Do Indoor-only Cats Need Rabies Shots?

Jun 4, 2017 · ·
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  1. Anne
    Rabies is the deadliest infectious disease known to man: Once symptoms set in, the victim - human or feline - will suffer an excruciating death. We all want to protect our pets and ourselves against rabies, but does that necessarily mean we must vaccinate even indoor-only cats against rabies?

    Why is Rabies so dangerous?
    The rabies virus is extremely virulent. It enters a mammal's body through a bite, making its way along the nervous system until it reaches the brain. Once that happens, there's no going back.

    Despite all our efforts, the most advanced anti-viral protocols are not very effective. Even when doctors manage to save a patient's life, the neurological damage is irreversible. Of course, these protocols are only applied to humans. In animals, rabies is always 100% fatal, and sick animals are put to sleep.

    Rabies is also especially dangerous because it's a zoonotic disease: A sick dog or cat can infect a human. The virus is transferred through biting, although it could theoretically infect another victim via scratching or even the licking of an open wound.

    Rabies in Cats
    Did you know that in the US cats are the pet most associated with rabies? According to the CDC, "Cats accounted for 61.1% (272/445) of the rabid domestic animals reported in 2014, a 10.12% increase compared with the 247 reported in 2013."

    This is not because cats are somehow more susceptible to the virus. It's simply that the other common pet - the dog - is less likely to roam the streets unattended and come in contact with wildlife. Also, dogs are usually up to date on their rabies shots.

    Which brings us to the topic at hand -

    Rabies vaccinations for cats
    Fortunately, we have a very effective vaccine against rabies. Dogs and cats that receive their rabies shots are virtually immune to the virus. They don't get sick and therefore won't spread the disease to humans.

    Unfortunately, the rabies vaccine is a suspected trigger of vaccine-associated sarcoma (VAS) in cats. VAS (also referred to as feline injection-site sarcomas or FISS) is a form of malignant tumor that some cats develop at the site of injection. While rare, this aggressive cancer became a major concern once the connection with vaccines was established in the 1990s.

    At some point, it was believed that VAS was triggered by the adjuvant in certain vaccines - specifically rabies and FeLV vaccines. An adjuvant is a substance - usually aluminum salts - added to vaccines to ensure an effective immune reaction.

    Since the rabies vaccine is so important, an effort has been made to develop a safer version for cats. The result is the recombinant rabies vaccine which is manufactured by Merial and called Purevax®. This advanced vaccine is generally considered a safer and gentler way to introduce the virus to the immune system.

    At least one study shows that the new Purevax vaccine is less likely to cause VAS - although it's probably not 100% risk-free. Merial now offers a new version of the Purevax vaccine that lowers the frequency of booster shots. According to the manufacturer, a booster shot is required in the year following the first dose of vaccine and after that, vaccinating a cat once every three years is enough. That means overall the cat will be getting fewer rabies shots during his/her lifetime.

    Keep in mind that recent findings established that VAS is more rare than was believed a couple of decades ago. According to the The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) the risk is probably lower than one in every 10,000 doses of vaccines administered to cats. What's more, it's now believed that the adjuvant is not at fault and that any kind of injection - not only vaccines - can trigger VAS.

    Reducing the risk by changing the site of vaccination

    Veterinarians used to inject vaccines into a cat's back or thighs. The AAFP's Advisory Panel on vaccines now recommends that veterinarians administer vaccines in the legs, as low on the leg as possible. This way, should the cat develop a tumor at the injection site, it will be easier to remove the tumor, and in the worst-case scenario, to remove the entire limb. For the rabies vaccine, the AAFP recommends injecting below the right stifle, as low on the leg as possible.

    Some veterinarians now choose to inject vaccines into the tail. Dr. Letrisa Miller,
    MS, DVM, a feline-only veterinarian who owns and operates the Connecticut Feline Medicine and Surgery clinic, told us that she has been administering vaccines in the tail region for the past year and a half. "It has been shown that the injection is just as effective and that most cats tolerate injection in the tail well", Dr. Miller said. "In the unlikely event that the vaccine was to cause a cancer, it is a site where it will be detected easily and early and where surgery to remove the mass is more likely to be successful and without having to cause loss of a limb", she added.

