Do Indoor Felines Need Cat Vaccinations?


cat vaccinationsMany cat owners believe that so long as their indoor cat remains indoors, they’ll never have to worry about rabies, distemper, and other viruses that are often prevented through vaccines and shots. But is this true? While outdoor cats are exposed to the elements, and, obviously, benefit from annual checkups and shots, can the same be said for an indoor cat? Do they need cat vaccinations too?

Regular cat vaccinations

It’s recommended that cats receive rabies shots regularly as well as the three-in-one FVRCP (feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia virus – feline distemper). Some vets recommend rabies every three years (if it’s a strictly indoor cat) whereas other vets recommend every year. In fact, some states require all cats (indoor or not) to receive annual rabies shots. Other optional cat vaccinations include:

  • FIP (feline infectious peritonitis, which is rare but often fatal)
  • Ringworm
  • Feline leukemia
  • Bordatella


But just because many cats get these shots regularly, does that mean your indoor cat needs them? Most vets and professionals in the field would say a resounding YES. But why? Let’s take a look at some potential scenarios.

Feline leukemia
Take, for example, FELV (feline leukemia virus).  This virus can be transmitted between cats through saliva or nasal secretions. It can be lethal. If your cat remains indoors, you may think it’s safe from FELV. However, putting aside the ongoing possibility that your cat could get out (an argument for every one of these scenarios), are they any possibilities of your cat coming in contact with another cat? This doesn’t even have to be a visitor in your home. Can other cats come to the screen door/window where your cat congregates? Even that contact is enough to transfer FELV.

Here’s a sticky subject. Does your cat need to get rabies shots each year, even if it never goes outside? Again, you can always consider the “what if,” as in “what if your cat got out?” Rabies is an extremely dangerous disease not just for animals, but for humans, which is why many states require up-to-date rabies shots, regardless of if your cat remains indoors or not. It’s best to check with your state laws to determine if this is a requirement for you. Regardless, for your cat’s safety, your own, and for others around you, this shot is one you ought not to mess around with.

The distemper combo
This is the three-way (or even four-way) injection that helps prevent panleukopenia (distemper), rhinotracheitis, and calicivirus. Viruses like calicivirus are extremely contagious and can possibly survive up to one week in an environment. The clothes you wear could have been exposed to this virus, meaning you could unknowingly infect your cat. This is why vets recommend this combo shot regardless of if your cat is indoors or not. Even if your cat goes nowhere near an open window, you (most likely) leave your house from time to time. Each time you come home you bring with you potential bacteria that could be harmful to your cat if he is not properly vaccinated.

Okay, your cat doesn’t go out, but do outside animals come in?
You also have to consider animals who come into your house. I recently had an unwanted visitor stop by my home … a bat. How’d it get in there? I have no idea, except to know that bats can squeeze through the most improbable places. Exposure to a rabid animal (not saying this bat was rabid) can lead to dire results for your cat, your other animals, and yourself.

The ill effects of cat vaccinations
One of the reasons pet owners don’t vaccinate their cats (particularly indoor ones) is because of stories of cancer and other illnesses related to the vaccinations. In fact, many vets have altered how often they administer shots as a result of this concern.

You can look online and find plenty of stories of cats who were diagnosed with cancer in the same location where they received vaccine injections. However, one resounding truth rings clear: The number of cats whose lives have been saved and improved because of these shots vastly outnumber any other statistic that exists.

The final decision
While some aspects of your cat’s health (rabies shots, depending on where you live) are not up to you, most other aspects are. You certainly have your pet’s best interest in mind, but is it possible that you’re not considering all the potentials:

  •  Indoor cats do get out
  • Outside animals do get in
  • Many feline viruses/illnesses are airborne


Before you decide that your indoor cat is de facto immune from any illnesses or viruses, take a moment to  consider all the possibilities and ask yourself: is it worth the risk?