By Dr. Julie Damron
Stockton Record February 7, 2009
Many people mistakenly believe that animals who live exclusively or primarily indoors don't need vaccinations; but this is not true. Although indoors pets are safer, there is still potential exposure to many airborne and other pathogens that can pose a significant risk and even death for cats.
Rabies is still a significant threat worldwide, with one human death occurring every ten minutes. In 2006 three people died in the United States. This viral disease is transmitted from contact with saliva or brain tissue, and is usually through a bite wound. However, the virus can also be inhaled though contact with the feces of rabid bats. Unfortunately, bats are common in our area and can be living in an attic in small numbers without the home owner's knowledge. Rabid bats have been known to randomly fly in windows or other openings and bite cats; this has happened to our clientele.
The Rabies virus triggers fever, dizziness, disorientation, brain swelling, paralysis, and ultimately death. In the United States, all dogs and cats are required to be vaccinated for Rabies. According to the Center for Disease Control, cats and raccoons are currently the biggest threats for transmitting Rabies to people; although dogs, cattle, bats, foxes, and skunks can still pose a threat. Every bite that takes place from an animal to a human should be reported. Rabies vaccinated pets are then quarantined for an average of ten days; unvaccinated pets are quarantined for up to six months depending on the city regulations. Dog licensing, which requires a current Rabies vaccine, has greatly reduced transmission from dogs nationwide. It is hoped that the new trend for Cat license laws will have this same effect. It is recommended to not only have your pets vaccinated; but to also discourage wild animals from going to your home. You can do this by keeping your garbage cans tightly sealed and not having pet food outside around your home.
RCP (Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia) is an annual vaccine for cats. The first two components protect against upper respiratory infections. Calicivirus can also cause gum disease and result in tooth loss. These illnesses can both travel in the air, so an indoor cat is still at risk. Panleukopenia is a highly contagious and deadly disease that triggers vomiting and diarrhea. It is similar to the Parvo virus in dogs, and is spread by contact with fluids and feces from infected animals. It can also be transmitted by fleas. All three of these illnesses can also be passed by handling a healthy cat after a sick one if proper hand-washing techniques are not used, and can also be spread by contact with contaminated dishes and bedding.
Feline Leukemia is a retrovirus that can be spread from biting, saliva, close contact such as grooming or nursing, and contact with food and water bowls as well as litter boxes. If your cat has tested negative for this disease, and is strictly indoors, exposure for this illness is minimal. However, most indoor cats do escape occasionally, and because this disease can be deadly, I often suggest it for my primarily indoor patients. Our clinic uses a form of vaccine that is given transdermally without a needle, and protects for three years after the booster vaccine. I think this is a small measure to take to insure that a feline is safe from this potentially deadly disease.
The University of California School of Veterinary Medicine considers the RCP and Rabies vaccines to be core vaccinations for felines, meaning that every cat should receive them and that they should be kept current. They consider the Feline Leukemia vaccine to be an optional vaccine, to be administered based on the heath, needs, and exposure risk for your feline. There are other non-core vaccines such as the FIP, FIV, Chlamydia and Giardia and Bordetella vaccinations. UC Davis doesn't even stock any of these vaccines because they consider them controversial and potentially risky. Some of these vaccines can interfere with diagnosing illness in your cat. Your veterinarian is the best source to guide you in the vaccine selection for your cherished companion.