Why Does My Indoor Cat Need Yearly Vaccinations?

CatChannel veterinary expert Arnold Plotnick, DVM, discusses vaccinations and why they are recommended

By Arnold Plotnick, DVM | Posted: January 29, 2010, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: Do I need to take my indoor cats to get their yearly vaccinations? If yes, I wonder why, since they don't go out anywhere. What if I decide not to give them any vaccination? What will happen? I haven't vaccinated them for two years. Thank you.
A: For many years, it had been recommended that cats receive routine vaccinations on an annual basis. Rabies has been the exception; some rabies vaccines are labeled for annual vaccination, while other types of rabies vaccines have been shown to confer immunity for three years.  
The discovery that certain vaccines (the feline leukemia virus vaccine and the rabies vaccine in particular) have the potential to induce the formation of malignant tumors at the vaccination site has prompted a closer look at vaccination and whether annual vaccination may be unnecessary. We now know that the immunity to the common cat diseases that we vaccinate against (panleukopenia, feline herpesvirus, feline calicivirus) is fairly long-lived, at least three years, and that annual vaccination may be excessive and unnecessary.

If your cats have been properly vaccinated as kittens and you were keeping up with the booster vaccinations, then you probably don’t need to vaccinate until three years after the last panleukopenia-herpes-calicivirus vaccine. The reason why we vaccinate against these viruses, even though your cat is strictly indoors, is that your cat is very likely already infected with the feline herpesvirus. Most cats are exposed to this virus as kittens, and once they recover from their infection, they remain carriers for life. During times of stress, the herpesvirus can emerge from its dormant state, and cause signs of illness. If your cat is well-vaccinated, the clinical signs tend to be mild.

If your cat is unvaccinated or poorly vaccinated, he can get quite sick, depending on how the virus chooses to manifest itself. The panleukopenia-herpes-calicivirus vaccine is considered to be a “core” vaccine.  All cats should be vaccinated against it, and the vaccine should remain current. Rabies vaccination is also a core vaccine, and is required by law. I recommend staying current on your rabies vaccination.


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Why Does My Indoor Cat Need Yearly Vaccinations?

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Reader Comments

Joan    Orange beach, AL

9/12/2014 7:43:41 AM

My two cats are seven years old and have had vacs every year. I am now unable to carry them to a vet myself. My vet has picked them up for the past three years but now seems to be unable to do so. Is there a facility which offers this service?

aa    hollister, CA

12/31/2011 1:56:21 AM


doug    NY, NY

9/30/2011 6:24:58 PM

From Previous post. It was called a TITER
PAN/CAL/RHI Titer and a RABIES Titer.

All came up clean on a cat that never had vaccines after the one set he got as a kitten. He had been to the VET once in his life until the age of 16.

He had diabetes at 13 which was diagnosed by me based on his brother having it. I learned how to test and maintained him on insulin and continue to right now. 18 1/2 years old. His Sister has same results.

I would be 99.95 of all cats that have lived indoors would have similar results.

There is strong evidence that a single injection of rabies vaccine will last a lifetime in a cat. Google it carefully. It is out there though well hidden by PFI.

doug    NY, NY

9/30/2011 6:08:46 PM

I disagree and with strong evidence that says otherwise.

I had two cats that had not had rabies vaccines since they were kittens. They were 15 and the NJ Vet demanded they get vaccinated. His alternative was a test that verifies whether they are already immune or protected. I cannot recall the name of the test but it was priced higher than the vaccine.

Both cats tested as clean and legally allowed to not be vaccinated. I assume in 3 years they will force it again, or maybe one year who knows but I no longer go to that vet. They are 18 1/2 now.

They were born in my closet so maybe they do not carry that virus you mention.

I had another cat that recently passed. He was 19y 9 months and we lost him to HyperT. Could not find a clinic I liked for I-131 then. He also had one set of shots his whole life and was never sick until he got kidney disease at 13. He lived with it for 6 1/2 years. HyperT got him.

I found Dr. Peterson HYPURRCAT in NY. FANTASTIC. Cured my 2 18 1/2 year olds.

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