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Should I Get My Indoor Cat Vaccinated? Why & When to Do It

Our vets in Novato offer advice and insights as to why it's important to have your cat vaccinated, even if they stay indoors. 

What are cat vaccinations?

Every year, many cats are at risk for several serious feline-specific diseases. To protect your kitty from contracting preventable conditions, it's imperative to have them vaccinated. It's equally important to follow up your kitten's first vaccinations with regular boosters shots throughout their lifetime, even if you expect your kitty to be a mostly indoor companion. 

The aptly named booster shot "boosts" your feline friend's protection against a range of diseases after the initial vaccine's effects have worn off. When booster shots should be administered will depend on the specific schedule for the vaccine. Your vet can advise you about when to bring your cat back to their office for more booster shots. 

Why should I get my indoor cat vaccinated?

While you may correctly assume that your indoor cat would need vaccinations, in many states there are laws specifying which vaccinations a cat must have. For example, a common law requires cats older than 6 months to be vaccinated against rabies. In return for these vaccinations, your vet will likely provide you with a vaccination certificate that you should store in a safe place. 

Where your cat's health is concerned, it's always prudent to take precautions as cats' curious nature can lead them into trouble. Our vets recommend core vaccinations for indoor cats to protect them against diseases they may be exposed to if they do escape the safety of your home. 

Cat Vaccines

Cats must have two basic types of shots:

Core vaccinations are for all cats since these are critical to protecting your kitty against the following common but serious feline conditions:


Rabies kills many mammals (including humans) every year. In most cases, cats these vaccinations will be legally required. 

Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus and Panleukopenia (FVRCP)

This combination vaccine is usually known as the "distemper" shot and protects against feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia. 

Feline herpesvirus type I (FHV, FHV-1)

This virus is ubiquitous and highly contagious. It is one major contributing factor to upper respiratory infections. Spread through sharing of food bowls, litter trays or other items, inhalation of sneeze droplets or direct contact, this virus can infect cats for the rest of their lives. Some will continue to shed the virus, and eye problems can result from persistent FHV infections. 

Lifestyle or non-core vaccinations are appropriate for some cats depending on their lifestyle. Your vet will provide advice about which non-core vaccines your cat should have. These offer protection against:

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia (Felv)

These vaccines protect against viral infections that are transmitted via close contact. They are only usually recommended for cats that spend time outdoors.


This bacteria causes upper respiratory infections that are highly contagious. This vaccine may be recommended by your vet if you are taking your cat to a groomer or boarding kennel.

Chlamydophila felis

Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that causes severe conjunctivitis. The vaccination for the infection is often included in the distemper combination vaccine.

When should my kitten receive their first shots?

You should bring your kitten to see your vet for their first round of vaccinations when they are about six to eight weeks old. Following this, your kitten should get a series of vaccines at three-to-four-week intervals until they reach approximately 16 weeks old. Here are the shots we recommend for kittens and indoor cats:

Indoor Cat Vaccination Schedule

First visit (6 to 8 weeks)

  • Review nutrition and grooming
  • Blood test for feline leukemia
  • Fecal exam for parasites
  • Vaccinations for Chlamydia, Calicivirus, Rhinotracheitis and Panleukopenia

Second visit (12 weeks)

  • Examination and external check for parasites
  • First feline leukemia vaccine
  • Booster: Calicivirus, Rhinotracheitis, and Panleukopenia and Chlamydia
  • First feline leukemia vaccine

Third visit (follow veterinarian’s advice, usually 14 to 16 weeks)

  • Rabies vaccine
  • Second feline leukemia vaccine
  • Booster: Calicivirus, Rhinotracheitis, and Panleukopenia and Chlamydia

When will my kitten need booster shots?

Depending on the vaccine, adult cats should get booster shots either annually or every three years. Your vet will tell you when to bring your adult cat back for booster shots.

Is my kitten protected after their first round of shots?

Until they have received all of their vaccinations (when they are about 12 to 16 weeks old), your kitten will not be fully vaccinated. Once all of their initial vaccinations have been completed, your kitten will be protected against the diseases or conditions covered by the vaccines.

If you’d like to allow your kitten outdoors before they have been vaccinated against all the diseases listed above, we recommend keeping them restricted to low-risk areas, like your own backyard.

What are potential side effects of cat vaccinations?

Most cats will not experience any side effects as a result of receiving cat vaccines. If reactions do occur, they are usually minor and short in duration. However, keep these potential negative side effects in mind:

  • Lameness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Redness of swelling around injection site
  • Hives
  • Severe lethargy
  • Fever

Call your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your cat may be experiencing side effects from a cat vaccine. They can help you determine any special care or follow-up that may be required.

Looking for a vet in Novato? We're always accepting new patients, so contact our veterinary hospital today to book your pet's first appointment.

New Patients Welcome

Bel Marin Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Novato companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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