Distemper Vaccine for Cats: What You Need to Know

Distemper is an old-fashioned general term that’s used to describe a serious infectious disease of dogs and cats that causes fever along with respiratory, gastrointestinal, and neurological symptoms.

In dogs, Distemper is caused by Canine Distemper virus, while in cats, Feline Distemper is more commonly and correctly called “Feline Panleukopenia”, a serious and life-threatening viral infection caused by Feline Panleukopenia Virus (FPV). 

What Type of Illness is Distemper in Cats?

Kitten Living Outdoors

Feline parvovirus (also known as distemper) is serious and life-threatening, with a high mortality rate among kittens.

Feline Distemper, or Feline Panleukopenia,  is a highly contagious disease caused by the Feline Panleukopenia virus, with a high mortality rate for unvaccinated cats, especially kittens aged between 2 and 5 months.

The virus is similar to Canine Parvovirus, and the clinical signs are similar too, with the intestinal tract being a focus for viral damage. Infected cats have a high temperature, dullness, inappetence, as well as vomiting, diarrhea, and a range of other systemic signs.  As its name suggests, the virus causes significant suppression of white blood cell production in the bone marrow (panleukopenia), with the consequently suppressed immune system making affected cats even more vulnerable to serious complications of the illness, including bacterial infections.

What is the Distemper Vaccine for Cats?

The vaccine for Feline Distemper (Panleukopenia) is included in the standard combination vaccine that’s given to all kittens, otherwise known as the FVRCP vaccine. 

Read More: FVRCP Vaccine for Cats: What You Need to Know

This vaccine includes Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (caused by Feline Herpesvirus) and Feline Calicivirus, upper respiratory infections are known generally as “cat flu”,  whose signs include sneezing and nasal discharge.  These are all known as core vaccines, meaning that vaccinating all cats against these diseases is recommended under the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) and American Association of Feline Practitioners feline vaccination guidelines. 

When Should Your Cat Get a Distemper Vaccine?

Kitten Getting Vaccinated

Kittens should receive their first distemper vaccination when they’re 8-9 weeks of age, followed by a second vaccine 3-4 weeks later, another at 14-16 weeks of age, and boosters 6-12 months later. Depending on the cat’s needs, further booster shots may be required every 1-3 years after that.

The precise timing of vaccinations depends on the type of feline vaccine schedule used by your local veterinarian, so you should discuss the details with them directly.

In general, vaccinations are recommended for young kittens at 8–9 weeks of age, with a second vaccine given 3–4 weeks later. A third vaccine is often given between 14–16 weeks of age. A booster vaccination is then given 6 – 12 months later, with further booster shots every 1 – 3 years depending on the cats’ needs.

To decide when or if your cat needs booster shots, discuss your cat’s lifestyle with your veterinarian.

How much does the Distemper vaccine for cats cost?

The cost depends on your location and your choice of veterinarian: you should phone around your local area to discover the range of prices in the market place. In general, the fee represents a combination of a veterinary clinical examination of your pet (to make sure that they are healthy enough to vaccinate) as well as the cost of the virus vaccine itself.

Distemper Vaccine Side Effects

Side effects to Feline Distemper (Panleukopenia) vaccination are rare and usually very minor. They include transient episodes of dullness, with mild fever.

Occasionally, there may be minor swelling and discomfort at the injection site. As with any injected product, allergic anaphylactic vaccine reactions can occur, with more serious signs. This reaction, however, is extremely rare. As a veterinarian qualified for over thirty years, I have never witnessed this after a cat vaccination against Panleukopenia.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do indoor cats need a distemper shot?

All kittens and cats should receive initial primary courses of vaccination against Feline Distemper (Panleukopenia) because the viral particles are excreted from ill animals, and they can live in the environment for a protracted period of months or years. This means that there is a risk of a human bringing the virus back to the house with them, which is why a basic level of protection is important for all cats, even if living indoors.

Can cats get distemper after being vaccinated?

Vaccination against feline distemper (panleukopenia) provides solid long lasting immunity against the disease, so barring exceptionally unusual vaccine failure, your cat will be fully protected against the disease.

What vaccinations do indoor cats need?

Cat owners should discuss their own cats' vaccine needs with their own DVM veterinarian, so that any specific risk of exposure to viruses can be identified and discussed. In general, the primary series of vaccinations against FVRCP (which includes Feline Distemper) should be given to all kittens and cats. Indoor adult cats may be given booster vaccinations every three years to maintain minimal immunity. Cats that go outside, mingling with other cats, or cats that go to boarding kennels or catteries, or to cat shows, may be given an annual booster vaccination, but again, this is a topic for discussion with your own vet.

Rabies vaccine may need to be given, depending on legislation in your part of the world, and depending on travel plans that you may have for yourself and your cat. Rabies is considered to be a core vaccine in the United States. 

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) vaccination should be discussed with your vet, but this illness cannot generally be passed on indirectly in the same way as other viruses, so may not be needed: this is regarded as a non-core vaccine. 

Other non-core vaccines that you may wish to discuss with your vet include Bordetella, Chlamydia, FIV and Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). 

What is the feline distemper vaccine called?

The term Feline Panleukopenia, or Feline Parvovirus, is more likely to be used than “Feline Distemper”. The vaccination is usually given as a combination vaccine, in the form of the FVRCP vaccination, and so it may be included in general terminology like “shots”, “vaccine boosters” etc. For more detail on precisely what vaccination your cat is being given, you should always discuss the details with your own veterinarian.

Pete Wedderburn DVM

About Pete Wedderburn DVM

Dr Pete Wedderburn qualified as a vet from Edinburgh in 1985 and has run his own 4-veterinarian companion animal practice in County Wicklow, Ireland, since 1991. Pete is well known as a media veterinarian with regular national tv, radio and newspaper slots, including a weekly column in the Daily Telegraph since 2007. Pete is known as "Pete the Vet" on his busy Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages, regularly posting information on topical subjects and real-life cases from his clinic. He also write a regular blog at www.petethevet.com. His latest book: “Pet Subjects”, was published by Aurum Press in 2017.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *