Why Vaccinate Your Indoor Cat

Why You Should Vaccinate Your Indoor Cat

Getting the recommended core vaccines RCP (feline viral rhinotracheaitis, calicivirus, panleukopenia) and rabies for your cat can prevent severe consequences for both your cat, for the animals AND people with whom your cat has contact.

RCP vaccine:

Rhinotracheitis (herpes virus) and calicivirus are viruses that cause 90% of all upper respiratory infections. Like the herpes virus in humans, cats can be chronic carriers of the virus and recurrent “flare ups” of the virus can occur, most often causing sneezing and eye infections. The vaccination against herpes virus provides reasonable but not complete protection against the virus; the vaccination essentially reduces the severity of the illness and can help reduce the severity of the “flare up” infection that can occur at any time during your cat’s life. This virus does not survive well in the environment, lasting less than 24-36 hours. Transmission of the virus can occur directly from cat-to-cat and by macrodroplets in the air after the infected cat sneezes.

Calicivirus causes upper respiratory symptoms (coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, eye infections) and oral disease (a severe gum infection called “stomatitis”). This disease can actually cause more severe signs in older cats than in kittens. The virus can remain stable in the environment for approximately 1 week. The vaccination against calicivirus provides reasonable but not complete protection against the virus.  

Panleukopenia is a highly contagious virus and is closely related to the parvo virus that affects dogs. This virus is opportunistic and very stable and resistant. It can survive indoors at room temperature for over a year and also at freezing temperatures. If a cat has an active infection and sheds the virus (which it does by way of all bodily fluids and secretions) the other cats that come in contact with the virus will also be infected. Due to cats habit of rubbing up on everything and being very good groomers, it is easy for them to pick up the virus.

Even if your cat is strictly indoor only, they can still get this virus. Humans can bring this virus in on their shoes, hands, and clothing. Additionally if you have other pets that venture outdoors or other pets visiting your home, they can bring in this virus (as well as other viruses and parasites) and expose your unprotected cats to something that could make them seriously ill or kill them.

Symptoms of panleukopenia include fever, weight loss, diarrhea and vomiting. The virus shuts down the immune system by suppressing white cell production in the bone marrow.


Your unvaccinated cat (even an indoor cat) is probably more likely to get rabies than dogs. Cats are very good hunters, often catching and eating bats that find their way into home. Also, cats in Kent County are not required to be licensed and are therefore less likely to be vaccinated against rabies.

In Michigan, from 1978 to 2009, there has been a total of 26 rabies positive cats and 12 rabies positive dogs (rabies positive animals in Michigan 1978-2009). Also one person has died from rabies during this time period

In Michigan, during 2011 alone (at the time of the article was published), there have been 5 skunks, 57 bats, 1 woodchuck, 1 dog and 1 fox TESTED AND DIAGNOSED WITH RABIES (rabies positive animals in Michigan 2011).

World-wide, 45,000-60,000 people die of this disease yearly.

What Happens If Your Unvaccinated Cat Bites A Human:

If your unvaccinated indoor cat has not had any exposure to rabies (ie: no bats in the house) and then bites a human, the Kent County Health Department mandates a 10 day quarantine. If your unvaccinated cat goes outdoors (cats that go outdoors are considered exposed to rabid animals) or if your unvaccinated indoor cat is exposed to a potentially rabid animal (i.e.: bat in the house), your cat must either be quarantined at the Kent County Animal Shelter for 6 months (you will be charged approximately $6000.00 for this quarantine) or your cat will be euthanized and tested for rabies- even if your cat appears perfectly healthy.

If your unvaccinated cat is determined to be showing possible signs of rabies, the Kent County Health Department mandates that your cat be euthanized and tested for rabies. Other animals in the household may also be euthanized depending on what the Health Department mandates. All people that had potential exposure to the ill cat would need to undergo post-exposure vaccinations and treatment.

In many cases, cats, dogs and other mammals with the rabies virus may not show symptoms of rabies for many months and therefore the Health Department quite often recommends that bite victims should undergo post-exposure vaccinations and treatment.

Symptoms that may be associated with rabies are non-specific and may include, shyness, aggression or other behavior changes, fever, inability to swallow, paralysis, increased appetite.

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