Cat Healthy Protocols

06- Vaccinations

Vaccinations are no longer considered to be the cornerstone for the yearly examination. Patient recalls should be based on the need for a comprehensive physical examination and consultation rather than for vaccination alone. The wording of recall messages is important; here is a suggested format:

It’s time for Fluffy’s comprehensive physical examination and consultation regarding nutrition and behaviour. Cats are good at hiding health problems. This appointment is an opportunity to find things that might otherwise go undetected—and become more difficult and costly to treat later on. During the appointment, we’ll review Fluffy’s vaccination needs and we’ll recommend flea and internal parasite control based on her individual needs. In addition, blood and urine tests might be recommended for health monitoring and early disease detection.

Vaccination decisions should be based on risk assessment and tailored to the individual patient. As is always the case in using disease management guidelines, practitioners should adapt the recommendations to best suit the needs of their own patients. In assessing the risk, information about the cat, the environment, and infectious agents to which the cat will be realistically exposed and the potential for zoonosis must be considered:

Several organizations have reviewed and updated vaccination guidelines for cats with all recommending to vaccinate more cats but to vaccinate individual cats less often than in the past (see Resources). Based on these published guidelines for the indoor/outdoor cat, this panel recommends the following vaccinations for the owned cat:

Panleukopenia, herpes virus-1, calicivirus Administer the first dose as early as 4-6 weeks followed by revaccination every 3-4 weeks until at least 16 weeks of age (when risk of maternally derived antibody interference is minimal) Administer the first dose followed by revaccination 3-4 weeks later Administer a booster 1 year after completing the initial series followed by revaccination every 3 years unless a high disease risk requires more frequent vaccination intervals Killed virus and modified live virus vaccine products are available in Canada. All vaccines must be administered according to the manufacturer directions.
Rabies Administer a single dose at not less than 12 weeks of age Administer a single dose Administer a booster 1 year after the initial vaccination and then once yearly or every 3 years according to the manufacturer’s guidelines Recommended for:

  1. All cats with outdoor access (even casual outdoor access such as balconies or outside enclosures) and indoor cats in regions where there is a risk of exposure to rabies via bats.
  2. All cats if required by local, municipal, or provincial by-laws.
  3. Cats travelling to other countries. Choice of product (killed versus recombinant) may depend on the requirements of country of import.
Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) Administer the first dose as early as 8 weeks of age followed by revaccination 3-4 weeks later Administer the first dose followed by revaccination 3-4 weeks later Administer a booster 1 year after completing the initial series followed by revaccination:

  • Annually in high-risk cats
  • Every 2 years in low-risk cats

Revaccination is not needed in cats that are at no risk (indoor‑only single cat or indoor multiple-cat household with known negative FeLV status of all cats)

Cats should be tested for FeLV and feline immunodeficiency virus prior to vaccination.

All kittens should be vaccinated (even if they are intended to be housed indoors) as this is the most susceptible age group for FeLV infection and, despite a client’s best intentions, housing status and exposure to other cats can change.

Low-risk cats would include those that go into boarding facilities where cats are housed individually, cats with limited outdoor access (i.e., outside enclosures) where risk of contact with another cat is minimal or in cases where the aforementioned cat is housed indoors but housemates go outside.

High-risk cats would include those that are free roaming and/or are seen at the clinic for abscesses (as evidence of cat fights).

The following vaccines are not considered necessary for use in most cats:

Feline Infectious Peritonitis: At this time, there is insufficient evidence that the vaccine induces clinically relevant protection and use of the vaccine is not recommended.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV): The FIV vaccine is no longer available in North America as of 2015, but there are 2 important points for those cats previously vaccinated with this product. First, it may not provide complete protection against all field strains due to the highly mutable nature of the virus, leading to a false sense of security. In addition, some cats may test FIV antibody-positive for 4 years or longer after the last vaccination. The conventional testing methods for FIV are based on antibody detection. Commercially available test kits use a variety of antibody targets. Some tests may be able to distinguish antibodies induced by vaccination from those induced by natural infection, but other tests are unable to make this distinction. Additional PCR testing in antibody-positive animals may be required to distinguish between these two populations, involving additional costs, time, and anxiety.

Feline Injection Site Sarcomas

Feline injection site sarcoma (FISS) is a rare but devastating neoplasm that has been associated with vaccinations as well as, in rare cases, other injected products (e.g., lufenuron, long-acting medications, microchip). Current theories suggest that the etiology is complex and multi-factorial, involving the nature of the inflammatory response in certain individuals that may be genetically predisposed to tumour development. These tumours can occur months to years after vaccination, making determination of cause and effect very difficult. One study suggested that cats with sarcomas in the rear leg were significantly less likely to have received recombinant rabies vaccines than inactivated vaccines. We therefore recommend avoiding inactivated vaccines when possible and when appropriate. However, it’s important to note that no vaccines are free from risk.

Although we may never be able to fully prevent FISS, based on the available evidence, we recommend the following to reduce risk:

Administration of vaccines should be as close to (at or below) the joint. When given higher on the limb, surgical removal of a sarcoma becomes more complex and invasive.

REFERENCES available on request

Rabies vaccination
Photo courtesy of Dr. Liz O’Brien

FVRCP vaccination
Photo courtesy of Dr. Liz O’Brien


World Small Animal Veterinary Association Vaccination Guidelines:

European Advisory Board on Cat Diseases: Recommendations on the Prevention and Management of Feline Infectious Diseases:

AAFP Feline Vaccination Advisory Panel Report:

  • Feline Vaccination Guidelines
  • Disease Information Fact Sheets