Do Indoor Cats Need Vaccination?

Did you know that a complete vaccination for your kitty can cost you $75 to $200 in the first year alone? Additionally, Strict vaccination compliance costs $10 to $50 a year after, and boosters every three years.

In 1991, however, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania traced active cancer cells – sarcomas, on the shoulders of cats – on the areas where they had annual vaccinations. The thing is, sarcoma treatment costs up to $3,000.

For us whose cats barely go outdoors and thus, barely get exposed to all kinds of health risks, we may wonder – do indoor cats need shots?

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Indoor vs Outdoor Cats

Cats by nature are playful and curious but the degree of their penchant for the outdoors may vary from kitty to kitty. Each personality also comes with advantages and risks.

For outdoor felines, enjoying their predatory instincts to the fullest will give them plenty of exercises – and less hassle for us pet parents to clean their mess in the litter box.

The downside to this, however, is an increased risk in getting involved with rabid and wild creatures that could give them parasites and all forms of kitty illnesses, as well as a high risk of getting involved in accidents like falling from high places and vehicle-related dangers.

Additionally, we pet parents would not be able to easily detect injuries, poisons, and illnesses, as well as their causes.

Because of the number of high risks of raising outdoor cats, a lot of pet parents and kitty specialists recommend raising indoor kitties. This is because indoor felines are usually content to just stare outside while lounging by the window, far from the risk of any neighborhood catfights and vehicular accidents. It is also easier to identify health problems and monitor them should there be any that will occur.

The downside to this, however, is that homebody cats can be such couch potatoes if not given enough toys and playthings. Excessive laziness can lead to obesity and even feline diabetes, so you need to consider your kitty’s play and exercise if you wish to raise indoor cats.

Things to Consider in Vaccination

Deciding vaccination for your kitten is not as easy as 1-2-3. For one, you would not want your cat to suffer over-vaccination which increases the risk of vaccine-associated Sarcoma. It is also unhealthy for your savings.

The Why

On the other hand, you cannot deny your kitty any vaccination even if it stays indoors for its entire life. There are no guarantees on how its life will turn out, but having your little furball vaccinated will help protect your kitty should it find itself outdoors by accident.

It would be good if your kitty runs back to you right away. But this still is not a guarantee that the poor cat has not been exposed to any virus that vaccines can help prevent. But what if your kitty finds itself among other cats and wayward pets in a shelter? Not every animal in shelters is as healthy and well-taken care of when they are found. Moreover, a stressed cat will have its immune system weakened.

Stress in cats also do not limit to staying in shelters, and every time they feel stressed – like a territorial dispute with another one of your pets – their immunity will have to be tested.

Cats’ immunity is also at risk when animals outside the house — some neighborhood cat, included – intrude your home. This is not only stressful for your kitty but the animal could be carrying some disease a vaccine would have helped prevent – like rabies, for example.

There may also be changes in your own lives together along the way. You might need to change address or you might need to travel to another country. Whether you keep your kitty with you during travel or have it cared for by someone else at home, your cat will still feel some stress.

Again, because immunity is affected, your pet will be prone to more health risks if left unvaccinated.

Local and Organizational Recommendations

Some communities have specifics regarding the vaccination of their members’ pets. There are also localities where they hold free vaccination day for community pets. If this is available in your community, then there is no reason to refuse vaccination. This is, after all, something good for your cat.

Types of Vaccine

There are two types of cat vaccines you can ask from the vet. These are core vaccinations and non-core vaccinations.

  • Core Vaccines

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) identifies two major vaccines that are considered core and should be given to all felines – the FVRCP Vaccine and the Anti-Rabies Vaccine.

The FVRCP Vaccine is a compound of three vaccines intended for three viruses – panleukopenia, feline herpes (Type 1) also known as Rhinotracheitis, and Calicivirus.

Rhinotracheitis or Feline Herpes, is the feline equivalent to our flu. Only that, the virus can never be removed once a kitty acquires it – whether as a kitten from a mama cat or from any sick cat within the neighborhood. The good thing is, the vaccine helps prevent the onset of Rhinotracheitis which can greatly affect your cat’s sleeping and eating habits and life in the worst cases.

Calicivirus is also another illness similar to flu. Additionally, it can give mouth ulcers to your kitty and can escalate to pneumonia if left as is.

Panleukopenia, also known as distemper, is a fatal disease for cats. If untreated, death ensues within 12 hours of contracting the disease which has symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, and vomiting.

