The goal of vaccinating your adult cat is to prevent as many diseases as possible.
What vaccines are even available for your adult cat?
There are lots of vaccines available, but not all cats need to be vaccinated for all diseases all the time. There are two general groupings of vaccinations;
- Those against so called “core” diseases
- Those against “non-core” diseases
According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), the core vaccines (those that are recommended for ALL cats) are feline panleukopenia virus (FPV), feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1), and feline calicivirus (FCV) as well as Rabies.
There are a number of non-core feline vaccines available, but most are not widely recommended. The non-core vaccines that are most often recommended include feline leukemia virus (FeLV), and in some cases feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)1.
How do you know which non-core vaccines are appropriate for your cat?
Vaccines recommended may vary; your cat’s age and general health need to be considered.
You need to talk to your veterinarian. He knows you and your cat. That makes your veterinarian the best source of individualized advice on this subject. The two of you will need to determine the likelihood of your cat being exposed to the non-core illness listed above and weigh those risks against any side effects associated with the vaccines themselves. Your discussion should include a number of topics, but probably the most important is whether your cat is truly an “indoor cat” or spends any time out of doors, where other cats are a concern.
Once is not enough for vaccinations
Whatever vaccinations you decide on with your veterinarian, revaccination is needed from time to time to keep your cat’s immunity high. Different vaccines (even different versions of one type of vaccine) require different re-vaccination/booster schedules. Your cat’s health and lifestyle will change over time. That means that at every annual exam appointment with your veterinarian, you should revisit your cat’s risk assessment and tailor ongoing vaccination recommendations accordingly. This will assure you that your cat remains appropriately vaccinated throughout life.
Do vaccinations have risks?
As with any medical procedure there are some risks associated with vaccines. Those risks range from minor to extremely serious and have the potential to include side-effects like:
- Regional lymphadenomegaly
- Behavioral changes
- Hair loss or color change at the injection site
- Respiratory disease
Allergic (hypersensitivity) and immune-mediated reactions may include:
- Failure to immunize fully
- Tumorigenesis (vaccine-associated sarcoma or other tumors)
- Multisystemic infectious/inflammatory disorder of young
- Vaccine-induced immunosuppression
- Reactions caused by the incorrect or inappropriate administration of vaccines
This list should not scare you away from vaccines, but I encourage you to discuss these risks with your veterinarian.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
- "2013 AAFP Feline Vaccination Advisory Panel Report." Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 15 (2013): 785-808. Jfm.sagepub.com. Web. 09 Mar. 2015.
More about vaccinating your cat
Kittens are old enough to be vaccinated once they are 8-9 weeks old. They will have an initial injection, and then a second about 3 weeks later, as well as a thorough health check, and discussion about all aspects of kitten-care, including neutering, flea and worm protection, diet and behaviour. This is known as the ‘primary course’. Kittens should then have an annual vaccination appointment each year, throughout their lives, in order keep their immunity topped up and maintain protection.
For adult cats, if you are not sure if your cat has had vaccinations previously, or if you know that they have not had a vaccination appointment within the last 12 months, your cat will need to restart their vaccinations with a primary course, just as if they were a kitten. Adult cats can start the primary course at any time, but if you know your cat is currently not protected by vaccination, the course should be started as soon as possible.
Although your cat will need a vaccination appointment every year, not all the vaccines will be given at every appointment. This is because different vaccines last for different amounts of time, and the need for some vaccinations may be lifestyle dependant. Your vet will be able to advise on the best schedule for your cat.
A vaccination appointment is much more than a quick injection for your cat – it is you and your vet’s chance to really see how your cat or kitten has been doing. Your cat will be weighed, and have a thorough medical exam. Your vet will probably ask you lots of questions about how your pet has been behaving, about any changes, and about specific topics such as their eating and drinking habits. Your vet is trained to spot subtle changes, helping any developing issues be managed as soon as possible. Your vet will also listen to any concerns you may have, and help you manage these.
The medical exam also allows the vet to check if there are any visible reasons to delay vaccination, for example if your cat is already fighting an active infection.
As well as the thorough exam, your vet will administer the vaccinations. The exact vaccine will differ year on year depending on the vaccine schedule, but all cats require vaccination against at least one disease annually. Vaccines are combined into a single injection, so your cat only has to have one needle. This is given under the skin at the back of the neck, and is well tolerated by the vast majority of cats.
