Cat Rabies Vaccine: What You Need To Know

The decision to give your cat a rabies vaccine is an important consideration for every cat owner. Unlike the rabies vaccine for dogs, which is required in every state, feline vaccines against rabies are not administered as frequently as the canine vaccine. Rabies in cats is now more common than in dogs and presents a major problem across the country. Most states have made the cat rabies vaccine mandatory but it is not an enforced law and the number of cat rabies cases remains high, creating a public health risk in many areas.

The Importance of the Cat Rabies Vaccine

There is some disagreement among veterinarians about the need to vaccinate cats and kittens against rabies, especially if the cats are going to be indoor pets and have a low risk of being exposed to infected animals. If your pet does become infected, however, there is no cure for rabies and the disease is usually fatal. Rabies is transmitted through the saliva of infected animals, including cats, dogs, bats, raccoons, coyotes and skunks. When an infected animal bites a non-infected animal the virus can be passed on through the saliva, though infection does not always occur.

A cat that hasn't been vaccinated will be euthanized once he contracts the virus or put into quarantine for 2 to 6 months, depending on where you live. Owners are usually required to pay for each day the animal is in confinement and also face heavy fines and lawsuits for not vaccinating the cat. Though there is a very low occurrence of rabies being passed on to humans, rabies remains a public health issue and vaccination programs are active in communities across the United States.

When to Vaccinate Your Kitten

The cat rabies vaccine is considered a core vaccine, like feline distemper, feline herpes virus and feline calicivirus. Kittens are generally vaccinated against rabies when they are between 8 and 12 weeks of age and given a booster shot a year after the initial vaccination. Follow-up vaccinations will depend on the rabies vaccination requirements of your local jurisdiction but generally occur every two to three years.

It is important to inform your veterinarian of your cat's health problems, medications he is taking and any previous reactions your cat experienced from vaccination to prevent complications and serious side effects from the cat rabies vaccine.

Side Effects of Feline Vaccines

Feline vaccines are generally safe for your cat, but there are risks involved. Potential side effects of the cat rabies vaccine include:

  • lack of appetite
  • lethargy
  • swelling at the injection site
  • seizure
  • loss of motor skills
  • tissue damage
  • liver and kidney damage

If your cat experiences any of these side effects from vaccination, contact your veterinarian's office.