A Guide to Vaccines for Your Cat

Frequently asked .. 

Why should I visit my veterinarian?

Preventive care is the foundation of what we believe in, and the number one way you can help your pet live their best life. There is no substitute for routine visits to your veterinarian to detect disease in its early stages, implement vaccination protocols, parasite prevention, dental hygiene and other medical programs that help safeguard your pet from costly and sometimes fatal illnesses. 

Why are vaccines important?

Vaccinations protect against many pet illnesses. Cats and kittens can be at high-risk of exposure to various infectious diseases, even if they spend the majority of their time indoors. Some infectious diseases are fatal, and some, like rabies, pose a risk to public health as well. 

Preventive vaccination is one of the most reliable and cost-effective methods of health care available to pet owners. 

How does vaccination work?

Pet vaccines contain non-infectious forms of viruses or bacteria, which stimulate production of protective antibodies in healthy pets that can neutralize the virus or bacteria if the pet is later exposed. In other words, they are designed to trigger protective immune responses and prepare the immune system to fight future infections from disease-causing agents. 

Although vaccines help prevent and protect against infectious disease, they don’t treat or cure existing disease. 

Some vaccines will contain combinations of viruses or bacteria that help immunize against more than one disease – these are known as combination vaccines and minimize inconvenience to the owner and discomfort for the pet. 

How often should my cat be vaccinated? 

Your pet’s age, specific lifestyle and risk of disease exposure will determine frequency of vaccination. 

What about the potential risks involved? 

The benefits of the preventive nature of vaccinations usually outweighs the relatively small risk of vaccine-related adverse effects. Local, injection-site irritation and allergic reactions do sometimes occur, though uncommon. In rare instances, cats may develop fibrosarcomas (tumors) at the sites of any injections, including vaccines. 

Your veterinarian can advise you of possible risks associated with vaccination and determine steps you can take if vaccine-related reactions do occur. 

Common Infectious Diseases in Cats 


Rabies is a viral disease that can affect cats, dogs, wildlife, and even humans. Cells of the nervous system are affected, as the virus produces incoordination and behavioral abnormalities like aggression and withdrawal. Once the signs appear, the disease is always fatal. 

In the United States, rabies is most often transmitted through bite wounds, often from infected wildlife. Vaccines are extremely effective for prevention. Most states require a rabies vaccination for both cats and dogs. 

Feline Panleukopenia 

Also known as feline distemper, feline panleukopenia is highly contagious and is often fatal to cats. The disease is caused by a parvovirus transmitted by contact with infected cats, their feces or environmental contamination. The virus is highly resistant and capable of surviving in the environment for months. Kittens without prior vaccination or exposure are most susceptible. 

Signs of acute infection can include: fever, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and abdominal pain. 

Feline Respiratory Disease

The majority of feline respiratory diseases result from two easily transmitted infections, feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR), caused by a herpesvirus, and feline calicivirus (FCV). FVR and FCV infections result in similar illnesses/symptoms: nasal and ocular discharge, conjunctivitis, ulcers of the oral cavity, anorexia, depression and inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. 

Cats usually recover in 1 or 2 weeks, although cats with FVR can become persistently infected after returning to normal, shedding the virus during periods of stress. FVR may result in abortion of infected fetuses. Kittens are at greater risk of both FVR and FCV because they usually have had no prior vaccination or exposure and are highly susceptible to infection. 

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

Feline leukemia is a highly fatal disease caused by the feline leukemia virus (FeLV). FeLV produces immunosuppression which can lead to other diseases and infections such as respiratory or gastrointestinal diseases. Cats that survive these initial diseases, may suffer some form of cancer, hence the name feline leukemia. The disease is transmitted through direct contact with infected cats or contaminated food dishes or litter boxes. 

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) 

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) attacks a cat’s immune system, producing an immunodeficiency disease (like HIV in humans) that results in chronic secondary and opportunistic infections. These include respiratory, gastrointestinal, urinary tract and skin infections, as well as general unthriftiness. Various cancers can also develop. FIV infection is lifelong, however the disease is relatively uncommon and most cats remain normal for extended periods of time until immunodeficiency occurs. FIV cannot be transmitted from cats to humans. 


Our feline companions are wonderful. They fill our lives with so much joy and love, it’s no wonder we regard them as special members of our family. It’s up to all of us to give them the care they need and deserve. 

Vaccination is the key to protecting your cat against these diseases. Visit your Veterinarian on a regular basis to keep your cat’s vaccinations up-to-date and get routine physical examinations that can help detect potential health problems early on. 


For more information about these and other feline diseases, please contact your nearest PetMedic Hospital today.



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