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Ask Dr Jill Elliot: Should I vaccinate my indoor cats?

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noni_orchid_thief2Q: Should I vaccinate my indoor cat?

A: New York City holistic veterinarian Dr Jill Elliot says:

I advise my clients whose cats live entirely INDOORS not to give them annual vaccines – despite the fact that many (not all) veterinarians recommend annual vaccines for all cats.

My recommendation is to not vaccinate your indoor cats after they receive their kitten vaccine and one year boosters a year later.

Cats are very sensitive to the vaccines and the adjuvant that is in the vaccine to stabilize it. Some cats will develop a fibrosarcoma (cancerous tumor) at the vaccine site after a few years of annually receiving the recommended vaccines.

Life-long protection
The FVRCP (for respiratory disease ) is the most commonly given vaccine. However, your cat most likely has life-long protection after receiving its kitten vaccines and one booster a year later.

Vaccine manufacturers state in their instructions “to only give to healthy animals”. If your pet has any chronic condition, you should not give this vaccine. Also there is very little chance that your indoor cat will pick up a respiratory infection from sitting in your house if you have a stable house environment (not bringing stray cats in and out).

When you should vaccinate
However, if you are planning to bring your indoor cat into a vet hospital for a procedure (like dentistry) you should update your cats’ vaccines so your cats don’t catch a respiratory infection while at the hospital. Also the clinic will require a current rabies vaccine before working on your pet.

Rabies vaccine
The Rabies vaccine is mandated by law to be current given every three years in New York State. As a licensed veterinarian I must recommend to my clients they give this vaccine to their pets. However I also tell them they have the right to decline it if they wish since they are the caretaker of their animal.

I believe that cats that live indoors will never be exposed to a rabid animal (opossum, raccoon, skunk, etc.)

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BL Ochman

Seriously? Your aunt has a 28 year-old cat! That’s terrific!

colleen codd

I have been feeding two cats that always come to door and finally I was able to get them to come in they are somewhere between 1 and 2 years old I just took them in for rabies shots and fvrcp the vet suggested that they be neutered in 3 weeks when they will also get their fvrcp boosters. My question is after this do I have to keep getting the fvrcp and after 3 yr rabies do I have to continue with that as well as I do not want there to be bad repercussions behind too many vaccines yet I want them both to be vaccinated as best as possible. Thank you

BL Ochman

Hi – Dr Elliot is on vacation until September and she will respond when she returns.

Dianne Kemp

I am planning to move from Michigan to Colorado soon. I have 3 cats ages 14.10 and 6 and a 10 year old, 70 pound dog. I am looking for advice on how to move them and how to make it easier for them.
Thank you


I have a new born baby and a in door kitten that hasn’t had his vaccinations, last night one of my older children let him out but has returned this morning. Should I be worried about him be near my new born and the infections he could of caught….


Four days after our 8 week old kitten got her first FVRCP vaccination, her right hind leg and left front leg became lame. She could hardly walk by the day’s end. We took her to the vet at the onset of the lameness and were told she should have a full set of x-rays, testing for leukemia and HIV. We paid $90 for the testing and decided to wait a couple of days before spending hundreds of dollars on x-rays (having had cats all my life, I’ve seen them get better on their own most of the time).

As soon as my husband and I got home from the vet, he researched our kitten’s symptoms and found that lameness is often a reaction to the first FVRCP vaccination. When I had asked the vet about that possibility during our appointment, she said it was highly doubtful beyond 72 hours. She was wrong — in every article I’ve seen, these reactions commonly occur up to 3 weeks following the vaccination and usually subside within 4-7 days on their own.

That is exactly what happened in our situation.

My kitten is now due for her second round of this FVRCP vaccine and I am concerned about the risk factor. We are now going to a new vet but she doesn’t seem terribly familiar with this reaction either (despite coming highly recommended by a friend).

I am wondering if you can shed light on what to do now that it’s time for the second vaccination?


My 7 month old kitten went in for nuerting this past wed and on the samr day thry gavr him his rabie and ANOTHER vaccination, they said he died right after..is thi common to give shots after surgery? They said its protocol. They dont kno exactly y he passed. I ask y couldnt they wait for him to fully wake up. Should i hadthe right to decline shots?


