antibodies and they will get to work on recognizing and destroying any unwanted pathogens associated with one of those viruses.
Conclusion: Keeping Your Spunky Kitten Safe with Vaccinations
While it is completely normal to be worried about getting your fluffy feline their shots, just remember that you are providing them with a strengthened and healthier immune system for a lifetime. That means that your ball of fun, fur, and claws will stay happy and healthier for many years to come.