Give Your Kitten a Shot at Good Health

PetMD Editorial
Updated: January 30, 2018
Published: February 19, 2014
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By Samantha Drake

Timely vaccinations are an important part of ensuring the health of your kitten. Kitten owners should bring their new pet to the veterinarian for its first round of shots, which will be followed by another set of vaccinations a few weeks later. 

“Vaccines stimulate the kitten’s immune system to make antibodies against infection. The diseases a kitten is vaccinated against are either potentially fatal or carry a high risk of infection,” according to petMD. Previous vaccinations, age, and whether the kitten will go outside or not all factor into which vaccinations your kitten should receive.  

Early Start

Kittens younger than eight weeks should not be vaccinated because they are already being protected against disease by the natural antibodies in their mother's milk. Therefore, vaccinations may start as early as eight weeks old and are then given every three to four weeks until the kitten reaches 16 weeks old, petMD says. 

Kittenhood is the time when cat owners are the most conscientious about vaccines. “We see excellent compliance for kittens in their first year of life,” notes Dr. Sara Sprowls, a veterinarian at Glenolden Animal Hospital in Glenolden, Pa. But compliance with the vaccine schedules “declines dramatically after that.” 

Responsible kitten owners must be sure to fully comply with the applicable vaccine regimens to ensure the health of their pets. 

Core Vaccines for Cats

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) divides vaccinations into “core” and “non-core” groups. Core vaccines are necessities for most cats and include: 

Feline panleukopenia (FPV)

Also known as feline distemper, the vaccine is typically given in two doses, three to four weeks apart. Booster shots are given a year later and then no more than every three years thereafter. 

Feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1)

This is administered at the same time and frequency as the FPV vaccine. 

Feline calicivirus (FCV)

Also given at the same time as FPV and FHV-1 vaccines and boosters. 


The rabies vaccine can be given to kittens as young as eight weeks old, depending on the product. Vets must follow state or municipal laws regarding the frequency of rabies boosters, which may be annually or every three years. 

Non-Core Vaccines for Cats

The administration of non-core vaccines largely depend on the whether the kitten will go outside or not. Non-core vaccines for cats include: 

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

The vaccine is typically given in two doses, three to four weeks apart. Booster shots are given a year later and then annually for at-risk cats. The AAFP highly recommends the FeLV vaccination for kittens. 


There is a debate over the necessity of leukemia vaccinations for all kittens. “It used to be recommended only for outdoor kitties,” Dr. Sprowls says. But it will also protect indoor cats in the event they get out, she adds. 

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

The first dose is given as early as eight weeks with two more doses given at two- to three-week intervals. Annual booster shots follow for cats with a sustained risk of infection. This includes cats living outdoors and cat not infected with FIV that live with FIV-infected cats. The vaccine does not protect against all strains of FIV, however. 

Other non-core vaccinations include Feline Infectious Peritonitis, Chlamydophila felis, and Bordetella bronchiseptica are recommended only for kittens that may be at risk. 

Image: Mike White / via Flickr