Indoor Cats and Infectious Disease
My cat spends 100% of her time indoors. She doesn’t need vaccinations, does she?
It is a myth that cats who live indoors don’t need to be vaccinated against infectious diseases. While living an indoor lifestyle is certainly safer overall than living outdoors, and indoor living contributes to a longer life expectancy, important infectious diseases can find cats anyway.
Feline rhinotracheitis virus, feline calici virus, and feline panleukopenia virus make up the feline distemper complex. Vaccination against the feline distemper complex is important because these diseases can be deadly. They are hardy viruses that can be brought into the home on inanimate objects like clothes or shoes. Because transmission does not require direct contact with another cat, indoor-only cats can be exposed and become ill if they are not appropriately vaccinated. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) have published vaccination guidelines that reflect the current standard of vaccine science. Your veterinarian will help you understand the most appropriate distemper vaccination schedule for your cat.
I read that feline leukemia virus (FeLV) requires direct cat-to-cat contact. Surely my indoor cat is safe from this disease?
The current feline vaccine recommendations from the AAHA and the AAFP include vaccinating all kittens against FeLV following a negative blood test. This vaccine should be boosted at the one year anniversary, at which time you can discuss your cat’s lifestyle with your veterinarian, who may recommend skipping this vaccine. Keep in mind that if you have more than one cat and one of them spends some time outdoors, this cat can potentially become a carrier, transporting FeLV indoors and exposing the cat who lives strictly inside. When deciding about FeLV vaccination, it is important to consider all the cats in the household.
Surely rabies is not a concern for my indoor cat?
Rabies is a human health concern, not just an animal health issue. Because rabies can be transmitted to humans and is nearly universally fatal, many communities have laws mandating rabies vaccination of pets. Rabies is most commonly transmitted by a bite from an infected animal. Bats, skunks, and raccoons are the most common sources of exposure to rabies by companion animals.
Rabies is a human health concern, not just an animal health issue.
Regardless of legal requirements, maintaining regular rabies vaccination makes good medical sense. Even a strictly indoor cat may find a way to sneak out of the house and be exposed to rabies by a wild animal in the neighborhood. A rabid bat could find its way inside, presenting an attractive hunting target for an indoor cat. It is simply not worth the risk to the cat or the human family members to decline vaccination against rabies.
Your veterinarian is your best source of the most current recommendations for vaccinating cats in order to protect them from preventable infectious diseases - even cats who live strictly indoors. The current guidelines for feline vaccination involve a rotating vaccine schedule - it is no longer considered appropriate to vaccinate against every disease every single year. Instead, an individual risk assessment is performed to determine the most appropriate disease protection and prevention plan for your cat. Your veterinarian has your cat’s best interests in mind.