Vaccines - Should I really give them?

There is so much information coming at us about vaccines these days.  And, most of us keep our cats indoors only. So, it makes sense to wonder….do I really need to give my indoor-only cat vaccines?

Let’s talk this through.  Vaccines are designed to prevent the spread and infection of the most common and serious contagious diseases of cats.  These vaccines are very effective and have prevented millions of cats from getting sick and dying.  Seems like a pretty good idea, right?  These include, but are not limited to...

  1. Feline panleucopenia virus (FPV, also known as feline parvovirus or feline infectious enteritis).  This virus is a severe and frequently fatal cause of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. Outbreaks of infection with this virus are common, and a high proportion of affected cats can die.
  2. Feline herpes virus (FHV1) and feline calicivirus (FCV).  Vaccines for these viruses are always combined since these two viruses together are the main causes of upper respiratory tract infections in cats (cat flu).
  3. Rabies.  Although rabies is more common in dogs, cats can be infected and can be a source of human infection.  Check your state laws for requirements.
  4. Feline leukemia virus (FeLV).  This is a serious disease that can be spread through fighting, through mutual grooming, and through sharing of food/water bowls and litter trays. Kittens may also acquire infections from their mother before birth.

But, if your cat never goes outside, what are the risks that they will become infected?  We certainly don’t want to over-vaccinate.

Having a veterinarian that you trust and that you feel comfortable discussing your options with is critical here.  You see, there is no “one-size fits all” answer to these questions.  Your vet will know your cat's age, health status, lifestyle and the diseases that are most common in your area.  

True, your cat may never go outside.  But crazy things happen.  Cats accidentally get outside,  and other creatures (like outdoor cats, bats, and raccoons) get inside.  

Do you ever board your cat?  Take your cat to the groomer? Travel with your cat? Might you ever?

What if you found a cute stray kitten on the street?  Would you ever consider bringing it home?  

You never know.  And vaccines take 3-4 weeks to take effect. Some vaccines require a series over many months to be effective.  Without the protection that the vaccines provide, your cat is susceptible to deadly disease. If an emergency situation arises and your unvaccinated cat needs to be boarded or groomed, they may not be allowed.

So, what are the basics? This is the chart of recommended vaccines by the American Association of Feline Practitioners based on their 2013 guidelines:

As you can see, there is a lot to know and many variables.  Your vet is the best person to walk you through your cat’s needs.


What is a vaccine titer?  If your cat has been vaccinated in the past, your veterinarian can draw your cat’s blood and send it off to a diagnostic laboratory to test whether your cat’s immune response still falls within the protected range, or not.  

It is important to know that there is no known protected range for rabies vaccines.  

Titers for known diseases are a great tool to help your veterinarian decide if your cat needs to be vaccinated or not.  Here’s the downside - they are expensive, often over $100.  If the titer shows your cat is protected against a disease, you and your vet will decide when is the best time to recheck.  If the titer shows that your cat is not protected, you need to go back in for the vaccine.  So, this could require two or more visits to the vet with the resulting cost of the titer and the cost of the vaccine.  In my experience, once my clients understand this, very few chose to incur the cost of the vaccine titer and instead opt for the recommended vaccine based on the guidelines above.



Vaccines are there to protect your cat (and potentially you, your family members and perhaps other animals that may come in contact with your cat) from contagious and potentially deadly disease - yes, even your indoor-only cat may need vaccines.  That said, you don’t want to overdo it.  There is not one, easy answer.  Finding a veterinarian that you trust and that will take the time to walk through your cat’s needs is the best way to ensure your cat’s safety and your peace of mind.



  1. Scherk MA, Ford RB, Gaskell RM, et al. 2013 AAFP Feline Vaccination Advisory Panel Report. J Feline Med Surg. 2013;15(9):785-808. Available at:


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