    Are indoor-only cats at risk for Rabies?


    The short answer is yes. Even though you are greatly reducing the risk of rabies by keeping your cat safely indoors, he or she may still encounter a rabid wild animal.

    Wild animals can enter your home. Bats, for example, are known carriers of rabies in many areas. All it takes is a small bite while Kitty is trying to hunt down the invader - the owner may not even be aware that the cat was bitten. In some cases, there is little evidence left to even indicate a bat has even been inside the home.

    Also, some indoor-only cats do get outside occasionally. They slip out when the door is open and return a few hours later. There is no way to know which animals the cat had come in contact with while roaming outside.

    According to Dr. Letrisa Miller, there have been at least two cases of entire families being exposed to rabies by older indoor-only cats in the United States in the last two years. No one has any idea how the cats were exposed, but everyone that came into contact with them had to be treated.

    So, while the risk is smaller for an indoor-only cat, it still exists. If you can't be absolutely sure that Kitty will never encounter wild or unvaccinated animals, it would be safer to vaccinate your cat.


    Rabies vaccinations for cats: The official veterinary recommendations

    The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) issued the following recommendations about rabies vaccinations. They suggest vaccinating cats wherever rabies is endemic in any local species or where legally required.

    The American Veterinary Medical Association supports vaccinating all cats against rabies - regardless of their living conditions or where they are in the US. While they recognize the need for medical exemption for some pets, they also state -
    Because rabies continues to be a significant public health issue, waivers should not be issued arbitrarily upon client request and should be based upon clinical evidence that the animal would be at considerable risk of being harmed by the vaccine because of a diagnosed medical condition.

    Vaccinating cats against Rabies - Legal requirements
    The laws regarding rabies vaccinations for cats vary from country to country and between US states. In some states, rabies vaccines are regulated at the county level. Your veterinarian knows what the legal requirements are for rabies shots for cats in your area.

    According to the AVMA, the following US states currently have mandatory rabies vaccines for cats: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington.

    These states have varying demands when it comes to vaccination protocols. Some states require annual rabies shots, others opt for once every three years, and some just suggest following the protocol set by the vaccine manufacturer.

    Again, this list may not be up to date and should not be taken as legal or medical advice. Please check with your veterinarian to see what's needed where you live.

    What if your unvaccinated cat bites someone?
    When we asked TheCatSite members whether they vaccinate their cats against rabies, another argument came up in favor of vaccination: What will happen if your cat ever bites anyone?

    The CDC calls for a 10-day quarantine protocol whenever a healthy dog or cat bites a person. If the animal shows no signs of sickness during the 10 days, it's released back home.

    In many areas, if the cat is fully vaccinated, that 10-day period can be spent at home. However, a bite from a cat that's not current on his or her rabies shots is more likely to incur a full quarantine away from home, a far less desirable situation for many reasons. In fact, animal control officers or health departments can also require quarantine of unvaccinated cats for up to 6 months if they have a wound of unknown origin.

    What's more, if an animal shows any signs of sickness, the health department has the right to order an unvaccinated pet killed in order to be tested for rabies. There is no recognized testing that can be done on a live animal to determine if they do or do not have rabies.

    If that's not enough to deter you from not vaccinating your cat, consider the costs of rabies shots for humans. Treatment can be very expensive and run between $4,000 to $10,000 per person. If an unvaccinated cat exposed someone to rabies or causes someone to need post-exposure treatment due to a bite, the owner is generally responsible for the costs.

    So, should I get my cat vaccinated against Rabies?
    All cats should be protected against rabies - for their own benefit as well as that of the owners. That includes indoor-only cats in areas where rabies is endemic. What's more, being vaccinated against rabies can save your cat's life if he or she ever bites anyone.

