Cat Vaccines: Types, Schedules, & More [Vet-Approved Guide]

A cat about to get cat vaccines at Sploot Veterinary Care

In many ways, we see cats as highly independent. But one thing your cat will always depend on you for (aside from food and affection) is their routine preventive care. More to that point, they will depend on their pet parent to get an immunity boost against various transmissible diseases — some of which cannot be cured. This is where cat vaccines come in.

When thinking about pet vaccines, the first to come to mind is generally a rabies vaccine. Household cats need a feline rabies vaccine to protect their health in case they come across other animals. Another important vaccine is the FVRCP vaccine for cats, which is a convenient combo shot that helps strengthen a cat’s immunity against numerous serious feline illnesses. 

In this complete guide on cat vaccines, we will cover the different types of cat vaccines and the illnesses that they keep at bay.

What’s in this Guide?

Closeup of vials to represent cat vaccines including the FVRCP vaccine for cats

Commonly Required Core Cat Vaccines

Core cat vaccines are typically recommended for all pet cats, regardless of location and lifestyle. These are administered along with non-core cat vaccines that are recommended by your vet. 

1. Rabies Vaccine for Cats

The rabies vaccine builds up immunity against rabies in cats. This is crucial because rabies in cats targets the central nervous system. It then infects the brain and is fatal in 99% of animal and human cases. 

More About Rabies


The disease is transmissible through a bite or direct contact with an infected animal’s saliva or nervous system tissues/fluids. The infected animal does not have to be alive to transmit the disease. A bite from a rabid cat will spread the disease to other susceptible animals and people.  


Rabies in cats produces symptoms like increased aggression, abnormal behavior, difficulty breathing, seizures, hypersalivation, weakness, paralysis of the legs, and comatose. 

Vet Recommendations:

Surviving rabies is extremely rare for both cats and humans. This is why the feline rabies vaccine is an absolute must-have. 

Note: Being one of the most dangerous diseases to mammals, certain actions need to be taken if rabies is suspected in pet cats, such as: 

  • If a person has been bitten or scratched by a suspected rabid cat (or another rabid animal), contact your health care provider and local public health department immediately. 
  • A cat that is suspected to have rabies needs to be carefully quarantined. This is to ensure the safety of the household and the community. In addition, this makes the potentially rabid cat available for observation — which will assist in determining if a person that is exposed to the cat would need rabies postexposure prophylaxis (PEP).   
  • Cats that have been exposed to a potentially rabid cat (through a bite or through grooming) will need to be quarantined separately. 
  • Please take note that rabid animals may show aggressive behavior — reach out to local animal control authorities if you need help. 
  • Contact local animal control authorities if the source of rabies is at large (i.e. a rabid pet that is loose; a stray dog or cat; or rabies reservoir species like bats, skunks, and racoons).

2. FVR Vaccine for Cats (aka Herpesvirus Cat Vaccine)

The vaccine for FVR is given either as a part of the core FVRCP vaccine or, of the Feline Rhinotracheitis & Calici Virus Intranasal Vaccine

FVR stands for feline viral rhinotracheitis. This is a common and contagious upper respiratory infection in cats with no known cure. This disease is caused by feline herpesvirus type-1 (FHV-1.) 

More About FVR


Feline herpesvirus type- 1 is transmitted through the saliva and discharges from the eyes/nose of an infected cat. Kittens born to a cat infected with FHV-1 will, unfortunately, very likely also contract the disease. Once infected, there is no permanent cure for FHV-1 because the virus lives on in the nerve cells. 


Symptoms of FHV infection or feline viral rhinotracheitis include fever, lack of appetite, lethargy, salivation, sneezing, nasal discharge, ocular discharge, and conjunctivitis. In young kittens, an FHV infection can lead to death from pneumonia in kittens.

Vet Recommendations:

Given that FHV, after infection, is carried for life —and will flare-up when the cat is stressed or weakened —  the vaccine for FHV or FVR (administered through the FVRCP vaccine or the Feline Rhinotracheitis & Calici Virus Intranasal Vaccine) is one of the must-have core vaccines for cats.

