Indoor cats: to vaccinate, or not?
February 15, 2015 5:45 PM   Subscribe

My cats are indoors. They never interact with other cats and it's extremely unlikely that they would ever make it outdoors. Do I still need to get them vaccinated?

I'm not an anti-vaxxer or anything. I just don't see the point on spending a not inconsiderable sum on something that has very very little chance of actually being of any use. Ethical dilemmas and legal responsibilities I don't know about? Lay them on me.
posted by Fister Roboto to Pets & Animals (29 answers total)
If someone is ever mean enough to your cat that your cat bites them, and they report it, your cat will need to have had the rabies shot in order to avoid something extremely unpleasant. You can get a rabies shot that is good for three years, so at least you don't have to haul the cats into the vet every year.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 5:48 PM on February 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

Here's a decent link with an explanation of "core" vaccines, which are recommended for all cats, and "non-core" vaccines that are more important for higher risk cats, such as outdoor cats and cats that have exposure to other cats. Most states require rabies vaccination, but your vet can tell you about the specifics about that where you live.
posted by fermezporte at 5:52 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Rabies yes; other vaccines talk to your vet. My indoor cats get some but not others, and it varies based on their age and health.

We had a bat get into our house and expose a sleeping infant; my cats chased it into the bathroom and trapped it (although they let it go, not helpful). We were EXTREMELY RELIEVED that while dealing with the drama and trauma of having had an infant exposed to a possibly-rabid bat, we did not have to have our cats quarantined or, God forbid, destroyed. (There was active rabies in the bat colony in our county at the time and just a week before a rabid one had bitten a child and the pets in the house had to be put down because they were unvaccinated.) Instead of six weeks of quarantine, we had one five-minute phone call to the vet to triple-check that they were up-to-date on rabies vaccines and see if we needed to do anything else; the vet said, "Nope, check them for cuts and scratches in case they need an antibiotic for a regular old scratch, but they won't get rabies."

Incredibly, we had a SECOND bat get into the house almost exactly a year later, and the cats cornered that one too!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:54 PM on February 15, 2015 [10 favorites]

If anything happens, that vaccine is the difference between a decapitated loved one and not. Or 90 days of quarantine, which is probably as expensive as your rent for 90 days.

Just do it.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:01 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was told that the rabies vaccine is legally mandated in my state, regardless of whether my cats are indoor only cats or not.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:11 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just a note that mice and rats come into your house and can spread disease as well as being tasty treats and fun toys for your cats...
posted by bitdamaged at 6:18 PM on February 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

Our indoor-only beasts get rabies (legally mandated) and FVRCP, because you never know when they might slip past you and make it outside, or when some other critter might make it in.

If you're concerned about cost, many shelters do low-cost or sliding-scale vaccination clinics periodically. (Although I have to say that as cat expenses go, their vaccines are basically the cheapest thing.)
posted by dorque at 6:25 PM on February 15, 2015

Oh, and if you ever need to take them to an emergency vet, you will usually need to show proof of rabies vaccination. Our previous e-vet mentioned that there are additional costs associated with the vet having to assume they have rabies, just in case. Or if you ever need to have them boarded in a kennel; many kennels won't take pets who haven't had their rabies shots.
posted by dorque at 6:29 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you ever move to another country with them, or sometimes another state, they will need proof of certain vaccinations.
posted by WasabiFlux at 6:43 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing everyone else. But I wanted to add...

Don't skimp out on the other scheduled pet meds either like heartworm/flea preventitive one either. I wasn't always good at remembering to give my cat her the heartworm/flea prevention meds, and despite her being an indoor cat and me never seeing a single flea in the house, she somehow got a tapeworm. I felt awful that MY forgetfulness led to my cat getting a parasite.
posted by Caravantea at 6:50 PM on February 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Our cats are strictly indoors, and our vet recommended that we get certain vaccines and thought some others were okay to skip. It probably depends to some degree on your situation (e.g. how likely are they to escape? do you ever have other animals in your home? ). Vets get this question a lot, and can give you the best answer for your situation.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:51 PM on February 15, 2015

Get the rabies shot. If your cats ever have contact with a bat (or a squirrel or a raccoon, etc) and they haven't had it, there will be trouble. We had a situation where we thought our vet had slipped up and not given the rabies vaccine because someone at the vet's office misread the records, and our cat caught a bat, and the first vet I talked to said that the normal policy was to euthanize the cat. The next vet said that the alternative was one year of in-home quarantine with contact only with a vaccinated person. We were going to build a big hutch in the basement for her, I was crying all over the place, it was the fucking worst.