I was bitten by my cat who is about 5months old and never had any vaccine done.she was ince exposed once when she had a fight with a stray cat,she obtain some wound but im not sure if it was a cat bite or a scratch.its been 2 weeks.im not sure if we both need shot for anti rabies.im also worried for my nieces who love to play with her.they obtained some scratches too and our cat love to bite our hands and feets.im a little anxious already.please i need your adviice

Jill Elliot, DVM

Dear Sayangku:
Whenever someone is bitten by an animal that does not have a history of having a currrent Rabies vaccine they should contact their physician IMMEDIATELY to get guidance in this area. You should also take your cat to your local vet and speak with them about this situation. DO NOT WAIT. This can be a life threatening situation if not dealt with immediately. I am not one for over vaccinating animals. However I always suggest owners give their cats and dogs the first series of vaccines which includes a Rabies vaccine. Best of luck to you. Dr. Jill Elliot


My indoor cats have had their initial a shots,but no boosters. I take one cat to the groomers to be shaved ,is she in danger of catching anything. I’m not sure how many cats are there usually just dogs and she’s in a carrier till they do the actual grooming. Does she need more vaccines?


My indoor cat was diagnosed with a vacine induced sarcoma after I found a lump on the side where they give her the rabies vacination. You would think totally differently after you have to see your pet go through an attempt to save her life via surgery/removal of the lump and them see them suffer until death if it has spread. My indoor cats will NO longer get vacinnated. I was just sick knowing that by ME trying to be a good pet owner and get every vacination yearly caused the demise of one of my precious babies. Its just heart breaking.

BL Ochman

So sorry for your loss Lori! Thanks for sharing the story with us!


Hi there. I have 3 indoor cats ages 8 and 6, all had their kitten vaccines and boosters a year later. They are doing in for a dental cleaning, should I update the FVRCP? Is there a risk that they may catch something from being at the vet. I understand the article says you recommend vaccinating if going for a procedure, but reading through the comments you advise not to vaccinate after the first booster, so I’m a bit confused. I worry about the injection site tumors, but I worry about them catching virus’. Also, is the Merial FVRCP vaccine safe like the Purevax?


I got a scratch from my 2months old persian kitten . she’s not vaccinated yet.is there any problem with me?do I take rabies injections for me?

Sue Clark

I have a 22 year old indoor cat who is quite feeble at this point. Last time he was at the vet (he goes fairly often) they mentioned he needed his rabies shot, as required by law, which I refused. Would you vaccinate such a senior cat at all? Especially an indoor cat?


I have a 5 year old female house cat who has never had any vaccinations and has never been outside. Is it advisable to get them to be safe or not? Thanx

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I have adopted two male cats who are 8 months old and have never been vaccinated at all. I had them neutered last week and need to take them for immunizations but am not sure where to start since they are so old and have had none. What is your recommendation?

Jill Elliot

Dear Hailley;
Your cat is not too old to be vaccinated. I usually recommend that every cat get their kitten shots and then none after that if they are strickly house cats. In your cat’s case, since he is 8 months old I recommend he get only 1 FVRCP (respiratory) vaccine and 1 Rabies vaccine (preferrably the PurVac especially for cats only).


My 9 year old English Bulldog (spayed) has been urinating blood. Had to borrow money from neighbor to visit a local vet (Tampa, FL). Did a test (her PH Level is 2+) & put her on meds. After completion of meds, blood return (cost $300.00). No vets here will help. What can I do?

BL Ochman

So sorry to hear that your dog has this issue. This is not a question that can be answered without seeing your dog.


I have 2 indoor cats that never go out. Both 10 yo. There is a lost cat/stray hanging around my house. I feed it often. He looks great, clean, muscular, friendly, great eye contact. I do believe someone has taken great care of him. Here’s the question: can I bring him into a separate room in my house (closed door) to shield him from the harsh cold and NOT endanger my 2 sweet girls that aren’t vaccinated?


Are rabies shots really safe? I had a cat die after receiving shots and have become VERY fearful of having my cats receive them. My cats never! are outside – I just cannot see well enough to trim their nails. The Vet will not see them unless ALL shots are up to date. They did receive their shots as kittens and all follow up shots a year later.


My incredible two year old Turkish van died about three weeks after his two year vaccines. No one could figure out why. He had had all his shots boosters etc. I need to find out what they gave him. I worried sick about my kids due to the insane over-vaccinating going on, but had no clue that the same thing was happening in the animal world. He was in great shape at his appointment, seemed ok and then deteriorated one night and they couldn’t save him.