Note: The Feline Rhinotracheitis & Calici Virus Intranasal Vaccine is likely to be the preferred vaccine in the following cases: 

  • For very young kittens that need to be protected from FVR and FCV immediately. This intranasal vaccine acts faster than injected (parenteral) vaccines.
  • For cats that need quick immunization from FVR and FCV due to an upcoming boarding or exposure to a high-risk environment. 
  • For administering periodic boosters (2-3 times a year) for cats that are carriers of FVR, aiding in the reduction of recurrent infections and viral shedding of FHV. 

3. FCV Vaccine for Cats

The vaccine for FCV is given as a part of the core FVRCP vaccine or, of the Feline Rhinotracheitis & Calici Virus Intranasal Vaccine

Feline calicivirus (FCV) is a common and contagious virus that targets a cat’s upper respiratory system.  The disease is most common in multicat environments and usually infects young cats.

More About FCV


FCV is transmitted through respiratory droplets, saliva, or eye discharge from an infected cat. The disease is transmissible to cats exclusively, and not to humans. Cats can potentially become carriers of feline calicivirus — meaning the virus will be in their bodies throughout their lifetime. 


Feline calicivirus resembles a common cold with symptoms including sneezing, fever, nasal congestion, discharge from the eyes, and occasionally, drooling. 

Vet Recommendations:

Because FCV is common and has the potential to be carried for life — causing flare-ups during times that the cat is stressed or weakened — the vaccine for feline calicivirus is a must-have. Veterinarians may recommend the Feline Rhinotracheitis & Calici Virus Intranasal Vaccine for very young kittens (less than 8 weeks of age) that need prompt immunization. 

Note: As mentioned in the previous section, Feline Rhinotracheitis & Calici Virus Intranasal Vaccine may be the preferred vaccine for young kittens and cats that need quick immunization to FCV and FVR. This intranasal vaccine acts faster than injected (parenteral) vaccines.   

4. Feline Distemper Vaccine (aka Feline Panleukopenia Vaccine)

The vaccine for feline distemper is administered as part of a core vaccine known as the FVRCP vaccine. Feline distemper, also known as feline panleukopenia (FP), is a common, contagious, and life-threatening viral disease that affects multiple systems in a cat’s or kitten’s body. Feline panleukopenia targets the cellular lining of the intestines, bone marrow, and lymph nodes. 

More About Feline Distemper


Feline panleukopenia is transmitted through an infected cat’s bodily secretions and excretions (e.g. urine, feces, vomit.) Transmission can also occur from direct contact with an infected cat or contact with fomites or material carriers (e.g. bedding, human hands, shoes, and other items that had contact with the infected cat or their secretions.) Though human clothing and shoes can be fomites, humans themselves cannot contract the virus. 


The disease brings about serious symptoms such as a high fever, loss of appetite, nasal discharge, vomiting, lethargy, severe diarrhea, and consequent dehydration. 

Vet Recommendations:

A feline panleukopenia infection requires hospitalization to help improve survival rates in both kittens and cats. Unfortunately, younger kittens have a rare chance of surviving this disease. 

Because feline panleukopenia is a life-threatening disease for pet cats, the feline panleukopenia vaccine or feline distemper vaccine, which is given as a part of a core feline vaccine known as the FVRCP vaccine, is one of the most important core cat vaccinations to have.

A kitten getting core cat vaccines including the FVRCP vaccine for cats

Non-Core (Recommended) Cat Vaccines

The American Animal Hospital Association categorizes the following cat vaccines as “non-core.” These cat vaccines are recommended by vets based on lifestyle, geographical location, and individual needs.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The term non-core may lead some to mistakenly think these cat vaccines are not as important, even after being recommended by the local vet. However, some of these non-core vaccines, when neglected, can lead to fatal or lifelong consequences for your cat. Therefore, if your vet recommends a non-core vaccine for your cat, it’s best to take it just as seriously as the core cat vaccines we talked about earlier. 

1. Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) Vaccine

The FeLV vaccine is used to prevent FelV infection in cats. Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a retrovirus that invades the cat’s blood-forming tissues and immune system. It is contagious and dangerous. Even healthy adult cats can contract a FelV infection with enough exposure. 

More About FeLV


Feline leukemia virus is mainly transmitted through saliva or nasal secretions from infected cats. It can also be transmitted through urine and feces. FelV has no definitive cure and will remain in the cat’s body after infection. Unfortunately, FelV is known to reduce a cat’s lifespan significantly due to its effects on the immune system — although supportive treatments can help a cat who is FelV+ to live a normal life.


Symptoms of a FelV infection include swollen lymph nodes, pale gums, inflamed gums, a dull coat, fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, diarrhea, skin infections, upper respiratory infections, eye conditions, seizures, and behavioral disorders. 

Vet Recommendations:

Because feline leukemia virus is carried for the rest of a cat’s lifetime and significantly impacts the animal’s lifespan, pet parents are advised to get this vaccine if it is recommened by the veterinarian. 

Veterinarians typically perform a FeLV antigen test on cats prior to vaccination because in case a cat already carries the feline leukemia virus, FeLV vaccination can no longer provide immunization for it. 

2. Chlamydia Felis Vaccine

The Chlamydia felis vaccine helps prevent feline chlamydial conjunctivitis. Chlamydia felis is the bacteria that causes feline chlamydial conjunctivitis. This disease targets the eyes or upper respiratory tract of a cat. Left untreated, this disease can also spread to the lungs. This disease is often seen in kittens but cats of any age can be infected as well. 

More About Feline Chlamydial Conjunctivitis


Chlamydial conjunctivitis is spread through direct or close contact with an infected cat. There are very rare cases wherein humans developed conjunctivitis after being exposed to a cat infected with the C. felis bacterium. 


Symptoms of chlamydia felis in cats include watery eyes, discharge from the eyes, sneezing, coughing, difficulty breathing, lack of appetite, weight loss, and fever. 

Vet Recommendations:

Because this disease is transmitted among cats, it is recommended for cats that are regularly exposed to other cats or those that are allowed to go outside

Though chlamydial conjunctivitis is treatable, the symptoms are hard to manage. And left untreated, this disease can persist for months. 

3. Bordetella Vaccine for Cats

The Bordetella vaccine helps prevent feline bordetella. Bordetella bronchiseptica is the bacterium that causes the highly contagious respiratory disease known as feline bordetellosis, also known as bordetella or kennel cough. 

More About Bordetella or Kennel Cough


B. bronchiseptica is typically transmitted through respiratory droplets. In some rare cases, humans can get bordetella from infected cats.  


Bordetella in cats produces symptoms like sneezing, coughing, fever, nasal discharge, and ocular discharge. 

Vet Recommendations:

Like a bad cold spreading through a family, this vaccine is recommended especially for cats exposed to multicat environments to prevent the spread of this disease. 

Because this respiratory disease is highly contagious and can, in some cases, be transmitted to humans, vets recommend the Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccine on top of core cat vaccinations.

 A cat getting cat non-core cat vaccines due to individual needs

Which Cat Vaccines are Required in Denver, Colorado?

If you reside in Colorado, rabies vaccine for cats is a legal requirement for cats 4 months and older. 

However, certain medical conditions would mean that a cat can be exempted from vaccination. This would require a Vaccine Exemption Letter from a licensed veterinarian, as well as the approval of appropriate veterinary public health authorities

Establishments like cat inns, cat boarding, or cat daycares may require additional vaccines along with the rabies vaccine. Typically, the following are required: Rabies vaccine for cats, the FVRCP vaccine, and the FeLV vaccine for cats.

Note: Regarding the mandatory vaccines for cat boarding or daycare, it's recommended to confirm with your selected Denver cat hotel or cat daycare well before your visit.