Chlamydophila vaccination is not a part of the standard vaccination protocol, but can be offered in high risk situations. Chlamydophila is a bacteria, and infection is usually seen as a conjunctivitis (inflammation of the delicate tissues around the eye). Infection is passed directly from cat-to-cat – this virus is very fragile and cannot survive in the environment. Chlamydophila infection can persist for several weeks and be unpleasant, but infection can be treated with antibiotics. Vaccination is usually only given to high-risk cats in group situations, and while providing protection against severe clinical disease, does not fully eliminate the risk of infection.
Feline Herpesvirus (FHV) and Feline Calici virus (FCV): Both feline herpesvirus and feline calici virus are contagious and are usually transmitted by direct or close contact between cats, such as in sneezed droplets or discharge from the eyes they may also survive for periods in the environment and so could be transmitted via shared food bowls and litter trays, bedding or grooming aids.
Cat flu signs include sneezing, nasal and eye discharge, conjunctivitis, and mouth ulcers. Clinical signs vary from mild to extremely severe, and occasionally other complications may develop such as pneumonia. Feline herpesvirus is much like cold sores in people even after the initial signs subside, most cats will remain permanently infected and some will develop flare ups later on especially when their immune system is low.
- Treatment for cat flu is based around supportive care – antibiotics do not work against viruses, so the disease must run its course. Cats may however receive antibiotics as part of their supportive care during an attack of cat flu, if appropriate, as this will help prevent or treat secondary bacteria. Affected cats may require other supportive treatment as well such as anti-inflammatories, a drip, steam inhalation and nutritional support, depending on the severity of the infection.
In addition to cat flu, FHV can cause skin and eye problems (keratitis) and FCV can cause painful joints and chronic gingivitis and stomatitis (inflammation of the inside of the mouth). For these signs other treatments might be recommended such as antiviral medication or pain relief.
Both of these viruses are extremely common in our cat population and the disease can be severe which is why vaccination is considered important for all cats. Although vaccination does not always prevent infection with these viruses, it will help greatly in reducing the severity of disease.
Feline Parvovirus, Panleukopenia virus: This is a highly contagious disease, which can be spread through bodily fluids, faeces and fleas as well as contaminated items such as food bowls, bedding, floors and contact by hands. Unfortunately this virus is able to survive for up to several years in the environment, and is resistant to many disinfectants. It is therefore the biggest disease threat to any rescue facility, and infection carries a very high mortality rate, particularly in unvaccinated kittens.
Cats suffering from feline infectious enteritis will experience sudden vomiting and diarrhoea, which is often bloody. Pregnant cats with the virus can pass it onto their unborn kittens which can affect their brain development and cause mobility problems once born.
Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment, and despite supportive treatments cats will often suffer from severe dehydration and massive secondary infections which result in a poor outcome. Highly effective vaccines are available, however, and all cats and kittens should be vaccinated as this virus is much better prevented than treated.
Thankfully rabies is not present in the UK, but if you want to take your cat abroad and bring them back into the country, or if you want to adopt a cat from overseas, they will need to be vaccinated against rabies for their pet passport. There are several other requirements for overseas travel, which differ depending on where you are travelling to. Speaking to your vet before you travel and getting all your documentation in place is critical for a smooth and stress-free journey for you and your pet.
This virus attacks the immune system and leaves cats more susceptible to infection and illness, as well as being prone to developing certain cancers. The disease can be transmitted from other infected cats by mutual grooming, sharing food and water, bites from infected cats or may be passed on from a queen to her kittens.
During early stages of the disease, cats may not show any signs of illness but as the disease progresses you may notice weight loss, lethargy and other poor health including pale gums, poor coat, fever, diarrhoea and recurrent respiratory tract infections. Infected cats will progressively deteriorate over time.
Sadly there is no specific treatment for this virus. Secondary infections are common due to the destructive nature of the disease on the immune system so treatment will be focused on relieving the cat from pain and discomfort, but their survival rate is much shorter compared to uninfected cats. Any cat that tests positive for FeLV should be isolated from other cats and kept indoors to prevent transmission.
As this disease is only passed via bodily fluids, indoor cats may not require a vaccination against feline leukaemia. Your vet will discuss the risk to your cat with you, but you may choose to give your cat full cover anyway, to protect them if they do accidentally get outside, or if they are exposed to other cats in environments such as a cattery.
When left untreated, parasites can become life-threatening to your pet. We carry a full line of parasite prevention products to protect your pet from the following common parasites:
Fleas are external parasites that consume the blood of mammals and birds.
Ticks feed on the blood of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.
Ear mites are arachnids that live in the ear canals of cats and dogs.
