Do Indoor-only cats need yearly vaccinations and exams?

There are more pet cats than pet dogs in the United States,  yet the majority of patients seen in most veterinary clinics is dogs.  Why?  Because dog owners bring their dogs in at least yearly to get booster vaccinations and heartworm testing. Dogs also go outside and are more likely to be in contact with fleas, ticks, pollen, parasites, and other dogs.

If indoor cats aren’t exposed to other cats, do they really need to be seen yearly by a veterinarian?  The answer is a resounding YES!

Cats are masters when it comes to hiding pain or illness.  Because they normally sleep a lot, it can be very difficult to tell when they are sleeping more than normal.  Cats can have cavities in their teeth, called “resorptive lesions,” but still continue to eat.  But they may not be as active or playful because of that chronic pain.  Clumpable litter can hide evidence of diarrhea, and weight loss in a fluffy cat can go undetected for months.  Determining if your cat is drinking more water is challenging if they drink from a faucet.  And when is “normal vomiting” not normal anymore?

An annual physical exam is very important to the long-term health of your cat.  Cats age more quickly than we do, so preventive care exams are a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle.  An 8-year-old cat is the equivalent of a 50-year-old person–colonoscopy time, anyone?   During the exam, your vet can often detect conditions early on that can affect your cat’s health so they can be managed or cured before they become painful or more costly.  Your vet should be examining all your cat’s teeth, looking for painful lesions, tartar, and oral cancer.  A history of your cat’s diet, eating behavior, and weight check is important.  Sudden weight loss can indicate serious problems and weight gain needs to be “nipped in the bud” before your cat develops problems related to obesity.

What about vaccinations in indoor-only cats?  That is definitely a topic to talk to your veterinarian about.  Rabies vaccines are required by law, but are also a very good idea.  Bats can get into your house and rabid animals can potentially come down a chimney (have you ever had a squirrel in your house?) or dash through the front door.  Rabies causes wild animals to act abnormally and unexpectedly!  It is also important to keep your cat vaccinated against rabies in case your cat ever scratched or bit someone in your house, like a visitor or small child.  If your cat wasn’t up to date on the rabies vaccine, the situation would be awkward or uncomfortable at best and, at worst, a physician might recommend testing the cat for rabies.  Testing can only occur only fresh brain tissue, which means euthanasia of the cat.  No one wants that!

PCVR or FRVCP vaccines protect against feline parvovirus and upper respiratory disease (calicivirus).  The current recommendations from the American Association of Feline Practitioners is to give a vaccination series as a kitten, boost the vaccine at 1 year of age, and then every 3 years after that.  Some clinicians will stop giving the vaccine in older, inside only cats; that is something to discuss with your personal veterinarian.

Checking a stool sample is also a good idea.  Inside only cats can still get intestinal parasites from digging in potting soil or catching the stray mouse that might find its way into your house.  Taking a fresh fecal sample when you take your kitty in for the exam is the easiest method to check the stool (remember that colonoscopy?  cats don’t like them either!)

So take good care of your cat and visit your friendly veterinarian every year.  Make note of any behavior changes you’ve noted at home and have a list of any questions you want answered.  Prior to the visit, feel free to call for advice on how to get your cat to the vet.  Feliway spray is good for putting in cat carriers to help “calm” the cat on the car ride.  While your cat may not seem happy about the doctor’s visit, you should feel good about doing all you can to help your cat live a long, healthy life.