Which Cat Vaccines are Required in Chicago, Illinois?

According to state laws in Illinois, cats that are companion animals, and of 4 months of age or older, need to have rabies vaccination. 

As for cat boarding establishments and cat daycares, they may require the following vaccinations: Rabies vaccine for cats and FVRCP vaccine.

Note: When it comes to required vaccines for cat boarding or daycare, it’s always best to confirm with the chosen Chicago cat hotel or cat daycare in advance.

Closeup of a cat recovering after getting rabies vaccine for cats, FVRCP vaccine for cats and other needed cat vaccines

Common Cat Vaccines Schedule

Following the vaccine schedule for cats helps ensure that the cat’s immune system is boosted by the vaccine. Here is a schedule for the common vaccines that cats need to have: 

1. Cat Vaccines Schedule: Rabies Shots

Initial Vaccination

  • First shot = 16 - 20 weeks of age

Note: The above age range is when kittens are typically vaccinated for rabies. Make sure to check with your local city or state’s ordinances or laws regarding when the rabies shot needs to be administered. For example, in Denver, Colorado, cats need to be vaccinated against rabies before reaching 6 months of age.  In Chicago, Illinois, cats need to be vaccinated against rabies before reaching 4 months of age.

  • Follow-up booster shot = 1 year after the first shot


  • Regular booster shots = Every 1 - 3 years (depending on patient age and vaccine history)

2. Cat Vaccines Schedule: FVRCP Vaccine— for Feline Distemper, Feline Herpesvirus, & Feline Calicivirus

Initial Vaccination

  • First shot = 6 - 8 weeks of age
  • Immediate follow-up doses after the first shot = For kittens under or equal to 16 weeks of age, 3 - 4 doses, 2 - 4 weeks apart, with the last vaccine at or after 16 weeks. For cats over 16 weeks of age, 1 follow-up dose (3-4 weeks after the first).


  • Regular booster shots = Every 1 - 3 years (depending on patient age and vaccine history)

3. Cat Vaccines Schedule: FeLV Vaccine

Initial Vaccination

  • First shot = 8 - 12 weeks of age
  • Immediate follow-up doses after the first shot = 2 doses (2-4 weeks apart)
  • Follow-up booster shot = 1 year after the last shot


  • Regular booster shots = Every year

How Long Can a Cat Go Without Shots?

All cat vaccines follow a required schedule. The timeframe for cat shots are set so that the cat’s immune system responds properly to the vaccine. Missing scheduled shots could mean needing to redo cat vaccination. 

In cases where scheduled shots are missed, veterinarians may need to perform blood tests to check the animal’s existing immunity. If you missed a scheduled vaccination for your cat, consult your vet for next steps.   

What Happens If I Don’t Vaccinate My Cat?

Not vaccinating a pet cat increases the risk of contracting serious illnesses. Some of the illnesses we’ve discussed earlier have low chances of survival; some may also greatly reduce a cat’s lifespan. 

Furthermore, some viruses could turn the cat into a carrier of that virus, staying in the cat’s body for the rest of their life — and causing flare-ups when the cat is stressed or weakened.

If you'd like to get started with strengthening your cat or kitten’s immunity through regular cat vaccinations, consult your vet!

A cat that’s about to be revaccinated with FVRCP vaccine for cats at Sploot Veterinary Care in Denver, Colorado

Cat Vaccines for Pet Parents in Denver

We hope you found this detailed guide on cat vaccines helpful! We covered everything from the feline rabies vaccine, to the FVRCP vaccine for cats, and all other vaccines your cat may need. 

If you have specific questions about cat vaccines, consult your local vet. As for Denver cat moms and dads, we’re here for you. Sploot Veterinary Care is open 365 days a year, for extended hours. So whether you have questions about cat vaccines or you want to book a vaccination appointment as soon as possible, get in touch with Sploot Vets today! We carry various cat vaccines; make sure to reach out to our team to make sure a specific cat vaccine is available. 

Till next time, we’re with you every pounce of the way!

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