I have many owners whose cats never set foot outside. They are not “flight risks” and have no interest in going outside. Ever. These owners often prefer not to continue vaccinating their adult cats. Some vets insist on it, every year. What to do?
There are two main vaccines that are generally recommended for all cats by the AAFP (American Association of Feline Practitioners), a national organization of veterinarians with a particular interest in feline medicine. These shots are the FVRCP (AKA “feline distemper”) and rabies. I strongly recommend the kitten series and young adult (of both vaccines) for all cats, to establish immunity when we’re still deciding if they will be “door dashers” or not. The AAFP also recommends giving kittens the Leukemia vaccine, because at that young age, we still don’t know if they will be the type to charge out the door or not. The AAFP does not recommend the Leukemia vaccine for indoor only cats beyond the kitten shots, so that’s an easy decision. But what about the FVRCP and Rabies vaccines for your middle-aged couch potato?
If you do not encounter cats in your daily life, new cats are not coming into your home, and your cats are not leaving, they are in a relatively “closed system.” The chances of your cat actually encountering a virus are slim to none, so we might make the decision to skip the FVRCP vaccine (on a case by case basis). That said, if you are a vet tech, interact with stray cats often, or work or volunteer in a shelter (then you’re awesome), keeping your cat protected against FVRCP is still recommended. Even if your cats do not set foot outside, you can bring viruses home on your skin, shoes, and clothing. The FVRCP is available in a 3-year vaccine, so ask your vet for that version if your cat does have some risk.
What about rabies? You’re right, your indoor only cat who runs AWAY from the door when it’s opened has virtually no chance of getting rabies. Why vaccinate? It’s required by law, so I have to tell you to follow the law. I often tell my clients the rabies vaccine has little to do with your cat actually getting rabies – it’s all about the paper trail! It only takes one person to accuse your cat of biting them to make your life really un-fun. Even if your cat does not really bite them, a simple accusation can mean fines and even worse, depending on the mood of your animal control officer and the ordinances of your locale. I usually recommend 3 year vaccines as opposed to 1 year, to keep it reasonable, yet keep everyone legal.
So no, you are not a terrible person if you don’t want to vaccinate your indoor-only cat annually. Many veterinarians these days carry 3-year vaccines of both the FVRCP and Rabies. They are willing to discuss the risks to your individual cat, and you both can make the best decision. If you choose not to vaccinate your adult cat every year, it is still very important that he or she be seen by a veterinarian at least once a year for a physical exam and general check-up. For senior animals, twice yearly exams, perhaps even with blood testing, are recommended. So no, the trip to the vet is not about the shots, but keeping your cat healthy!