Kitten Vaccination Guidelines
Getting a new kitten is a very exciting time for anyone, but it’s also the time that requires you to be most on top of preventative care to make sure they grow up happy and healthy! Vaccinations are one of the safest, most effective ways to prevent very serious illness in your kitten and to protect human health. They are an important part of the first few wellness visits with your veterinarian. Vaccines work by strengthening the body’s own immune system to fight pathogens (usually a virus or bacteria) by first exposing it to a modified or killed version of the pathogen. By being previously exposed, the immune system can mount a faster and more effective response to pathogens resulting in either the prevention of disease altogether or at least a less severe infection.
Another important part of the timing of kitten vaccines is the fact that the mother transfers what are called “maternal antibodies” to the kittens, which act to protect the kittens from disease until their own immune system is more developed. While this is of course very helpful for keeping a newborn healthy, it does make finding the correct timing for vaccination a little tricky.
This ties into why we need to vaccinate your kitten several times. The maternal antibodies that they have circulating from their mother make vaccines less effective. As a result, because there is no way to know for sure when exactly the maternal antibodies will have left the kittens system, we need to give several vaccine boosters to make sure we are providing immunity and not leaving a window open for infection. Generally maternal antibodies are low or depleted by 8 weeks, so we start there. But it is possible that they can last longer which is why we do vaccines at the 12 and 16 week mark as well to make sure protective immunity is achieved.
Another common question we frequently get about vaccinations is whether or not they will be necessary if you are planning on keeping your cat strictly indoors. While your kitten may be at a lower risk of contracting disease there are still risks for exposure and prevention is still important. Many viruses and bacteria can be tracked into the home on shoes or clothing, or other animals can enter the yard. Additionally when it comes to diseases that are a human health concern as well, such as rabies, it can make a significant impact on their medical management if your cat ever happened to bite a human.
What would be considered a core vaccine may vary depending on the area you live, but in Alberta veterinarians typically recommend giving the FVRCP vaccine (Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus and Panleukopenia) and Rabies.
A common vaccine schedule for a kitten looks like the following: 8 weeks – FVRCP 12 weeks – FVRCP booster 16 weeks – FVRCP booster and Rabies Once these initial vaccine series are complete we recommend boostering both vaccines in one year. For most healthy adult cats, following that one year booster we can just booster the vaccines every 3 years.
Another benefit to seeing your veterinarian several times during the first few months of life is that we are able to pick up on any health issues early, make sure that your kitten is on the right track for development and to provide advice about appropriate nutrition and socializing. A discussion with your veterinarian will help determine the best time to schedule vaccines and wellness exams to make sure your kitten is set up for success!
2020 AAHA/AAFP Feline Vaccination Guidelines. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (volume 22, issue 9, pages 813–830, DOI: 10.1177/1098612X20941784)