Luckily it was just a record-reading screw-up and all she needed was the booster but I hardly like to think about it.
posted by Frowner at 6:54 PM on February 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yeah, they're cats, and one of these days the extremely unlikely is going to happen and they're going to make a dash for freedom. They've already read this AskMe post and are making their plans as you read this. Get the rabies vaccine at least.
posted by goatdog at 6:58 PM on February 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

To add to the random animals that get inside stories: we've had a squirrel running around our place before. We had to trick it into running inside a box in order to get it outside. I don't think it was ill, but had it been, I think it would have been even harder to trap it. Plus, yes, mice too (before we figured out how to seal the vent and other holes).
posted by amtho at 7:17 PM on February 15, 2015

Response by poster: Just to clarify: they will definitely get the rabies vaccine. I was more wondering about distemper, feline leukemia, etc.

I live on the second floor of an apartment building in Milwaukee, so I'd be surprised if any squirrels made it up here, but I suppose mice are more realistic of a problem.
posted by Fister Roboto at 7:31 PM on February 15, 2015

After their initial adoption shots, I didn't vaccinate my indoor only cats for four years because they were born feral and I didn't want to set back their socialization. However, the rabies vaccination is a legal requirement in my state. We live next to woods, so we have mice, and cats being cats, I feel better knowing they're vaccinated now.
posted by Ruki at 7:33 PM on February 15, 2015

Oh, on non-preview, I didn't get the distemper shot, but did get the feline leukemia shot only because I had a childhood cat die of that and it was devastating.
posted by Ruki at 7:34 PM on February 15, 2015

Get rabies for sure - please. But also keep in mind that animals can get into your house (mice, rats, squirrels) that can carry disease and your cats could escape. FIV is extremely common and spread by cats getting into fights, which your cats probably would if they got out and found themselves in another cat's territory.
posted by Toddles at 8:21 PM on February 15, 2015

To add to the random animals that get inside stories: we've had a squirrel running around our place before. We had to trick it into running inside a box in order to get it outside. I don't think it was ill, but had it been, I think it would have been even harder to trap it. Plus, yes, mice too (before we figured out how to seal the vent and other holes).

While it's upsetting to have random rodents in the house, they actually rarely contract and almost never transmit rabies. On the other hand, you can totally get bubonic plague and other nasty stuff from rodents, depending on where you are, but rabies I wouldn't worry so much about. Bats, oh hell yes. (I found out about this when I started working with wild rodents for work and the IACUC training was very clear that rodents were not a rabies risk.)

Nthing everyone who says do rabies and probably FIV, though. I'm not as up to date on cats as I should be to have an informed opinion on the other stuff at the moment.

Re: heartworm stuff, definitely keep up with that if you are in a problem area regardless of whether the cat goes outside. Heartworms are spread by mosquitoes, and those do not respect house walls at all.
posted by sciatrix at 8:26 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

My vet and I went through this with Mr. Esther who has (accidentally) been outside once in his life, sat crying under a rosebush for an hour, then ran back inside. What we decided was to vaccinate against rabies (duh), then only do any of the other basic vaccines that, for example, a kennel might require if he had to be boarded in an emergency. For us, that was FIV, distemper and I believe some sort of rhinovirus vaccine? It might be worthwhile calling around and seeing if any of the local places you might need to board at have specific requirements.

(BTW, he's never been boarded a day in his life, I was just trying to consider all situations. Nothing like an "FAMILY MEDICAL EMERGENCY AND THERE'S NO ONE TO TAKE CARE OF THE CAT, WHAT DO YOU MEAN WE CAN'T BOARD HIM" situation to make you appreciate the ol' ounce of prevention)
posted by theweasel at 8:29 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it depends on your region, but you might have significant problems finding a cat sitter if your cats aren't up to date on all the recommended shots. Not only for boarding, but some in-home cat-sitting services require cats to be up on their shots in case they in an emergency have to take them out of the house, where they might get exposed to other cats (especially if the cat sitter might have to bring them to their own house in an emergency, as most cat sitters have cats of their own).
posted by lollusc at 8:50 PM on February 15, 2015

Yes, our cats had to be all up to date to be boarded; this has come in useful several times. If not for emergencies, in case you decide to take a vacation! It might be easier to get the initial rounds, and then if you decide to go somewhere all they'd need is their booster shots (rather than starting from scratch). Ours had to have their boosters a certain amount of time (weeks?) prior to boarding.