    Talk to your veterinarian about rabies prevention. Find out about local laws and regulations and discuss a vaccination protocol based on your cat's lifestyle and the area where you live. If your cat needs to be vaccinated, ask your vet about the new AAFP's guidelines about the location of the shot. Discuss the frequency of the shots as well. Opting for a three-year vaccine reduces the overall risk for adverse reactions. You may prefer to try a new adjuvant-free vaccine, so talk to your cat's veterinarian and find out if they carry it.

    We hope the information in this article helps you make an informed decision about the rabies vaccine. Help us promote responsible cat ownership by sharing it with your friends, too, and don't forget to leave a comment and let us know what you think about the rabies vaccine for cats.

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  1. catloversaroundworld
    Thanks for writing the article . very helpful :hearthrob:
  2. KitShep
    Im taking my cats to the vet for a checkup Monday, one of them Is getting fixed too, but I'm going to get them rabies shots and all the other shots they need.
  3. KitShep
    Im taking my cats to the vet for a checkup Monday, one of them Is getting fixed too, but I'm going to get them rabies shots and all the other shots they need.
  4. Neo_23
    I think we should be careful how we interpret these statistics. The article states:

    Cats accounted for 61.1% (272/445) of the rabid domestic animals reported in 2014, a 10.12% increase compared with the 247 reported in 2013.

    They account for 61% of DOMESTIC animals that HAVE rabies. What are the domestic animals they are including here? For all we know it could be cats and dogs and all these stats are saying is that of the domestic animals that have had rabies, 61% were cats. It makes sense that cats would be the most common domestic animal to have rabies because they are most likely to roam outside unattended. This statistic also doesn’t differentiate between outdoor and indoor cats. And it doesn’t tell you the probability of YOUR cat getting rabies (which is probably quite low if non-existent if it’s indoor).

    In the words of Mark Twain: “There are 3 kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
    1. orange&white
      Yeah, no mention that there are an est. 150 million domestic dogs and cats in the US. Even if there were 10 unreported cases to 1 reported case of cat rabies, the odds would still be 2,720/150,000,000. (0.18% chance) You'd have to have 100 non-reported cases to 1 reported case to get over 1% chance.

