Why does my indoor cat need vaccines?

One of the most common questions that cat owners ask me during their cat’s annual visits is “Does my cat really need to keep getting these vaccines if they never go outside?” And my answer will always be yes, for several important reasons.

It is actually the municipal law in Toronto that all dogs and cats be up to date on their rabies vaccine. This is for the protection of all people and pets in the community. Rabies is a preventable disease through vaccination; it is not treatable and almost invariably fatal if it is contracted. Vaccinating our cats annually for rabies is a small step that we can take to contribute to keeping us all safe from this devastating virus.

Rabies is still very much present in the wildlife population in Ontario today; bats are the main vector species in this province, but there has recently been a return of cases of rabies in raccoons in southern Ontario as well. Even for cats that remain strictly indoors, there is always a potential risk of exposure, both to rabies and other viral diseases that we routinely vaccinate for:

  • If they potentially escape the house (whose cat hasn’t made a run for it when they see that open door while you bring in groceries?)
  • If rabies vector species get into your home (bats or raccoons making themselves comfortable in your attic, for example)
  • If you have other pets that do leave the home (or visiting pets) and are exposed to other animals and environments

Another point that is less commonly considered is, what if your cat were to bite someone? This could be you or a visiting guest in the home, but often is the staff at veterinary clinics or boarding/grooming facilities when your cat is stressed and uncomfortable. There is a very strict quarantine protocol that pets have to undergo if they bite someone and are not up to date on their rabies vaccine, and is a lot of paperwork and headache for you as an owner. Not to mention that it puts the person that was bitten at unnecessary risk.

If you have questions or concerns about the benefits and risks of vaccinating your cat, a discussion with your veterinarian can help you make the most informed decision. Whether your cat is due for vaccines or not, it is still important to see your veterinarian for an annual examination to ensure your cat is healthy and catch any illnesses as promptly as possible.