We have a friend we can *usually* call in emergencies, since boarding places won't always have room at no notice. However, it's nice to have the option.
posted by jrobin276 at 8:53 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

There is a low cost vaccine clinic at the Milwaukee location of the Wisconsin Humane Society:

These should be more affordable than your vet and very worth it. I also saw on their site that they are offering free vaccines on a certain date for residents of a certain area code.

They also offer low cost microchipping. I recommend microchipping all cats and dogs in case they can get lost. It's a one time fee, and could save their life if they get loose and are found by someone else or animal control. I know my indoor cat doesn't wear a collar or show any interest in leaving my apartment, but it gives me a little peace of mind knowing she could be identified if she ended up at a shelter!
posted by Katie8709 at 9:24 PM on February 15, 2015

My cat was vaccinated. She lived a perfectly healthy life until the age of 17 when she got soft tissue sarcoma which the doctors blamed on vaccines, primarily the feline leukaemia. Apparently it is not unheard of for cats to develop cancer at the exact place where vaccines were previously administered. She died a year ago after three surgeries and radiotherapy.

If I knew what was to happen, I would not have given her anything other than the rabies shots which are required by law. She was an indoors only cat.
posted by Parsnip at 10:10 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing the boarding and cat-sitting thing. We've had our cats over 18 years, strictly indoor with no access to outside. But once or twice a year they need to be boarded, and boarding facilities will NOT take unvaccinated animals, so we have to get their shots before then. Most other cat-sitting businesses have the same requirements due to their insurance (they don't want their employees being bitten/scratched by unvaccinated cats). There may be times you need to make an emergency trip somewhere without your cats and need to board them; just be aware they'll need shots first. Also if your cats will ever be in contact with animals who DO go outside, they can pick up diseases tracked in by the other animals (e.g.: if your friends/family bring their dog or cat over to visit, etc.).
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 6:53 AM on February 16, 2015

I'd ask your vet what they recommend at the yearly appointment, as she'll be knowledgable about the specific dangers in your area. For example, in our previous location our vet recommended to do flea protection because our area had so many flea issues that it was very possible for US to carry fleas into the house and infect the cat. (In fact, this happened to my friend with indoor cats and was a huge pain, from fleas in her DRIVEWAY!) In our current location, this isn't so much of an issue so we don't do that. Obviously that is not a vaccine, but the general idea is that based on location and other risk factors, you vet is likely to recommend different things. As our cat is indoor-only but we sometimes do board him, our vet recommended some vaccines but I think it wasn't the full array that one might get for an outdoor cat. Since your vet is trained in this and you aren't, I'd say to go with the expert.

(If you don't trust the vet or think she's going to lie to you, that's another story, and probably you should find someone else!)
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:56 AM on February 16, 2015

Weirdly, our vet suggested that after their initial inoculations, that other than rabies, that we DON'T vaccinate our cats for the other stuff. They're a low-cost, non-profit so they're always looking out to be cost effective. Our kitties are indoor only, and don't interact with other cats. However, I'd rather err on the side of caution. I also do flea treatments.

But discuss with your vet. If money is a hassle, let your vet know, often they'll do vaccinations at cost if they know you're struggling.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:01 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ask about the vaccines that your cats get. There is a cancer that is (supposed to be) related to vaccination (the location of the cancer is . . .always where the cat was vaccinated, leg or neck). So for one thing, Merial Purevax is supposed to be the best as far as NOT causing cancer. Secondly make sure that the vet is not vaccinating in the scruff of the neck but on the back haunches (because the cancer is more survivable in that area). (The cancer FWIW that my cat had was vaccine associated sarcoma.)

As Parsnip says, I am torn up every day about the fact that my cat was vaccinated, possibly unnecessarily. Then again, he was a rescue and was already vaccinated before I got him, so there's no assigning real blame to anyone about that. You're rolling the dice either way - the cat may get Feline Leukemia if he accidentally gets outside. But you can ask about PureVax/do some additional research on safer vaccines. FWIW my remaining cat is not vaccinated anymore because they think there is a genetic component, and the two of them are at least half siblings. She's 13, she's indoor, I feel okay about my choices right now. With a younger cat who was maybe going to make some poor decisions? I may decide differently.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:25 AM on February 16, 2015

1st Care, the company that sets up the vaccination clinics at my local pet store, has various cat vaccine packages, including a "core" group and a combo platter. YYMV as far as prices go in your area, but it should give you an idea of the comparative costs.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:23 AM on February 16, 2015

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