Kitten Vaccinations and Beyond
Kitten vaccinations are an important part of adopting a new kitty, and will help her to stay healthy and happy for years to come! Within a few days of adoption, your new kitten should visit the veterinarian for a general well-kitten exam and her first set of shots. This set of kitten vaccinations will be followed by another set a few weeks later, and possibly a third set a few weeks after that. Your veterinarian will tailor your vaccination schedule specifically for your kitten, based on age, previous vaccinations given by the shelter or a breeder, and lifestyle factors such as indoor/outdoor status.
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. For example, a vaccination is needed for rabies because it is deadly and can be transmitted to people. A vaccination for feline herpesvirus is necessary because, although it is rarely fatal, it is the most common cause of feline upper respiratory tract infections (the risk of infection is high).
Timing of Kitten Vaccinations
Vaccines are typically started at eight to nine weeks of age and are given every three to four weeks until the kitten reaches 16 weeks of age. Why? Kittens younger than eight weeks are considered to be well-protected from disease by the natural antibodies in their mother's milk; vaccinating kittens at this time will not do them any good. After they reach 16 weeks of age, most kittens no longer have any residual protection from mother's milk and are now solely protected by vaccines.
Here comes the tricky part: during the transition period between eight and 16 weeks, some kittens are still protected by the natural antibodies from their mother and some kittens have already lost this protection. Unfortunately, it is not known which kittens fall into which group, so all are vaccinated until they reach 16 weeks. The final kitten vaccines should be administered after the kitten reaches 16 weeks of age.
Vaccination for rabies is unique in that it is typically given one time, toward the end of the vaccine series. The age in which it is given will vary depending on the state.
Which vaccines will she need? The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has set the vaccination guidelines that most feline veterinarians follow. These guidelines split vaccines into two groups, core and non-core. Core vaccines are those that are considered necessary for the majority of cats, and include rabies, feline panleukopenia (commonly known as feline distemper), feline herpesvirus, and feline calicivirus. Non-core vaccines are those that should be considered for some cats based on risk (indoor/outdoor status) and include feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus.
Vaccinations are an important part of adopting a new kitten, and will help her to stay healthy and happy for years to come!