Cat Vaccines - Do indoor cats really need them?

Our Collingwood vets know how tempting it can be to skip vaccinations for indoor cats, but even if your feline friend stays inside it's still important to have your kitty vaccinated. Here's why...   

Keeping Your Cat Healthy With Vaccinations

A number of serious feline diseases afflict vast numbers of Canadian cats every year. To protect your kitty from contracting a preventable condition, it’s critical to have them vaccinated. It’s equally important to follow up your kitten’s first vaccines with regular booster shots throughout their lifetime, even if your kitty is an indoor cat.

Regularly scheduled booster shots “boost” your cat’s protection against diseases your cat has previously been vaccinated against, just as the effects of the initial vaccine wears off. Booster shots for different vaccines are given on specific schedules. Your vet will let you know when it's time to bring your cat back for their booster shots.

Good Reasons to Vaccinate Your Indoor Cat

Rabies Shots 

Although you may not think your indoor cat needs vaccinations, many provinces and territories across Canada (and most of the United States) require that kittens receive their first rabies shot by 3 months of age, and that protection against rabies be kept up to date with regular booster shots throughout the cat's lifetime. Once your cat has their shots your vet will provide you with a certificate showing that your cat has been vaccinated as required. 

The rabies shot is important for all cats because even within your home your cat come into contact with an infected bat, and should your cat escape there is a chance that they could meet up with other infected mammals.

Core Vaccines

Beyond the need for your indoor or outdoor cat to be vaccinated against rabies, there are other 'core vaccines' that are recommended for protecting your cat's health. Core vaccines work to protect your kitty against highly contagious diseases they could be exposed to if they happen to escape the safety of your home, visit a groomer, or need to stay at a boarding facility while you're away.

Core vaccinations should be given to all cats, as they are essential for protecting them against the following common but serious feline conditions:

  • Rabies rabies kills many mammals (including humans) every year. These vaccinations are required by law for cats in most states.
  • Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus and Panleukopenia (FVRCP) - Typically known as the “distemper” shot, this combination vaccine protects against feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia.
  • Feline herpesvirus type I (FHV, FHV-1) - This highly contagious, ubiquitous virus is one major cause of upper respiratory infections. Spread through sharing of litter trays or food bowls, inhalation of sneeze droplets or direct contact, the virus can infect cats for life. Some will continue to shed the virus, and persistent FHV infection can lead to eye problems.

Lifestyle (Non-Core) Vaccines for Cats

Lifestyle vaccines are appropriate for some cats depending on their lifestyle, but not necessary for all cats. Your vet is in the best position to recommend which lifestyle vaccines your cat should have.

Lifestyle vaccines protection against:

  • Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia (Felv) - These vaccines protect against viral infections that are transmitted via close contact. They are only usually recommended for cats that spend time outdoors.
  • Bordetella - This bacteria causes upper respiratory infections that are highly contagious. This vaccine may be recommended by your vet if you are taking your cat to a groomer or boarding kennel.
  • Chlamydophila felis - Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that causes severe conjunctivitis (pink eye). The vaccination for the infection is often included in the distemper combination vaccine.

Shots for Kittens

Your kitten should receive their first round of vaccinations when they are about six to eight weeks old. Following this, your kitty should get a series of shots about every 3 or 4 weeks until they reach approximately 16 weeks old.

Indoor Cat Vaccination Schedule & Health Exam Schedule

First visit - 6 to 8 weeks

  • Review nutrition and grooming
  • Blood test for feline leukemia
  • Fecal exam for parasites
  • Vaccinations for chlamydia, calicivirus, rhinotracheitis and panleukopenia

Second visit - 12 weeks

  • Examination and external check for parasites
  • First feline leukemia vaccine
  • Second vaccinations for calicivirus rhinotracheitis, and panleukopenia
  • First feline leukemia vaccine

Third visit - follow veterinarian’s advice

  • Rabies vaccine
  • Second feline leukemia vaccine

Booster Shots

Depending on the vaccine, adult cats should get booster shots either annually or every three years. Your vet will tell you when to bring your adult cat back for booster shots.

Vaccine Protection

Until your cat has received all of their shots - when they are about 12 to 16 weeks old - your kitty is not fully vaccinated. After all of their initial vaccinations have been completed, your cat will be protected against the diseases or conditions covered by the vaccines.

If you plan to let your kitten outdoors before they have been fully vaccinated against all the diseases listed above, we recommend keeping them restricted to low-risk areas such as your own backyard.

Potential Vaccine Side Effects

The vast majority of cats and kittens will not experience any side effects as a result of getting their shots. If reactions do occur, they are usually minor and short in duration. That said, in rare cases more serious reactions can occur, including: 

  • Lameness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Redness or swelling around the injection site
  • Hives
  • Severe lethargy
  • Fever

If you suspect your cat may be experiencing side effects from a cat vaccine call your veterinarian immediately! Your vet can help you determine any special care or follow-up that may be required.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you have questions about vaccinating your indoor cat, or is it time to get your cat's shots? Contact our Collingwood vets today to book an examination for your feline friend.

(519) 599-7777