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Vaccines for Cats: Do Cats Really Need Shots Every Year?

Published by Annie Anderson
Last updated: March 22, 2024

As a responsible cat owner, do you often wonder whether your cat really needs its shots every year – or is it a ‘ploy’ for vets to make more revenue? What are the rabies symptoms in cats so you will be aware when to have a scheduled shot for your pet? The answer isn’t a cut-and-dried one; there are actually different schools of thought on this, depending on who you ask.


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The general consensus among veterinarians is that kittens definitely need a certain amount of care and booster shots, regardless of whether they go outdoors or are strictly indoor cats. Along with deworming medication (kittens are notorious for getting worms from their mothers’ milk) they need booster shots as well, to keep them healthy as they grow.

These shots are for rabies, distemper and upper respiratory infections, as well as for feline leukemia. They are typically given in small doses, at 3 different stages of kittenhood6-8 weeks, 10-12 weeks, and 14-16 weeks. During this time, your vet will give your kitten a physical exam as well to make sure he is growing as he should. Another booster should be given at one year of age.

Kittens who go are not vaccinated are highly susceptible to Feline Panleukopenia, a viral infection that can affect both indoor and outdoor cats.

Outdoor Cats

There is little debate about whether outdoor cats need shots – the answer is a resounding YES! When they’re frolicking outside, they’re also likely to come into contact with various forms of wildlife – squirrels, chipmunks, and mice being the most common.

There are also likely to be other cats in the neighborhood. If you live in a rural area, then bigger animals may be a concern, such as raccoons, skunks and porcupines. In this case, it’s important to keep a close eye on your pet, and not let them roam too far.

Yearly vaccinations are a MUST if your cat goes outside, even if they are in a fenced-in area. These shots include rabies, distemper, and upper respiratory infection.

Indoor Cats

This is where experts tend to disagree, and the answer becomes a less-simple one. If your cat is strictly an indoor cat, does he need to be vaccinated each year for distemper, and rabies? No, say many experts.

It is fine to get them vaccinated every 3-5 years, or even 5-7 years, if there is no risk of them escaping outside. Of course, this will depend on your comfort level; if you want your cat to have the best protection possible, you may opt to have them vaccinated each year, or every other year. But if you noticed some kind of behavior like head pressing in cats, it could also mean serious health issue,that may result for having your pet vaccinated.

Although you may not opt for shots, it is still important for you to take your cat in each year for a physical examination. Keeping an eye on weight, teeth, gums and other issues are an important part of maintaining your cat’s health.

Cats are also EXTREMELY prone to kidney disease, and yearly check-ups can alert you to the possible onset of this unfortunate condition. As your cat ages, it will become even more critical for these regular check-ups.

Fleas and Heartworm

If your cat goes outdoors, the chances of them contracting fleas and bringing them into your home are fairly high. Preventative flea medications (such as collars or powder) and flea treatment for cat are a good idea. You can consult with your vet as to which brands or products he/she recommends.

Even indoor cats can contract fleas from various sources, and most vets agree that it’s a good idea to give them a preventative treatment every few months.

If you’ve brought a kitten into your household as an addition to an existing pet, or if you have a dog that goes outside, then treating your indoor cat becomes more of a necessity.

Preventative shots

Preventative shots, or ‘non-core’ shots include: feline leukemia (FeLV), feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), chlamydia, and ringworm. That means it’s not mandatory that cats receive these vaccinations at all, unless strongly recommended by your vet. Again, these may not be necessary during adulthood, until your cat reaches his senior years (assuming they were vaccinated as kittens).

So the answer to the question of whether fluffy needs regular vaccinations is – yes and no. If he is strictly indoors, then having them done every 3-5 years should be fine; if he is outdoors, even for just a few minutes a day, then it is imperative to make sure that yearly boosters are given.

If you feel strongly about wanting shots done each year for your indoor cat, there is certainly no harm in doing so. As with most cat health issues, your vet is your best advisor. Talk with him/her about what they think is the best strategy. Your cat will return the favor by being happy, healthy and active for years to come!

What about you? Do you take your indoor cat to the vet every year for shots, or do you think it’s unnecessary? What does your veterinarian recommend? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

This Post Has One Comment

  1. john

    cat has scabs and little flys when combed.put flea drops on her. outside cat.

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