Vaccinating Your Kitten

What is the Kitten Vaccination Schedule?

All kittens need vaccinations to help keep them healthy. Vaccinations, by definition, protect your kitten from contracting specific diseases. Cat vaccinations are divided into two types:

  • Core cat vaccinations are those that protect against especially common and/or particularly dangerous diseases and are recommended for all kittens and adult cats.
  • Non-core vaccinations are not necessarily recommended for all cats. Instead, these vaccines are recommended only for those cats that are at high risk of infection. In the case of non-core vaccinations, your cat’s lifestyle must be evaluated to determine the risk of disease and whether the risk associated with vaccination is greater than the risk of your cat getting the disease.

Core Kitten Vaccinations

All kittens should receive a vaccination that protects against feline rhinotracheitis, feline calicivirus, and feline panleukopenia. These are all diseases that are ubiquitous in nature and frequently found in the general cat population. Over 3/4 of all upper respiratory infections are caused by feline rhinotracheitis or feline calicivirus. Protection against all three of these viruses is generally provided in a combination vaccine.

The vaccination schedule for feline rhinotracheitis, feline calicivirus, and feline panleukopenia can begin as early as six weeks of age. Kittens are vaccinated once every three to four weeks until they reach 16 weeks of age or older. Rabies is the other core kitten vaccination. Rabies is a fatal disease that can affect not only cats but many other animals, including humans. Your kitten can receive a rabies vaccination as early as eight or twelve weeks of age, depending on the rabies vaccination being administered. Some rabies vaccines can be administered at eight weeks of age; others cannot be given until twelve weeks.

Non-Core Kitten Vaccinations

Non-core kitten vaccinations include the feline leukemia (FeLV) vaccine, the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) vaccine, the feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) vaccine, the Chlamydophila felis vaccine, the Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccine, and the feline Giardia vaccine.

The FeLV vaccine is recommended by some veterinarians for all kittens. Others recommend the vaccine only for those kittens at risk of disease. Feline leukemia is a viral disease that can be transferred to kittens from their mother, or through close contact with other infected cats. Kittens should be tested for FeLV prior to vaccination. Vaccination can begin at eight to twelve weeks of age and requires a booster vaccine repeated three to four weeks later.

FIV vaccination is reserved for cats at high risk for disease. FIV is a viral disease that is most often spread from cat to cat via bite wounds. Vaccination for FIV produces a positive FIV test which is indistinguishable from infection. Cats being vaccinated should receive a FIV test prior to vaccination. The vaccine is not 100% effective. Vaccination can begin at eight weeks of age and should be boostered at two to three week intervals for a total of three initial vaccines.

The Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccine (sometimes also referred to as a kennel cough vaccine) is reserved for cases where your cat is likely to be at risk for infection and is not widely used. When necessary, one dose is given at eight weeks of age or older.

The Chlamydophila felis vaccine is only used in multi-cat environments where the infection is known to exist. Chlamydophila felis causes conjunctivitis and respiratory problems in infected cats. The vaccine can be administered at nine weeks of age or older, when needed, and should be boostered three to four weeks later.

The FIP and Giardia vaccines are generally not recommended because of questionable efficacy and safety concerns.

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