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A Primer on Kitten Vaccinations

Vaccinations can be a contentious subject in the cat community. Immunizations have been developed for almost a dozen illnesses that affect cats, and there's a lot of debate on just how many of these vaccinations are really important for your cat's health.

Some vets think cats should get every shot that's out there, and a small but vocal community of cat lovers insist that vaccinations are unnecessary and perhaps even dangerous for cats. The wisest course of action is to follow a middle ground, which is best described by the American Association of Feline Practitioners vaccination guidelines.

The AAFP's guidelines divide vaccinations into three categories: core, non-core, and not recommended. Core vaccines are those that protect against diseases that are a threat to public health and for which there is a widespread risk. Non-core vaccines are typically recommended only for cats in a high-risk environment. Vaccines classified as Not Generally Recommended are in this category because there is insufficient evidence that they prevent disease. Below are the three vaccinations that your kitten must have (please note that these guidelines are for the United States; vaccination requirements and recommendations vary from country to country):

  • Rabies: Rabies is an incurable illness transmitted by the bites of infected animals. Because humans can get rabies if bitten by a rabid animal, the rabies vaccination is required by law in virtually every state. Your kitten should have his first rabies shot between the ages of 8 and 12 weeks and a booster one year later. After that, he will need a rabies vaccination every three years (unless annual vaccination is required in your area).

  • Feline Panleukopenia-Herpesvirus-Calcivirus: These respiratory viruses are endemic – occurring almost everywhere – in the feline population. These vaccinations can be administered individually but they are most often combined in one vaccination referred to as FVRCP or HCP. Your kitten should get a booster vaccination every three to four weeks until he's 16 weeks old, and then one year after the final booster. After that, your cat can get FVRCP shots every three years.

  • Feline Leukemia: Although the leukemia shot is considered non-core, the AAFP recommends that all kittens get vaccinated against feline leukemia. The leukemia shot for kittens is administered as two doses, three to four weeks apart. If your kitten goes outdoors, your vet will recommend an annual vaccination against leukemia. However, if you keep him indoors only, you won't need to get this vaccination.

For more information about the American Association of Feline Practitioners' vaccination guidelines, visit their website.

Advice from Other Cat Owners 

Some Indoor Cats Need Rabies Shots

Depending on where you live, rabies vaccinations may be very important for an indoor cat. Your cat's most likely exposure to rabies in some areas of the U.S. is from bats, which not uncommonly enter houses. Don't take the risk.

~Cari H., owner of a Tabby

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