The rabies vaccine protects your cat from becoming infected with rabies, a virus that causes deadly brain inflammation. Rabies is a zoonotic disease, which means it can infect people and animals.
Rabies is transmitted to pets and people by wild animals like bats, foxes, raccoons, and skunks. Animal bites are the most common mode of transmission. Rabies is almost always a fatal disease.
In the United States, the rabies vaccine is often required by law for cats (as well as dogs and in some states, ferrets).
A few states do not require rabies vaccination for cats, but the vaccine may still be recommended by your veterinarian if your cat is at high risk (for example, if your cat goes outside). Laws vary regarding who is required to give the rabies vaccine to your cat. In some states, a licensed veterinarian must vaccinate for rabies. In other states, a credentialed veterinary technician (under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian) is also permitted to give a cat the rabies vaccine.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners oversees a Feline Vaccination Advisory Panel, which periodically reviews the vaccination guidelines and research and offers recommendations for all cats. Pet owners can read the AAFP Feline Vaccination Advisory Panel feline vaccination guidelines online.
Some vaccines are considered “core,” meaning they are recommended for all cats. Core vaccines include feline panleukopenia (feline distemper or FPV), feline herpesvirus (feline viral rhinotracheitis) and feline calicivirus (FCV). Other vaccines, like feline leukemia virus (FeLV), are considered “non-core vaccines,” which means they are recommended for some cats, but other cats might not need it.
According to the AAFP feline vaccination guidelines, rabies is categorized as a non-core vaccine. However, state law trumps the AAFP feline vaccination guidelines, and most states require a rabies vaccine for cats. Your veterinarian can advise you if your cat needs to be vaccinated for rabies or not.
What Is a Rabies Vaccine for Cats?
The rabies vaccine (also called a rabies immunization or rabies shot) is made of miniscule amounts of the rabies viruses that cause a disease. Rabies vaccines may be adjuvanted or non-adjuvanted. Adjuvanted vaccines contain extra substances intended to increase the immune response to the vaccine). Non-adjuvanted vaccines do not contain these substances.
The rabies vaccine is injected into your cat’s body. Although the amount of virus contained in the vaccine is too small to cause the cat to develop rabies, the vaccines stimulate the cat’s immune system to mount an immune response against the rabies virus.
The cat’s body then develops the ability to create antibodies that can fight the rabies virus if the cat is ever bitten by a rabid animal. The antibodies help your cat fight off the disease, preventing your cat from developing rabies.
What to Expect After the Rabies Vaccine for Cats
Rabies vaccine should not be given to kittens until they are 12 weeks of age (3 months of age) or older. Kittens (and adult cats that have never been vaccinated) receive a single dose of the rabies vaccine, and should be revaccinated one year after the initial vaccination. After the first year, adult cats should receive a booster shot every one or three years, depending on the rabies vaccine used.
After your cat receives a rabies vaccine, she might experience soreness where the vaccine was injected for a few days. Some cats feel sleepy or lazy after getting a rabies shot, but this is usually short-lived.
Rabies Vaccination Side Effects
The rabies vaccine, although extremely safe, does carry some risk of side effects.
Some common side effects of the rabies vaccine—and other vaccines like feline panleukopenia (feline distemper), feline calicivirus and feline leukemia (FeLV)—include:
- Discomfort at the vaccine site
- Swelling or a lump at the vaccine site
- Low-grade fever (a normal cat temperature is 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Lethargy (low energy)
- Lack of appetite
Rarely, cats may experience more serious adverse reactions to the rabies vaccine. Anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, can cause life-threatening symptoms.
If your cat develops any of the following symptoms within a few hours of getting the rabies vaccine, call your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary hospital:
- Hives (raised bumps on the skin)
- Facial swelling
- Difficulty breathing
If your cat experiences an allergic reaction to the rabies vaccine, it doesn’t automatically mean she can’t ever be vaccinated again.
Your veterinarian will work with you to determine a plan for future rabies vaccines, such as giving the rabies vaccine separately from other vaccines, administering a premedication prior to giving the rabies vaccines to prevent a reaction or, in some cases, not giving the vaccine again.
Feline injection-site sarcomas can also occur with any vaccine, including the rabies vaccine.
FISSs are rare, occurring in approximately 1 out of every 10,000 to 30,000 vaccinations. FISSs are cancerous tumors that develop at the injection site months or even years later. If you find a lump where your cat got her rabies shot, contact your veterinarian immediately. Although most lumps do not go on to become FISSs, your veterinarian will closely monitor it to make sure it goes away on its own.
Frequently Asked Questions
Sre rabies shots necessary for indoor cats?
In states where rabies vaccination for cats is mandated by law, the rabies vaccine is required for all cats, regardless of whether they are outdoor cats or indoor cats. The rabies vaccine might also be recommended by your veterinarian even in states where rabies vaccination for cats is not required by law. Your veterinarian will determine your cat’s level of risk and tell you if the rabies vaccines is a good idea. Outdoor cats, or cats that go outdoors occasionally, are more likely to encounter rabid bats and other wildlife that can transmit rabies.
How long do cats rabies shots last?
Depending on the vaccine manufacturer, the rabies vaccine has different recommended revaccination frequencies. Some rabies vaccines are good for one year and others are good for three years. Your veterinarian will tell you if your cat got a one-year rabies vaccine or three-year vaccine.
How much does a cat rabies vaccine cost?
The price for a rabies vaccine can vary, depending on where you live and who vaccinates your cat. At your local veterinary hospital, you could pay anywhere from $15 to $28 per vaccine. If you combine cat vaccinations with a yearly physical exam, the cost will be higher since you are paying the exam fee too (the cost of an exam also varies, but it might range anywhere from $45 to $55).
You can save some money by taking your cat to a low-cost vaccine clinic, which might be offered by your veterinary clinic, a humane society in your area or your local government. Vaccines at low-cost shot clinics may be as low as $10 per vaccine, with no exam fee. However, it’s always a good idea to have your cat examined by a veterinarian before she gets vaccines because it’s not safe to give vaccines to a cat that is ill or running a fever.
Rabies vaccines are something many cats need, either due to the law or the cat’s individual risk. Cat owners should talk to their veterinarians to find out if their cat needs a rabies vaccine, and how often rabies booster vaccinations are needed.