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Cat Vaccinations: What Vaccines Do Adult Cats Need?

By Dr. Jacqueline Brister

vet tech in purple scrubs examining an orange cat

Cat vaccinations, or shots for cats, are an important way to keep your cat healthy. As a kitten, they were likely given several rounds of vaccinations over a short period of time (i.e., a vaccine or booster series). As an adult cat, your pet’s vaccination or shot schedule is not quite as frequent, but still very important.

What are Vaccines?

Vaccines are substances created to prime or stimulate your cat’s immune system to help prevent or fight off certain types of infections. Over time, this stimulation decreases and the immune system cannot protect itself from the diseases any longer. Once this occurs, your cat is not “up to date” on their vaccinations and need to be re-vaccinated, also known as boostering.

What Vaccines do Cats Need?

Depending on the cat’s environment, some vaccines are more necessary than others. Vaccines that should be given to every cat regardless of circumstance are known as core vaccines. An example of a core vaccine is the rabies vaccine. Every cat needs to be kept up to date on their rabies vaccination regardless of whether rabies is common in the cat’s environment.

Non-core vaccines may only be necessary in environments or situations in which the disease commonly occurs. An example of this would be the Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccine. Unless your cat is at a high risk for exposure, such as staying at a large pet boarding facility, you may not need to vaccinate them for this disease.

Common Diseases Feline Adult Vaccines Fight

  • Rabies Virus (Core): Contagious virus capable of infecting all mammals, including humans. Rabies virus can cause brain/nerve disease and is fatal. Vaccination delivers great protection from the disease and lasts for 1-3 years in the cat’s immune system. Frequency of vaccine administration depends on state and local regulations, but it should be boostered 1 year from the kitten vaccine series.
  • Feline Panleukopenia Virus/Feline Parvo (Core): Contagious virus that causes gastrointestinal disease. Can be fatal. The vaccine generally provides excellent protection from the disease. The vaccine can last for up to 3 years after an initial vaccination series, given 2-4 weeks apart, and a booster given 1 year later.
  • Feline Herpesvirus/Herpes (Core): Contagious virus that causes respiratory, mouth, and eye disease. While not typically fatal, symptoms often recur intermittently. Vaccination delivers good protection from the disease and will help minimize the cat’s symptoms if they contract the disease. The vaccine can last for up to 3 years after an initial vaccination series, given 2-4 weeks apart, and a booster given 1 year later.
  • Feline Calicivirus (Core): Contagious virus which causes respiratory, oral, and eye disease. Vaccination delivers good protection from the disease and will help minimize the cat’s symptoms if they contract the disease. The vaccine can last for up to 3 years after an initial vaccination series, given 2-4 weeks apart, and a booster given 1 year later.
  • Bordetella Bronchiseptica/Kennel Cough (Non-core): Contagious bacteria that can cause lengthy respiratory disease and symptoms. Vaccination delivers good protection from the disease and will help minimize the cat’s symptoms if they contract the disease. The vaccine lasts for 1 year after an initial vaccination series is given 2-4 weeks apart. Vaccinating for this disease may not be necessary if your cat is not going to be boarded or in close confinement with other pets.
  • Chlamydophila Felis/Chlamydia (Non-core): Contagious bacteria that can cause intermittent and prolonged respiratory and eye disease. Vaccination delivers good protection from the disease and will help minimize the cat’s symptoms if they contract the disease. The vaccine lasts for about 1 year after an initial vaccination series is given 2-4 weeks apart. Vaccinating for this disease may not be necessary if your cat is not going to be boarded or in close confinement with other cats.
  • Feline Leukemia Virus/FeLV (Core*): Contagious virus that can cause immune system suppression, frequent illnesses, and cancer. Vaccination delivers good protection from the disease and will help minimize the cat’s symptoms if they contract the disease. The vaccine lasts for 1 year after an initial vaccination series is given 2-4 weeks apart. *Considered a core vaccine for FeLV negative cats (i.e., those cats that test negative for the virus) that go outdoors or live with/are exposed to FeLV positive cats.

Keeping your cat up to date on their vaccinations is a great way to ensure your pet remains healthy. Contact your veterinarian if you have questions about core versus non-core vaccines. Your vet will be familiar with the environments or situations your cat may encounter and can help you determine which vaccines are most needed.

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