Vaccinations for Solo Kitties

Some vaccines may be less important for cats without exposure to other cats.



I have chosen not to vaccinate my indoor cat.  I take my cat outside in the backyard a couple times a day while he is supervised by me every minute.


From the research I have done I don’t think there is any chance of him getting Feline Leukemia or Rabies but I need to know about the four diseases that are contained within the Feline Distemper vaccine which are rhinotracheitis, panleukopenia, chlamydia, and calicivirus/herpesvirus. Are these airborne viruses, and if so is there much chance of my cat catching any of these while he is outside?  How long can the virus survive in the air?  Can the viruses get into dirt or flies or mosquitoes or even other animals urine or feces?


Dr. Nichol:

You are asking some educated questions. Let’s start with the basics. Vaccines work by stimulating the immune system with a virus that, in most cases, is more of a distant cousin than the true infectious organism. What results is the production of protein complexes called antibodies that will glom onto the virus itself if it ever finds its way inside the body. This concept of customizing somebody’s defense system is pretty remarkable but it may have a downside. These vaccines contain a variety of components that can cause allergic reactions and sometimes cancers.


With risks like that who would bother? Well, let’s face it; every day we all take risks. Just getting into your car is a gamble. But for the very small risk attendant to vaccinating we can drastically reduce the chances of death due to infectious disease.


OK, your cat is extremely unlikely to ever confront these ugly bugs, right? Well let me say this about that. Consider the stray ally cat. Not only has he never had a vaccination, he can’t even spell veterinarian. (Not to be confused with vegetarian, which is as plant doctor.) Believe it or not feral cats rarely if ever get sick from contagious disease. That’s because of the frequent “natural boostering” they get in small doses each time they share a cigarette or wine bottle with a colleague on a street corner. These guys are almost bullet proof. Your boy, on the other hand, is downright vulnerable. If his immune system never gets a stimulus of any kind, i.e. by vaccination or “natural exposure”, he could get sick and die quite easily with a minor exposure. Even if you take full charge of his social calendar he could need hospitalization for an unrelated illness and get exposed. In a weakened state he would succumb fast.


So which vaccines are most important? Start with rabies. It’s a human disease too and failure to vaccinate could get you busted by Animal Control. For safety make sure he gets a killed vaccine. The vaccine risk is close to zero. Next are the combination of panleukopenia (feline distemper) and the upper respiratory viruses. I vote yes to these because without them he is a sitting duck if he has even the slightest exposure. Feline leukemia: for your cat it’s unnecessary. He would need to get bitten by an infected cat or share a home with one. Leukemia, by the way, is the vaccination with the greatest risk of causing cancer.


So how vulnerable is your boy when he’s taking a stroll in your yard? Not at all. While the upper respiratory bugs are airborne they only pass over a distance of a few feet. They die quickly and don’t persist in the environment. None of these organisms are present in stool or urine in enough numbers to be a risk in the soil. Mosquitoes are not a factor. But someday, outside the safety of your yard, this fellow may meet a virus that could hit him like a Mack truck. Make sure he has a crash helmet. Protection is good.