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WebMD Expert Discussion: Do Indoor Cats Need So Many Vaccines?

If your cat spends a lot of his time outdoors, you probably know how important it is to vaccinate him for infectious diseases, particularly a highly contagious airborne virus like Feline Leukemia Virus (FELV), which is highly contagious from cat to cat.

But what if he never ventures past your doorstep? Does he still need all those vaccines? A lot of cat owners wonder about that, and many are joining the online discussion Caring for Your Pet with Will Draper, DVM.

Draper isn’t a fan of over-vaccinating pets, but one vaccine that must be given to both indoor and outdoor cats is a rabies shot -- that one is required by law.

He also reminds pet owners that vaccination can cut the risk of your cat becoming infected with FELV by as much as 80%. It’s a good idea to vaccinate your cat for FELV if he ever comes in contact with other cats, especially cats that live outdoors. Kittens with immature immune systems -- under about eight months old -- are particularly susceptible to FELV, so they might benefit even if they’re indoor cats. But if you cat is an older indoor “king of the castle” with no other companions, you can skip the FELV shot.

One woman pointed out that she occasionally brings home a stray cat in need of a home, and it’s easier to keep her current cats up to date on vaccines than to try to vaccinate everyone at once.

Another pet owner wondered if a cat who has access to a screened-in porch counts as “indoor” or “outdoor.” Draper says that if the house was in an area with a significant population of feral cats, and those cats were known to wander up to the porch and get in a kitty tiff with the “indoor” cat, it might warrant treating him as an outdoor cat for purposes of vaccinations.

One veterinary professional from Montreal brought up a specific risk of over-vaccinating cats: Vaccine Associated Sarcoma (VAS), which can occur in both canines and felines but is more common in cats. It’s a result of inflammation at the injection site and occurs, she said, in between 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 10,000 feline vaccinations. VAS has apparently been on the rise since the late 1980s, and in 1996 the American Veterinary Medical Association created a "Vaccine-Associated Feline Sarcoma Task Force."

She and Draper agreed: Decreasing the frequency of vaccinations would logically lessen the risk of reactions.

Discussion led by William Draper, DVM Guest Expert
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Dr. Will opened Georgia’s first accredited small animal emergency room in 2000. He’s been named Best Vet by Atlanta Magazine since 2004... More

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Veterinarian Will Draper gives tips on the best nutrition and health care for your dog or cat.
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