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 (FVRCP). These are all diseases that are ubiquitous in nature and frequently found in the general cat population. Calicivirus is one of the most common viral causes of feline upper respiratory infections. Protection against all three of these viruses is generally provided in a combination vaccine.
The vaccination schedule for FVRCP can begin as early as 6 weeks of age. Kittens are vaccinated once every three to four weeks until they reach 16 weeks of age or older. However, to avoid over-vaccination, most veterinarians will recommend starting the vaccine at 8 weeks of age, followed by boosters at 12 weeks and 16 weeks old.
Rabies is the other core kitten vaccination. Rabies is a fatal disease that can affect not only cats but also many other animals, including humans. Your kitten can receive a rabies vaccination as early as 12 weeks of age, but this depends on state laws and the veterinarian.
Non-Core Kitten Vaccinations
Non-core kitten vaccinations include feline leukemia (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), Chlamydophila felis, and feline Giardia vaccines.
The FeLV vaccine is recommended by some veterinarians for all kittens, while others recommend the vaccine only for those kittens at risk of disease. The decision should be based on your pet’s lifestyle and a discussion with your vet. 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 8 to 12 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 percent effective. Vaccination can begin at 8 weeks of age and should be boostered at two- to three-week intervals for a total of three initial vaccines.
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 9 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. These vaccines are still being tested and are not widely used in the veterinary community.