What Shots Do Cats Need? Fuzzy Vets Talk Kitten Care

Posted by Dr. Jessica on

what shots do cats need kitten on couch

Vaccinations are a vital component of cat and kitten care. Because cats get their first shots when they’re just 6 to 8 weeks old, followed by second doses a few weeks to a month later, shots are an important part of raising a kitten.

Shots are basic kitten care 101, but vaccinations don’t stop because a cat grows up. Adult cats still need boosters and, sometimes, first-time shots, especially if their social habits change. 

Some vaccines are considered “core,” meaning that all cats need them regardless of whether they have close contact with any feline friends. Others are non-core or lifestyle vaccines. Cats usually only need those if they routinely socialize with feline friends outside of the house. 

So, what shots do cats need specifically, and why? Here are the answers to these important medical cat questions.

1. Rabies

Rabies is a fatal disease that spreads through the bite of an infected animal. Early symptoms include fever, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Later symptoms are more serious and include paralysis, seizures, difficulty breathing, and abnormal aggression. 

Cats can get rabies from wild animals or other cats, and they can pass the virus on to humans. For that reason, rabies vaccinations are required by law in most states.

A kitten might get their first dose of a rabies vaccine as young as 8 to 12 weeks old. They usually get a second dose a year later. After that, cats usually get rabies boosters every three years, unless local laws require otherwise.


Kittens get their first dose of the FVRCP vaccine when they’re very young. Some vaccine schedules start at 6 weeks old, but many vets prefer to wait until 8 weeks to avoid interactions with the natural antibodies that kittens get from their mothers.

After a kitten gets their first FVRCP shot, they’ll get additional shots every 3 to 4 weeks until they’re 16 weeks old. At 16 weeks, a kitten is ready for the “primary” vaccination. They’ll usually continue on with booster shots every 3 years.

The FVRCP shot is a combination of three separate vaccines, each of which protects a cat from a different contagious illness. 


Panleukopenia, also known as feline distemper or feline parvo, used to be a leading cause of death in cats. Now, thanks to an effective vaccine, it’s relatively uncommon and mostly affects very young kittens, unvaccinated cats, and cats who are already ill.

If a cat does develop panleukopenia, it can spread easily via bodily fluids. Symptoms are potentially devastating and include vomiting, severe diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite, and lethargy. 

There is no known treatment that can cure the panleukopenia virus. Fluids and other supports may help a cat to make it through, but vaccinating against the disease in the first place is the best defense.

Calcivirus and Viral Rhinotracheitis

It’s important to protect a cat against these common upper respiratory illnesses. Most adult cats have mild respiratory symptoms that fade after a few days, but some cats can have symptoms for weeks. Young kittens and older cats are particularly at risk of severe symptoms.

Also, even if symptoms do go away, the virus doesn’t. It becomes inactive in the body and can flare up again and again throughout the cat’s life.

3. Feline Leukemia

Feline leukemia is one of the most common feline contagious diseases out there. It affects multiple organ systems and causes serious symptoms like persistent fever, infection, diarrhea, and even seizures. 

Feline leukemia spreads through bodily fluids, such as when an infected cat bites or grooms another cat. It can also transfer from a mother cat to her kittens in utero or through nursing. There is no cure for feline leukemia and once a cat has it, the effects are lifelong. 

The feline leukemia vaccine is a non-core or lifestyle vaccine. Feline leukemia prevention is important for any cat whose close feline friends might be infected. That includes kittens and young cats under a year old, as well as adult cats who go outdoors, or live with cats who go outdoors.

Kittens get two doses of the feline leukemia vaccine three to four weeks apart, then a booster a year later. If they’ll be at high risk as an adult, they may continue to get annual boosters.

Learning More: Getting Cat Medical Advice 

Because different feline friends have different vaccine needs, it’s important to ask a vet for specific cat advice. Online vet chat is a great way to obtain this information.

Become a Fuzzy member today and get online vet help through 24/7 Live Vet Chat. At any hour of the day, a member of the Fuzzy vet team will be waiting to answer any feline health questions, from what shots a cat needs to what cat vitamins are best.

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