Heartworm is a parasitic roundworm which spreads through mosquito bites.
These blood-feeding, parasitic roundworms live in the digestive system.
Roundworms live in the intestine and feed off of partially digested food.
Tapeworms are flat, segmented parasitic worms that live in the intestines.
Whipworm is common in dogs, and gets its name from its whip-like appearance.
Vaccination Guidelines for Dogs and Cats
How we can help
Call 530-752-1393 to schedule an appointment with the Internal Medicine Service .
The UC Davis veterinary hospital vaccination guidelines below have been based on published studies and recommendations made by task forces. These include the AAFP/AFM Advisory Panel on Feline Vaccines, AAHA Canine Vaccine Task Force, and World Small Animal Veterinary Association, which include representatives from academia, private practices, governmental regulatory bodies, and industry. These groups have evaluated the benefits versus risks of the vaccines currently available on the market. Interested readers are referred to documents published by these groups for further information (see References and Resources listed at the end of this document). The document below has been generated by a group of faculty and staff at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine for the purposes of veterinary student education and as a reference for referring veterinarians. These are only general guidelines. The vaccine types recommended and the frequency of vaccination vary depending on the lifestyle of the pet being vaccinated (i.e. indoor vs outdoor pets, travel plans, kennel/boarding plans, and underlying disease conditions such as immune-mediated diseases or pre-existing infections such as FIV infection). Because these factors may change over time, we recommend the vaccination plan for each individual pet be decided by the owner at routine annual examinations, following a discussion between the veterinarian and the client regarding the animal’s lifestyle in the year ahead. Guidelines for vaccination in shelter situations can be accessed at the UC Davis Center for Companion Animal Health's shelter medicine website. A previous history of vaccination reactions in an individual pet will also affect recommendations for vaccination. For all vaccines given, the product, expiration date, lot number, route and location of injection must be documented in the record.
It should also be noted that much research in the area of companion animal vaccinology is required to generate optimal recommendations for vaccination of dogs and cats. As further research is performed, and as new vaccines become available on the market, this document will be continuously updated and modified.
I. Canine (Dog) Vaccination Guidelines
Canine Core Vaccines
Core vaccines are recommended for all puppies and dogs with an unknown vaccination history. The diseases involved have significant morbidity and mortality and are widely distributed, and in general, vaccination results in relatively good protection from disease. These include vaccines for canine parvovirus (CPV), canine distemper virus (CDV), canine adenovirus (CAV), and rabies. In addition, the leptospirosis vaccine is now recommended as a core vaccine for dogs in California because the disease has the potential to occur in any dog (even in urban environments), can be life-threatening, and the vaccines are considered safe and efficacious, with recent improvements in safety over the last decade.
Canine Parvovirus, Distemper Virus, and Adenovirus-2 Vaccines
For initial puppy vaccination (
What diseases should cats be vaccinated against?
The core vaccines for cats in the UK protect against:
- feline enteritis: Feline infectious enteritis is a disease caused when cats become infected with feline parvovirus (you might also see it referred to as feline panleukopenia virus). It spreads easily in unhygienic conditions and is sadly often fatal, with unvaccinated kittens being most at risk. Not all infected cats show symptoms, but those that do may vomit, become unable to eat or drink, and have watery diarrhoea.
- feline influenza, or cat flu: Cat flu is like a human flu – it can cause a runny nose and eyes, and a sore throat. Other symptoms include aches and pains in the muscles and joints, mouth ulcers, dribbling, sneezing, loss of voice and fever. Cat flu is not usually serious in adult cats, although they can be quite ill. However it can be serious, even fatal, in kittens, and in adult cats with other serious underlying illnesses. Read more about cat flu here.
- If your cat goes outside, or lives with cats who go outside, we recommend vaccinating them against feline leukaemia virus: Feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) is an incurable viral infection that eventually produces fatal illness in cats which become permanently infected. It is estimated that one to two per cent of cats in Britain are permanently infected, and the majority die within four years of FeLV detection. Read more advice about FeLV here.
Did you find this helpful?
We provide free pet advice as every pet deserves to be well looked after. We treated around 35,000 sick injured and homeless pets last year. We're so glad we've been able to help these pets who are unable to help themselves, but there are thousands of sick and lonely pets still in need, so we need to ask for a small favour.
All of our work is funded entirely through donations. People like you are essential to our work. If everyone who benefits from our articles is able to give a little back, we can reach thousands more pets. For as little as £1 you can make a difference - do you have one minute? Thank you.