      Not that people shouldn't pay attention to local news if there happens to be an isolated outbreak within a community, and keep any indoor/outdoor kitties inside for a while. ; )
    2. Neo_23
      There's nothing quite like starting off an article with "the most deadliest disease known to man" and then topping it off with a misleading statistic to scare the pants off your readers!
      tarasgirl06 and orange&white purraised this.
  5. partycatscatclub
    I have 6 cats in total. Though they are all indoor cats. I just had to brush off the cost for the vaccine and get it anyway. Thanks for writing the article.
  6. Shane Kent
    My apartment cats never got them. 6th floor with no balcony. After climbing the window screen as kittens the windows remained closed for 14 years. I never felt the need to vaccinate my cats against something that was impossible for them to come in contact with. The four cats I have now are all vaccinated. I live in a house now and the cats go to the cottage a lot. The house is close to a forest and the cottage is surrounded by wildlife. My cats are indoor-only cats but are allowed out on our property for short supervised visits to the outside world. I don't think my cats will come in contact with rabies but there is the risk of it happening. It is not worth the risk, especially considering it would only take one cat to get it to pass it on to the other three and I would lose my entire feline family. I got the three year vaccine this year so all four cats are good until spring 2020. That's a lot of trips to the cottage :)
      seventhheaven purraised this.
  7. crlamke
    1. Zandalee
      You should not believe a word of this article and definitely not the CDC. They are as bad as the FDA. I have had indoor cats all my life and if I could get rescue cats without the vaccines, I certainly would. Mine have never had that and never will. Use some common sense. Have you ever seen any domesticated pets with it? Heard of any? There are reasons our pets have so many health issues and diet, toxins, and vaccines are the major ones. Even the best vets who know better make a huge income from vaccinations.
      tarasgirl06 purraised this.
  8. tarasgirl06
  9. rascalshadownj2
    Just read this article. This was really good. Since we live in a rural area, and not everyone keeps their dogs or cats indoors, and they let them run all over the neighborhood, we keep our cats up to date on all their shots, including their rabies. I don't want to take a chance on them getting rabies. I don't even let them out alone. I take them out on a harness and leash. Luckily we have not encountered any rabid wild or domestic animals. I've heard some coyotes howling at night, and we get rabbits, and squirrels in our yard. In my opinion, it's better safe than sorry when it comes to getting them their vaccines. I hope they never get any rabies or other serious diseases. I want them to live to a ripe old age if possible. I'm sure some cats get bad reactions from their shots, just like some people have bad reactions to their medications. But luckily the reactions are temporary, and eventually fade. So I will continue to get my cats their shots each year as a prevention against rabies and other diseases. This article had a lot of good information, and it was definitely controversial. Thanks to the person or people who posted this. :)
      tarasgirl06 purraised this.
    1. tarasgirl06
      *Guilty as charged* and I have to say that, though it's a personal decision left to each caregiver, it isn't "temporary" always as Heidi Christensen has sadly posted before me. Cats can and do develop injection-site sarcoma, which is cancer, which can be fatal. So it's not an easy decision to make. I come from a family of what would now be called "anti-vaxers" and I do not believe in vaccines personally, but (and there's no logic to this, so don't ask for any) cats in my care have always received their baseline vax and boosters in situations where I felt it to be necessary.
      seventhheaven, rascalshadownj2 and kskatt purraised this.
  10. Heidi Christensen
    I lost my beloved Corkie cat to VAS! They amputated her leg to the hip but some years later the cancer came back in her lungs and she had to be euthanized! I will NOT vaccinate my now cat as he is only out on a long leash and never after dark!
      seventhheaven, rascalshadownj2 and crlamke purraised this.
    1. kskatt
      I'm so sorry that happened to you and your Corkie cat! Even when something is rare, it doesn't feel like it when it's you. I wish you only the best.
      crlamke and tarasgirl06 purraised this.
    2. rascalshadownj2
      Just saw your post. So sorry about the death of your cat. So sorry that her cancer returned. Hope your new cat doesn't suffer the same fate. Hope she lives a long time. Hugs!
      seventhheaven, crlamke and tarasgirl06 purraised this.
    3. tarasgirl06
      <3 ((((((((^^)))))))) <3 Fly free, whole, healthy, and forever Loved, sweet Corkie cat. My condolences for your loss and may Corkie watch over you and your beloved cat until you are reunited in due time.
  11. orange&white
    Research has already proven that the "one year" rabies vaccine is effective for at least 7 years. (The 1-yr and 3-yr vaccines are identical.) Studies have not been done longer 7 years (until recently), but some researchers believe that the vaccine given at one-year is probably effect for life.

    The Rabies Challenge Fund group, headed by Dr. Jean Dodds, will be releasing a new scientific research paper soon with the results of the latest studies. The goal of the RCF is to press legislation to extend vaccine requirements, first to 5 years, and ultimately to 7 years.

    I am personally more concerned with knowingly putting too many chemicals into my cats' bodies than I am with the risk of a rabid hyena entering my house. Every single vaccine "booster" increases the risk of an adverse reaction, when a cat who has been immunized when young is still carrying the antibodies and is protected against rabies.

    The Rabies Challenge Fund Studying Duration of Immunity
      Neo_23 and tarasgirl06 purraised this.
    1. kskatt
      Thank you for the article. I really do try to stay updated, and wondered about these. I hate that cities, etc require a vaccination every year, so glad I live in the country. I went 3 yr vaccine years ago, this info is appreciated.
  12. seventhheaven
    My opinion...would never bother vaccinating indoor cats for rabies. But
    I'm against yearly vaccinations for healthy indoor cats too.
    Don't want to mess with their immune system.

