Advances in Vaccines for Cats


Experts agree that vaccinations prevent pet illnesses and deadly diseases and improve your pet’s overall quality of life. Vaccinated cats contribute to the safety of other cats and dogs, especially kittens and puppies, as well as children and adults where rabies is concerned.


The vaccine industry keeps evolving. This means:

  • The efficiency and safety of vaccines for cats keep improving
  • New vaccines are being created for existing and emerging infectious diseases in cats
  • There’s ongoing research into duration of immunity and side effects from vaccination


The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals provides guidelines and recommendations for core (recommended) and non-core (optional) for cats visiting the general veterinary practice.

Core vaccines

Core vaccines to protect against specific viruses include:

  • Feline panleukopenia virus (FPV) (feline distemper): This highly contagious virus causes vomiting, diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite, and in some cases death. Kittens are very vulnerable.
  • Feline herpesvirus 1 (FHV-1) (viral rhinotracheitis): This virus causes upper respiratory infection with fever, sneezing, eye and nasal discharge, conjunctivitis, inflammation of the cornea and lethargy. Kittens are particularly vulnerable to infection.
  • Feline calicivirus (FCV) is a highly contagious virus that causes a mild to severe respiratory infection and oral disease in cats. Affected cats may experience sores on the gums and in the mouth, sneezing, eye and nasal discharge, conjunctivitis, lethargy, loss of appetite and lameness. Affected kittens may develop pneumonia. It is especially common in shelters and breeding colonies, and often infects young cats. The majority of cats recover after a calicivirus infection, but rare strains can be deadly. Humans are not at risk of infection.
  • Rabies virus: This deadly viral infection is transmitted mostly through bite wounds, but it can also spread to any animal or human by exposure of an open wound to the saliva of an infected animal. Skunks, foxes, raccoons, coyotes and bats are the most common wild carriers in North America.

Once the virus is contracted it may affect the spinal cord and cause inflammation in the brain. However, growth starts in the muscle tissue before attacking the nervous system and spreading. By the time the symptoms appear, it is generally too late to save the animal.

Humans are at risk of infection, if bitten by an infected animal or if the saliva of an infected animal comes into contact with an open wound. However, a person who may have been exposed to rabies can usually be treated effectively, if they seek help at once. If bitten or scratched, immediately consult a healthcare professional about treatment known as rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). If rabies is left untreated, the disease usually progresses from mild symptoms to coma and eventual death.

Non-Core Vaccines

Non-core vaccines are recommended by a veterinarian after a careful assessment of the cat’s lifestyle, age, health status, exposure to other cats, vaccine  and other medication history.

Non-core vaccines to protect against specific viruses include:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica (kennel cough): This bacterium is a common cause of upper respiratory infections. Infection can cause sneezing, discharge from the eyes and nose, and sometimes a cough. Cats can be infected by direct contact with oral and nasal secretions of infected cats or dogs. This vaccine helps control the spread of infection in situations with a high density, such as in shelters and households with multiple pets.
  • Chlamydia felis: The signs in cats of an infection from this bacterium include conjunctivitis and upper respiratory infections. Vaccination can help control the transmission of the bacterium in environments with multiple pets.
  • Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV): This bacterium is the leading cause of virus-associated deaths in cats. It spreads through the saliva, nasal secretions, feces, urine, and milk of infected cats. Infection is transmitted through casual contact, bite wounds, and nursing. Approximately 50 percent of cats diagnosed with FeLV die of the disease within two and a half years. Cats infected with FeLV may suffer from anemia, immune suppression, and cancer. Kittens in their first year of life should be vaccinated against FeLV.
  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV): This virus compromises the cat’s immune system and may lead to a number of other infectious diseases. It is transmitted through bite wounds and the saliva of infected cats. Outdoor cats are particularly at risk.
  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP): This is a rare but usually fatal viral disease transmitted directly between cats. FIP vaccination is not commonly recommended since studies have shown that the efficacy of this vaccine has been variable.

A cat may need additional vaccines depending on its risk of exposure to infectious organisms due to outdoor access, living in a shelter, or being housed in a home with infected pets. Consult your veterinarian to determine if any of these vaccines may be appropriate for your cat(s).

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