Because kitties are highly susceptible to these diseases especially when they have been weaned from their mama cat, it is recommended that they should acquire their first shot within the first 6-8 weeks. This will have to be followed by two more shots during their 10th-12th week, and 14th-16thweek. They will then have their first booster shots a year after.

AAFP recommends renewal of booster shots every three years after the first booster shot, but a lot of indoor cat parents renew their kitty’s boosters within 3-7 years.

Anti-rabies vaccine is another core vaccine for your feline friend. It is a must, regardless if your cat is an indoor or an outdoor type since it is dangerous not just for your cat but also for humans. The vaccine is available both as annual and 3-year shot, although you will have to check with your vet whichever is available in your locality.

There is a fifth core vaccine which is intended for Feline Leukemia, which greatly affects a kitty’s immune system to the point that it can increase the effect of various infections and blood disorders, and even cancer. Some indoor cat owners, however, would discontinue the vaccination of FeLV after one shot since their cats are less prone to Feline Leukemia.

If you have both outdoor and indoor tabbies, however, it is recommended to continue FeLV because your indoor kitty may still contract the virus through its house sibling.

  • Non-Core Vaccines

Non-core vaccines include those that protect against Feline Chlamydia and Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP); both of which affect the respiratory tract in different areas (Chlamydia affects the Upper respiratory tract). Also included in the list are medicines against Bordetella, Feline FIV, and ringworm.

One problem among non-core vaccines is that not all of them have been confirmed to be effective like in the case of Bordetella, FIV, and ringworm. Other non-core vaccines also need not be administered because there is almost no possibility for your kitty to contract diseases such as FIP and Chlamydia.

To Adjuvant or To Non-Adjuvant

There has been an ongoing issue regarding the use of vaccines with adjuvant. Adjuvant is an ingredient in vaccines that speeds up the response and effectivity of the vaccine on your kitty. Adjuvant detractors, however, present that the ingredient acts as a signal beacon that causes increase immune system activity that leads to mutation and development of Sarcomas.

Those who are for the use of adjuvanted vaccines, however, point out that non-adjuvanted vaccines have to be injected more frequently – annual instead of every three years – a frequency of vaccination that could still contribute as much as adjuvanted vaccines to the development of Sarcomas.

As a cat parent, it is important to consider whether you wish for adjuvanted or non-adjuvanted vaccines for your indoor cat since you also need to take its efficacy into consideration.

Antibody Titer

A good way to save all the trouble of revaccination and increasing your kitty’s chance to develop Sarcomas is to let the cat undergo antibody titers which reduces the frequency for your indoor cat to get vaccinated.

Getting antibody titers is equivalent to sending blood samples to check if the vaccine is still taking effect. The only downside, however, is its cost to your budget.

Other Preventives

There are also other injectables that prevent diseases, illnesses, and parasitic invasions that we cat parents need to consider. Included in this list are preventives against fleas which can be administered on our indoor kitties occasionally compared to administering it to outdoor cats since fleas are still bound to enter houses with or without our knowledge.

Heartworm preventatives are also important since they also double as intestinal worm preventatives. Although the frequency of heartworm cases is geographical, it is still worth the effort of occasionally getting a heartworm preventative for your kitty.

Budget Alternatives

Indoor cat shots, like all pet medical expenses, cost a lot, so you may need to find ways to have your kitty vaccinated without sacrificing quality of preventatives.

One way to do this is to get help from pet rescue centers. This is especially a good way to cover expenses if your little tabby is adopted rather than bought off the cattery.

Another way to get your feline friend vaccinated is through acquiring insurance. But not all insurance policies cover cat vaccinations.

Pet First, for example, provides shot coverage of at least $25. Savings Memberships like PetPlus also give discount services for vet services for its members.

Final Advice

Indoor kitties may have less exposure from dangers outside the house but one cannot be too sure. Having your indoor kitty vaccinated is important to ensure its health and safety but it is also equally important to consider that each puss has different vaccination retention rate from others.

As of now, there is no formula regarding how often a cat should be vaccinated but there are already basic guidelines. The important thing is to consult with a good vet who is sensitive enough to consider the uniqueness of each feline friend out there and to accept the fact that high frequency of vaccination can affect not only a cat’s susceptibility to Sarcoma but also the pet parent’s pockets.

Miranda LaSala
Miranda LaSala

My destination ever since I was born was to be a cat person. When I had the chance, I took the course on Veterinary Tech from Pima Medical Institute, Seattle. For the last 5 years, I've worked as a kennel assistant, veterinary nurse, and a surgical nurse.

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