Does My Indoor Cat Need Vaccinations? Yes.

We hear it all the time: “My cat stays indoors. Why does she need vaccinations?”

It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? If cats don’t run the risk of encountering disease, why do they need core vaccines (or titers) every three years? Here are half-dozen good reasons your veterinarian wants you to keep your cat up-to-date on his or her vaccinations.

6 Reasons to Vaccinate

Your cat could accidentally get outdoors. Cats can slip out an open door before you know it. They are curious about that big, exciting world outside their windows and won’t hesitate to go exploring. A forgetful repairman or visitor could accidentally leave the door open, paving the way for your cat’s escape. You might retrieve her right away, or you might not realize she’s missing for several hours. That’s plenty of time for her to pick a fight with a stray cat carrying disease or have a run-in with a rabid animal. Up-to-date vaccinations protect your cat against the unexpected.

If your cat ends up in a shelter, she could be exposed to sick cats. We hope that it never happens to our beloved pets, but as I noted above, cats can and do escape from their homes. If your cat is found, but has lost her collar or isn’t microchipped, her next stop could be your local animal shelter. That’s extremely stressful for any cat, especially one who is a homebody. Stress, in combination with crowded shelter conditions, can make cats more susceptible to disease.

Your cat’s lifestyle could change. When you bring home that adorable kitten, you’re expecting to have her for life, I imagine. But sometimes life brings changes that are beyond our control. Divorce, death or a move to a new home can all affect your cat’s circumstances. You might move to a new home where it seems safe to let her roam, or she might find herself living with a new family that allows her outdoors. There are plenty of cats in the world who started out as indoor kittens and later became outdoor cats. We can never know what the future holds or assume that a pet cat will never come into contact with a feline carrying disease, so it’s best to be prepared.

Stress could cause latent disease to flare-up. Many cats are exposed to the feline herpesvirus at an early age, especially if they came from a crowded shelter or contracted the disease in utero. It’s highly contagious and can be spread between cats (but not to people or dogs) through contact with discharge from the eyes, nose or mouth, or by sharing items such as litterboxes and feeding dishes. Cats with weakened immune systems, young cats and flat-faced cats (such as Persians) are especially prone to the disease. Vaccination doesn’t annihilate the virus — feline herpesvirus is the gift that keeps on giving; but vaccination can help keep it under control. The disease can flare-up, especially in cats without up-to-date vaccinations, causing respiratory infections and eye problems if an animal is stressed or sick.

A rabid animal could enter your home. You think I’m kidding, right? It happens, though. Bats can enter homes through attics or even small cracks — or through openings usually reserved for people and pets. One family in Nashville had a rabid bat fly into their suburban condo through an open sliding glass door, and just last year a woman in Massachusetts was attacked by a rabid raccoon who entered her home through a pet door. Keeping your cat indoors is the safest choice, but don’t assume that means she’s completely protected.

Your community may require rabies vaccines for cats. All places require rabies vaccinations for dogs, and some cities or states mandate rabies vaccinations for cats, as well. That protects your cat from a fatal disease and you from heartbreak and loss. Think about it: If your unvaccinated cat bit someone, the law could mandate that the feline be euthanized. The alternative might be a strict, six-month quarantine, at your expense, to determine that your cat is truly rabies-free. Don’t take the chance — get your cat vaccinated.