What Is a Cat Distemper Vaccine?

Dr. Joe Alcorn, M.S., D.V.M.

Dr. Joe Alcorn is founder of Care Animal Hospital in Temecula, California. He has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Colorado State University. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and his advice has been featured in large publications like Bustle and Martha Stewart.

Home » Blog » What Is a Cat Distemper Vaccine?

Vaccinating your feline friend against potentially fatal diseases is essential for their health. If you are considering getting a cat, you may wonder what a cat distemper vaccine is and how important it can be.

What Is a Cat Distemper Vaccine?

The cat distemper vaccine is a core vaccine recommended for all cats. It prevents them from getting feline parvovirus, herpes, and calicivirus. These are deadly and highly contagious diseases that affect cats worldwide. Therefore, all cats must be vaccinated against them.

Veterinarian doing a check-up using a stethoscope on a white cat

Since unvaccinated kittens are at the highest risk of contracting them, it is recommended to vaccinate them at six weeks old. Then, at three months old, they should get a booster vaccine. This way, they will be completely safe. However, you should always care for their health.

While the vaccine will prevent them from getting the diseases, you still need to provide good nutrition and general care. This means good food habits, exercise, and lots of attention. If not, they could get sick from obesity and even depression.

Types of Cat Distemper Vaccines

Like all vaccines, feline distemper vaccines are classified into two types: modified live virus vaccines and killed virus vaccines. Modified vaccines contain a weakened version of the virus. Whereas killed virus vaccines contain an inactivated virus.

Live vaccines tend to have more side effects and cause lethargy in your cat. However, it is much more effective. If you vaccinate your cat with a modified live vaccine, you only have to do it once. On the other hand, killed virus vaccines might need multiple shots to work effectively.

Though, they do not produce as many side effects as modified vaccines. At the end of the day, both provide immunity against feline distemper, and the choice is based on the cat’s overall health. For instance, if the cat is old, it is better to choose a killed virus vaccine.

Symptoms of Feline Parvovirus

A cat infected with feline distemper can show some lethargy and loss of appetite at first. Then, other symptoms, such as fever, vomiting, and diarrhea, occur. Next, due to the fever, vomiting, and diarrhea, they might experience dehydration.

As it progresses, the cat’s immune system becomes compromised and weak. As a result, they are more vulnerable to other bacterial infections. This is why, in severe cases, death can occur within hours of the first symptoms. Therefore, if your cat shows these signs, contact me and bring your cat to the clinic as soon as possible.

A veterinarian checking the mouth of a brown cat

Symptoms of Feline Herpes

Feline herpes (Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis) mostly affects the upper respiratory system of cats. The most common symptoms are sneezing, excessive discharge from the eyes and nose, nasal congestion, and fever. Also, it is the most common cause of conjunctivitis in cats.

Other symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, and inflammation of the cornea. While there is no cure for feline herpes, it can be managed with medication and proper nutrition.

Symptoms of Calicivirus

Feline Calicivirus also affects the upper respiratory system of cats, being very similar to feline herpes. In fact, their symptoms are alike. Cats with calicivirus experience conjunctivitis, sneezing, nasal congestion, and excessive discharge from the eyes and nose.

However, the calicivirus also causes hypersalivation, cough, and ulcers on their tongues and palates. Unlike feline herpes, the calicivirus is curable, and it commonly lasts from 14 to 21 days.

Vaccination Schedule

Now that you know about the cat distemper vaccine, it is important to know why and when to vaccinate your kitten. After all, they are at the most risk of contracting this disease. Here you can see when to vaccinate your kittens.

  • All kittens should receive their first vaccine shots between six and eight weeks.
  • Two booster shots should be given three to four weeks after their first vaccination.
  • A last booster vaccine should be given one year later when they are one year and three months old.
  • After their last booster vaccine, it is recommended to wait one year and give them another one. Then one every three years.
  • Cats with an unknown vaccination history should also receive an initial vaccine, followed by a booster three to four weeks later.

This is the most common vaccination schedule. However, there are circumstances where it could change, depending on your cat, your location, and other factors. Therefore, please consult me beforehand so I can determine the best schedule for your cat.

A close-up view of a white cat lying on a bed

Vaccine Safety and Side Effects

It is important to learn what a cat distemper shot is. After all, while this vaccine is considered safe, it can cause mild side effects. These can include fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite. It is vital to remember that these symptoms should not last more than 48 hours.

If your cat has been sick for more than two days after their vaccine shots, bring them to the clinic. This is because, in rare cases, cats can experience allergic reactions and even anaphylaxis. To notice if they have one, you need to check for facial swelling, difficulty breathing, and vomiting.

If you notice any of these signs, bring them to me as soon as possible, as they might need immediate care.

Related Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about the cat distemper shot.

Do Indoor Cats Need Distemper Shots?

Yes, all cats need distemper shots, even if they are not in contact with other cats. This is because they can get infected indirectly by things such as a flea. You could also accidentally bring the virus to your house by petting another cat or letting them rub on your leg.

Can Humans Get Distemper From Cats?

Humans cannot get distemper, herpes, or calicivirus from cats. These infections only affect felines. However, you can spread distemper from one cat to another by petting them.

Is Feline Distemper the Same as Rabies?

No, distemper and rabies are different diseases. Distemper only affects a cat’s stomach and respiratory system, while rabies affects the brain and nervous system. Also, rabies can be spread to humans, while distemper can’t.


The cat distemper shot is an essential protection all cats should have to live comfortable lives. This is why it is important to know when to apply it and how to care for your cat after it.