    Have screens so birds can't even fly in. Here the infected Bat flying in home is a common sales pitch story Vet receptionists use. We have warnings outbreaks of stray cats caring FIV, if animals are rabid, it would also be made public.
      orange&white purraised this.
    1. kskatt
      Hm. Not only do I have screens in every window, none were open. This is not a sales pitch, I have pictures if you'd like to see them. I'm sure it's extremely rare, sure never thought I'd get one! The odds are definitely on your side. :)
    2. crazycatlass
      Just pointing this out, but a bat is more likely to get into your home by other means than through a window. The most common culprits seem to be the attic, through the chimney, and doors. My folks had a bat come in through their chimney once after some birds damaged the smokestack screen. They were able to safely relocate the bat and their cats were all up to date.
  13. tarasgirl06
    IDK where the statistics for this article were collected, because I have read repeatedly that instances of rabies in cats are EXTREMELY rare. That said, I would agree with recommending the vax for all cats, partly because in many communities it is the law that they must have it, and partly because no one would want to risk their beloved cats getting it, let alone passing it to anyone else, of any species, for all the obvious reasons.
    1. Anne
      The statistics are based on the CDC's reports. There are links in the article as well. These are all verified cases, unfortunately. You're not alone in thinking rabies in cats is rare. I used to think so myself and looks like that's part of the problem. People who do live in areas with a lot of rabies think cats aren't at risk and these cats end up becoming infected :(

      I hope this article helps raise awareness to the very real threat of rabies in cats, particularly in some areas in the US. Let's hope people share it around too.
      kskatt purraised this.
  14. kskatt
    I would have sworn I commented here, about the bat that flew in my house. Bats can carry rabies, big time. It is highly unusual for a mouse or rat to carry rabies, but it can happen. Animals and Rabies | CDC Rabies and Kids
    Too many vets and cities over vaccinate, true.
    Use a three year vaccine, vaccinate on the lower leg or the tail. Wish I could remember the article I saw that in. There are so many articles, I advise that every cat owner research thoroughly for themselves.
    I am very happy CanineLogic has never had a wild animal, don't count tame animals out, in her house. I hope she never does. I did, so I do know how easy it is to happen.
    The fact that rabies in humans is rare, is because of vaccines.
    One vet I used was exposed to rabies, from a horse. You might be surprised the different animals that can have rabies.
    btw, you can't say you've never known anyone who had a wild animal in their house. You have now met me.
      crazycatlass and abyeb purraised this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Anne
      Just wanted to say that you're not too confused. We also had a thread about the topic where members - including yourself - shared their stories and experiences.
      kskatt purraised this.
    3. kskatt
      abyeb, A Raccoon would be interesting! I am happy to have my own trap. The Raccoons and Opossums I've trapped get relocated. My mother has Macular degeneration. Once I heard her telling a cat to come in the house, I went to check and she was talking to an Opossum. The animal was staring at her like she was crazy, thankfully!
      tarasgirl06, Anne and abyeb purraised this.
    4. kskatt
      Anne, thank you! That is a problem with multiple threads, it can get confusing. At least for this old brain. :)
      Anne purraised this.
  15. CanineLogic
    This article is clearly written by a veterinarian. The information seems to be a scare tactic used to misinform pet owners by pushing unhealthy vaccines. The part on needing to vaccinate your indoor feline against rabies because a wild animal may enter your house is non-sense. :crackup:
    I have never had a wild animal enter my house nor do I know anyone that has had this happen.
    Rabies is a money maker for vets who in turn push the laws to mandate rabies vaccines. In most states human rabies is about as rare as a shark attack.
    Think about the pros and cons of vaccinating your feline with the rabies vaccine. I won't risk my cat's health including the possibility of getting cancer from the rabies vaccine. I have opted out to titer testing and my cat's immune system is always protected according to the results.
    1. Anne
      Wild animals can and do enter homes. Just because it's never happened to you or anyone you know doesn't mean much, really. Many of our members have had it happen to them.

      There are thousands of cases of rabies in the US every year, hundreds of them reported in cats. You clearly have your facts wrong if you think it's as rare as a shark attack.
      kskatt and abyeb purraised this.
    2. louche
      If the instances of rabies are so rare then imagine skipping a due vaccine every other time. It would make the rarity rate even higher.
      Rare occurring cancer or rare occurring death due to animal biting another human (I don't know the stats of this in the county or state I live in fyi). It's one of those terrible choices of lesser evils =/
      rascalshadownj2 purraised this.