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Kitten vaccinations

When they're first born, kittens need extra support to protect their vulnerable immune systems from infections and disease. Read on to find out more about what vaccinations they'll need to get them started.
Kitten cat lying down on an examination table being given an injection.

What shots do kittens need?

Vaccinating your kitten helps protect their health, making it vital that they start the right age-based vaccination program.

There are several vaccines available, and in general terms they can be split into two categories:

  • Core vaccines
  • Non-essential vaccines

Core vaccines are recommended for all kittens and cats regardless of their lifestyle, while non-core vaccinations will be recommended by your veterinarian depending on the risk of exposure to the specific disease or virus for your cat.

Core vaccinations 


According to recommendations by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), the core vaccinations that all cats should receive are:

  • Feline distemper (Panleukopenia or FPV): an often-fatal viral infection causing diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Feline calicivirus (FCV): A very contagious virus, FCV is also one of the major causes of Upper Respiratory Infections (URIs or Cat Flu). Cat flu can cause sneezing, conjunctivitis and fever.
  • Feline herpesvirus type I (Rhinotracheitis or FHV-1): Another primary cause of cat flu, once infected almost all cats carry the disease their whole life and can be contagious in later life, years after recovery.
  • Rabies: A fatal disease if left unvaccinated, cats are most commonly infected by the bites or saliva of other infected cats or wildlife such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats.

Your veterinarian will most likely administer a 3-in-1 vaccine called the FVRCP vaccine which covers  FHV-1, FCV and FPV. The Rabies vaccine will be administered as a separate vaccination.

Your veterinarian will be able to assess your kitten's risk profile and the best age for vaccination. They will draw up a vaccination program specifically suited to your kitten and their needs.

Non-core vaccinations

As well as core vaccinations, there are non-core vaccinations. These vaccines can protect your cat if they have different lifestyle factors that put them at risk from other infections and diseases. Non-core vaccinations include:

  • Feline chlamydia: a bacterial infection most common in kittens and younger cats, it can cause conjunctivitis.
  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV): A very infectious disease commonly passed on through bites or bodily fluids from other cats, FeLV suppresses the immune system, leaving the infected cat highly vulnerable to other diseases. There is no cure and it is almost always fatal within a few years.
  • Bordetellosis: Often a relatively mild condition that clears up naturally, it causes issues with the respiratory system. It can, however, be fatal in vulnerable cats like kittens.

Making sure your kitten has the right vaccinations at the right age is one of the most important things you can do to protect their health.

What vaccines do indoor cats need?

Indoor cats should be vaccinated with all of the core vaccinations listed above. While you may feel like the risk of some diseases are drastically reduced when a cat lives indoors, the risk is still there. 

What vaccines do outdoor cats need?

As outdoor cats spend more time outdoors exposed to other animals and surfaces that may have been in contact with an infected animal, they are naturally more at risk of infection. As well as the core vaccinations, your veterinarian may recommend additional non-core vaccinations, such as the Feline leukemia virus vaccine, if they believe your cat is at an increased risk of infection.

When should my kitten have their first shots?

At birth, kittens are protected by the antibodies passed on by their mother through her first milk (colostrum). They face a critical period when the concentration of the antibodies received from the mother is no longer enough to protect against viruses but is still high enough to prevent effective vaccination. During this time, a kitten is most vulnerable to infection. 

According to the AAHA, the earliest recommended first dose of the core FVRCP vaccine should be given at 6-8 weeks old. The rabies vaccine is recommended after 8 weeks.

Kitten vaccination schedule 

Will they already have been vaccinated before they come home?

As the first vaccination is recommended at 6-8 weeks old your cat may have already been given their initial core vaccinations when you first bring them home. However, always make sure you insist on a record of this from the breeder or shelter and provide it to your veterinarian when discussing your kitten's vaccination program.

Will the veterinarian check for anything before vaccinating my kitten?

Your veterinarian will give your kitten a thorough health exam before vaccinating them to make sure they are in a good state of health. At this stage, it's important to let them know of any unusual behavior or symptoms—this could be anything from tiredness to occasional diarrhea.

When will my kitten be able to go outside?

Your kitten won't be protected until an amount of time after they've had their final vaccination —your veterinarian will be able to advise on a timescale. You should make sure you keep them indoors until then.

Will my kitten be required to have a booster vaccination?

Your kitten will receive their first FVRCP vaccine at 6-8 weeks old. Then, your veterinarian should vaccinate every 3-4 weeks until 16-20 weeks of age. From then on you'll follow a schedule of boosters for core and non-core vaccinations recommended by your veterinarian.

Will my kitten be required to have a booster vaccination?

Your cat will require revaccination over different time periods depending on the recommendations of your vet and the laws in your state. Your cat may be given boosters for the core FVRCP and Rabies vaccinations and non-core FeLV vaccination, for example, at intervals varying between 1 and 3 years depending on state regulations and your veterinarian's recommendations.

Kitten vaccination side effects

Like any vaccination, there are potential side effects but adverse reactions are very rare. If you notice any of the following side effects, your cat may be having an adverse reaction to the vaccine and you should contact your veterinarian:

  • Continued swelling around the injection site
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Hives
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite

Feline illnesses you can manage with vaccines and deworming

  • Feline distemper (Panleukopenia or FPV)
  • Feline calicivirus (FCV)
  • Feline herpesvirus type I (Rhinotracheitis or FHV-1)
  • Rabies
  • Feline chlamydia
  • Bordetellosis
  • Intestinal worms
  • Heartworm
  • Giardiasis—caused by protozoan parasites
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