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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.


Vaccinations continue to be important for the health of your cat. However, not all vaccines are created equal, and for most cats, there are some vaccines that are necessary and others that may or may not be beneficial. To help aid cat owners and veterinarians in the decision-making process, the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) first published vaccination guidelines for cats in 2006.

Recently, AAFP updated these feline vaccination guidelines. Let’s review these guidelines and talk about what these changes mean for you and your cat.

As previously, feline vaccinations are divided into two categories: core and non-core vaccinations.

  1. Core vaccines are those that are recommended for all cats. These vaccinations include feline panleukopenia, feline herpesvirus-1, and feline calicivirus.
  2. Non-core vaccines “should be administered to cats in specific risk categories on the basis of an individual risk/benefit assessment.” Vaccines in this category include rabies, feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), Chlamydophila felis, Bordetella bronchiseptica, feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), and dermatophyte vaccines.

One of the most substantial changes in the guidelines is the reassignment of the rabies vaccine from a core vaccine to a non-core vaccine. However, you should not interpret this to automatically mean that your cat does not need vaccination against rabies. In some circumstances, the rabies vaccine is still considered essential. According to the new 2013 AAFP guidelines, “Vaccination against rabies is essential in regions where it is required by statute/law or where the virus is endemic.”

Though the FeLV vaccine is considered a non-core vaccine, the AAFP guidelines advise “that all cats under 1 year of age be vaccinated against FeLV and receive a booster vaccination 1 year later. After 1 year of age, the need for subsequent vaccination is determined by risk factors that the individual is exposed to.”

AAFP guidelines underscore the need for a vaccination schedule tailored to fit each cat’s individual needs. Your cat’s requirements should be evaluated based on his age, his health, his magnitude of exposure to disease, the potential pathogenicity of the disease, the geographic prevalence of the disease, the presence of maternally derived antibodies (for kittens), your cat’s history, and other health issues which may be affecting your cat (such as an immunodeficiency for any reason, concurrent diseases that may be affecting your cat, your cat’s nutritional status, your cat's stress level, and the possibility of an aging immune response).

For most adult pet house-cats, vaccination against feline panleukopenia, feline herpesvirus-1, feline calicivirus, and perhaps rabies (based on community regulations and whether rabies is endemic in the community) will be sufficient to provide adequate protection.

For cats living under different circumstances, a visit with your veterinarian is in order to decide which other vaccinations may or may not be necessary. Many of the non-core vaccinations are recommended only under very specific circumstances, or not recommended at all.

This is a very basic rundown of the 2013 AAFP vaccination guidelines. The guidelines actually contain much more information, including advice about choosing the type of vaccine to be administered, frequency of administration, preferred locations for administration of specific vaccines, vaccine handling, and much more. Your veterinarian likely has taken the time to review these guidelines at length.

Remember that even if your cat is not due for vaccination, a thorough examination by your veterinarian is still recommended at least once yearly. For more mature cats, twice yearly or even more frequent examinations may be recommended, depending on your cat’s health status. Your veterinarian is always your best source of advice on vaccinations and other health recommendations for your cat.


Dr. Lorie Huston

Image: Thinkstock

Comments  2

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  • So Many Variables
    09/30/2013 06:55pm

    There seem to be so many variables to consider when it comes to vaccinating kitties. If my critters went outdoors, they would most likely get more than they currently do. Also, if foster kitties came and went, I would feel a need to vaccinate them for things a shelter kitty of unknown origins might be harboring.

    Any thoughts regarding things that might be lurking at a vet clinic when they go for checkups?

  • Great post!
    12/26/2013 08:13pm

    Dr. Huston,
    Thank you for sharing the AAFP's vaccination guidelines. I'll be featuring this column in my year end review of what I feel are the top five PetMD Daily Vet articles of 2013.

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