If you acquire a new kitten, it is important to find out what vaccinations it has received and at what age. If you obtain an adult cat, you should inquire as to when it had its last booster vaccinations.
A kitten usually will receive a series of two to four vaccinations. The actual number varies depending on a number of variables, including the type of vaccine, the kitten's age at the first visit, whether it's mother was vaccinated, and it's risk of exposure.
Feline panleukopenia (also called feline distemper) is a highly contagious and deadly viral disease of cats. Until recent years, panleukopenia was the most serious infectious disease of cats, claiming the lives of thousands every year. Thanks to the highly effective vaccines currently available, panleukopenia is now considered to be an uncommon disease. However, because of the serious nature of the disease and the continued presence of virus in the environment, vaccination is highly recommended for all cats.
Feline calicivirus (FCV) and feline herpesvirus type 1 (FHV-1) are responsible for 80-90% of infectious feline upper respiratory tract diseases. Most cats are exposed to either or both of these viruses at some time in their lives. Once infected, many cats never completely rid themselves of virus. These "carrier" cats either continuously or intermittently shed the organisms for long periods of time—perhaps for life—and serve as a major source of infection to other cats. The currently available vaccines will minimize the severity of upper respiratory infections, although none will prevent disease in all situations. Vaccination is highly recommended for all cats.
In general, the first vaccinations to protect against panleukopenia and diseases caused by FCV and FHV-1 are given at six to eight weeks of age. Occasionally veterinarians will begin vaccination at an earlier age depending on the kitten's risk of exposure and amount of protection received from the mother. The vaccines are then "boosted" at three- to four-week intervals until the kitten is between twelve and sixteen weeks of age. Following this initial vaccination series, boosters will be given regularly to keep the cat protected.
Your cat should be vaccinated against rabies. The vaccine should be given at twelve weeks-of-age, then one year later. Thereafter, the vaccine should be given every one to three years, depending upon the vaccine type and local rabies vaccination requirements.
Feline pneumonitis, caused by a Chlamydia organism, is a mild to severe respiratory and eye disease. Chlamydia vaccines are available, often in combination with other vaccines. Although vaccination does not provide complete protection, it will reduce the severity of the disease.
Vaccines can help protect your cat against the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) infection. Ideally, the cat should be tested prior to vaccination, since the vaccine will offer no protection to individuals already infected with the virus. FeLV vaccines should be given twice at three- to four-week intervals; kittens can begin the series when between eight and twelve weeks-of-age. Afterwards, your cat should receive regular re-vaccinations ("booster" vaccinations) against FeLV. Since FeLV vaccines will not protect all cats, your veterinarians will discuss additional ways to help prevent infection.
Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is caused by a coronavirus. The currently-available FIP vaccine is administered intranasally to cats at 16 weeks of age, with a booster in three to four weeks, and then yearly. Cats in multiple cat facilities have a much greater risk of developing FIP than most household cats. If used appropriately and in conjunction with proper management, the vaccine has been found helpful in reducing the incidence of FIP in certain multiple cat environments. If your cat resides in a high-risk environment, you should discuss the vaccine with your veterinarian.