A white cat sitting in front of a window staring at its reflection.

Do Indoor Cats Need to Be Vaccinated?

Cats who spend all of their time inside have a fairly comfortable and safe existence. They don’t have to worry about getting into a kerfuffle with a territorial cat, crossing the street safely or finding shelter when the weather’s bad. But they aren’t fully protected from all of the dangers of the outside world.

One threat that an indoor cat can be exposed to is an infectious disease — and some are potentially fatal. That’s why it’s important to talk to your veterinarian about which diseases vaccinated cats are protected against and which vaccines they recommend for your cat.

Cats Who Live Indoors Can Be Exposed to Diseases

While an indoor cat who doesn’t go outside is generally safe in their cozy home, there are few situations where they can be exposed to infectious diseases like feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia. Some feline diseases are highly contagious and can easily spread from cat to cat without direct contact. If your cat likes to dart through the back door when you’re distracted, just a short amount of time outside could be enough time to pick up an infection.

It’s also important to consider whether your indoor-only cat actually does spend all of their time indoors. Do you take them to a groomer or a boarding kennel? They could be exposed to feline diseases at these locations. Another place to consider is the veterinary clinic. Hopefully your cat is going to the veterinarian at least once a year for their annual checkup and exam. Staff at the veterinary clinic work hard to keep the clinic clean, but a visit there could inadvertently expose your cat to a disease.

How Do Vaccines Work?

Vaccines help protect cats against infectious diseases that are caused by specific viruses and bacteria. They stimulate the body’s immune system to destroy these disease-causing invaders and to “remember” them so they can fight against that specific virus or bacteria if your cat is exposed in the future.

What Shots Do Indoor Cats Need?

Cat vaccinations are divided into two categories: core and non-core vaccinations. Core vaccines are considered crucial for all cats because of the risk of exposure to the disease they protect against, how severe the disease is and the ability of the disease to be transmitted to people (a zoonotic disease). Core vaccines for cats include rabies and the feline distemper combination vaccine (FVRCP), a combination vaccine that protects against feline panleukopenia, feline herpesvirus type 1 (also called feline viral rhinotracheitis) and feline calicivirus.

Non-core vaccinations are not necessary for all cats. Your veterinarian will assess your cat’s lifestyle, age, health issues and risk of exposure to determine if a non-core vaccine is recommended for them. It’s important that you tell your veterinarian if you are introducing a new cat into your family since this may change the vaccinations recommended for your original cat. These “lifestyle” vaccines provide protection against feline leukemia virus (FeLV), Chlamydophila felis and Bordetella bronchiseptica.

Do Indoor Cats Need Rabies Vaccine Shots?

Yes, all cats should receive the rabies vaccine. Rabies is a fatal disease that can also be fatal for humans and is required by law in some states. It is a viral infection that attacks the neurological system (brain and spinal cord) and is secreted in the saliva of infected animals, which is why it’s most often transmitted through a bite. Most rabies cases in the U.S. involve wild animals; however, rabies is more common in cats than any other domesticated animal.

Do Indoor Cats Need the FVRCP Vaccine (Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus and Panleukopenia)?

Yes, if you have an indoor cat they should receive the distemper combination vaccine (also called the FVRCP vaccine). It protects your cat from three potentially serious viral infections which can be brought into your home on your clothes, shoes or other objects that have come into contact with an infected cat.

Feline panleukopenia (FPV; also called feline parvovirus) is a highly contagious virus that destroys white blood cells, leaving cats (especially kittens) vulnerable to other infections. Because kittens don’t have a fully developed immune system, it has a high mortality rate in kittens.

Feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1; also known as feline rhinotracheitis virus) and feline calicivirus (FCV) cause severe upper respiratory infections and can infect cats via contact with saliva or nasal discharge. In severe cases, FCV can cause hepatitis and death.

Which Cats Need Non-Core Vaccines Like the Feline Leukemia Vaccine?

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) can cause lymphoma, anemia or immunosuppression. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recommend that all cats younger than one year of age receive the feline leukemia vaccine. Veterinarians may also recommend the feline leukemia vaccine for an adult cat if they might be exposed to FeLV positive cats or cats of unknown FeLV status (e.g., they regularly escape outside). Your veterinarian will test for FeLV before your cat receives their first feline leukemia vaccine.

There are also two non-core vaccines that protect cats from specific bacterial infections. Chlamydophila felis is a bacteria that causes severe conjunctivitis and sometimes upper respiratory tract issues. It can be cured with antimicrobial treatment. Bordetella bronchiseptica is the same bacteria that causes kennel cough in dogs. It causes upper respiratory infections in cats and may be recommended if you take your cat to places where other cats frequently are (e.g., groomers or boarding kennel).

There used to be a non-core vaccine for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV); however, it is no longer available in the United States. Outdoor cats who fight are at the highest risk of contracting FIV.

What Shots Do Indoor Kittens Need?

Kittens receive antibodies from their mother’s milk to help protect them from disease while their immune system is developing. Vaccinations early in life help to build a kitten’s own immunity. This includes kittens who live indoors all of the time. A kitten will usually require two to three doses of vaccine to ensure they receive the protection they need.

How Often Do Indoor Cats Need Shots?

Some vaccines require two or three doses to provide adequate protection against these diseases. It’s important that you follow the vaccination schedule that your veterinarian has outlined for your cat so that they can be fully protected. Adult cats typically require a booster shot each year, so make sure you continue to keep your cat’s vaccinations up-to-date.

Cat Vaccines Have Many Benefits

Getting your indoor cat vaccinated not only protects the health of your cat, it also protects your wallet. Treating an infection usually costs significantly more than a vaccine, so vaccinations can be a bargain when looking at the financial implications. Cats who live indoors typically have a much longer lifespan than cats who spend some time outdoors. Part of this is due to less exposure to disease, but they aren’t completely protected from infectious diseases, so ask your veterinarian which cat vaccines your cat needs.


The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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