Cat and Kitten Vaccinations

Overview

  • Vaccinating your cat protects them from a range of serious diseases.
  • If you live in the UK, you need to make sure your cat receives their core (essential) vaccinations for:
    • Cat Flu
    • Feline Parvovirus
    • Feline Leukaemia virus (essential if they go outside)
  • To be fully protected, your cat will need a primary course of injections, then regular boosters throughout their life.

What vaccinations does my cat need?

A graphic explaining that all cats (even house cats) need protection against feline parvovirus and cat flu while cats that go outside also need protection against Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV)

Cat vaccines can be divided into ‘core’ and ‘non-core’. ‘Core’ vaccinations are essential for all cats, and ‘non-core’ are only necessary for some cats.

Core (essential) vaccinations include:

Non-core vaccines include:

  • Rabies – necessary for cats that travel outside of the UK
  • Chlamydophila felis – a bacteria that causes eye infections and cat flu like symptoms. Vaccination against Chlamydophila is only usually needed if your cats have a pre-existing problem with it.

Vaccinations are especially important (and often compulsory) if you ever need to leave your cat in a cattery.

Vaccination schedule

A graphic depicting the vaccination schedule for cats and kittens

Kitten vaccinations/primary course

  • To begin with, your kitten will need two vaccinations three weeks apart.
  • These tend to be at 9 and 12 weeks old, and in some cases, a third injection may be necessary at 15 weeks.
  • Your kitten will be fully protected 3-4 weeks after their final injection, and will stay protected for a year (at which point they will need their first adult booster).
  • Unvaccinated adult cats, and cats that have missed a booster, also need a primary course.

Adult boosters

  • Your cat will need their first booster one year after their primary course, followed by a booster every 1-3 years from then on.
  • If your cat misses a booster, they may need to restart their vaccines again by completing a primary course of two injections.

Protecting an unvaccinated cat

Full immunity develops around 3-4 weeks after the final injection in a primary course of vaccinations, but until then you will need to keep your feline friend indoors and away from cats outside of your household. You’ll need to keep your cat entertained and stress-free during this time – especially if they have previously been used to going outside.

Cost of cat vaccinations

It’s not possible to say exactly how much your cat’s vaccination will cost because prices vary between each individual practice and each type of vaccine. If you call your vet practice, they will be able to tell you their prices.

Potential side effects

Vaccination side effects are rare and fortunately most cats don’t experience any at all. If your cat does experience any side effects, they are likely to be mild (high temperature, low energy, and a reduced appetite) and pass within 24-48 hours. Serious side effects are extremely rare, but if your cat does experience any, speak to your vet ASAP.

If your cat has previously had a vaccine reaction, mention it to your vet before their next jab. Your vet may decide to give them a different vaccine, or medication to help prevent the same thing happening again.

It’s important to remember that the risks of vaccination side effects are very small compared to the risk of being unvaccinated.

What to expect at a vaccine appointment

A photo of a cat receiving an injection
  • Your vet will give your cat a full health check to make sure they are okay to have a vaccination – and if they are concerned about anything they may delay the injection until they are better.
  • Your cat’s vaccine will be an injection under the skin. You might be asked to hold him/her still while the injection is given, but if you don’t feel comfortable doing so just let your vet know.
  • Vaccinations aren’t usually painful, but they can feel cold or sometimes sting a little, and every cat reacts slightly differently.
  • If you have any questions or concerns about your cat, the vaccination appointment is a good opportunity to discuss them, for example if you think they might be gaining weight, need a worming tablet, or you’re having trouble with dental care.

FAQ's

How do vaccines work? When your cat is vaccinated, a small amount of the disease (that’s been changed so it can’t cause illness), is injected into your cat. This teaches your cat’s immune system to defend itself against that particular disease, so if they are exposed to it for real they are much less likely to become poorly.

Why do indoor cats need vaccinations? If your cat lives exclusively indoors, they will still need to be vaccinated against cat flu and panleukopenia, but may not need the FeLV vaccine. This is because FeLV only usually spreads between cats in close and regular contact, but cat flu and panleukopaenia are very infectious and can spread on clothes, shoes, and other surfaces. If you have an indoor cat, discuss their vaccinations with your vet to find the best schedule for them.

What’s an FVRCP cat vaccine? This is the name of a particular vaccine – the letters ‘FVRCP’ stand for the diseases it protects against:

There are many different names, brands and types of vaccinations for cats. Talk to your vet for more information if you’re unsure which diseases your cat has been vaccinated against.

Can a vaccinated cat still catch cat flu? Although vaccinations provide excellent protection, none can guarantee 100% cover. So yes, theoretically, a vaccinated cat could still catch cat flu, but it is significantly less likely. In addition to this, if a vaccinated cat catches a disease they have been vaccinated against, they are likely to develop less symptoms and have a much quicker recovery.

My cat has already had flu, is there any point vaccinating? Yes, a cat flu vaccine can reduce the severity and frequency of cat flu ‘flare ups’ in the future.

Can my cat be vaccinated if they are poorly? It’s always safest to give a vaccination when your cat is as fit and healthy as possible. Contact your vet for advice if your cat is showing any signs of illness before their vaccination appointment.

What vaccines are required by law? There's no legal requirement to give your cat vaccines in the UK, but core vaccines are recommended for every cat to keep them safe and healthy. The exception to this is the rabies vaccine, which is a legal requirement if your cat is travelling in and out of the UK.

How long do cat vaccines last? The length of vaccination protection depends on the disease, the type of vaccine used and your cat’s immune system. As a general rule, FeLV vaccination protection lasts for about a year, and herpes, calici and panleukopenia last for around three years. However, this can last a little longer (often 2-3 months more) if you’ve kept your cat’s vaccines up to date throughout their lives. If you’re unsure whether your cat is still protected by their vaccines, speak to your vet to discuss their specific situation.

Can my cat have vaccinations if they’re on medications? Most medications won’t affect your cat’s vaccinations. However, some drugs such as steroids and certain anti-itch drugs, can affect vaccines, so it’s always best to discuss any medications your cat is on, before they are given their vaccine.

Are vaccines dangerous? All vaccines used by vets in the UK are licensed, meaning they have to go through rigorous safety checks before they are approved for use. These licenses are also constantly under review by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate to make sure they stay safe for your cat. As with any medication, there is always the possibility of side effects, but they are rare, and the benefits of protection from a vaccine far outweigh the risks.

Published: Dec 2021

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Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only.

Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst