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Can Cats Live Without Vaccines?


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Published: 03/02/2021

Yearly vaccinations are a routine task for many pet parents, but research shows fewer parents are electing to have their kitty vaccinated. Some pet parents worry about side effects, whereas others don’t believe their cat is at risk of infectious disease. Do indoor cats really need vaccines, or can they live without them? Let’s start by discussing which vaccines vets recommend for felines.

What vaccines do vets recommend for cats?

Vaccines are divvied up into two categories: core vaccines and non-core vaccines. Core vaccines are the bare minimum cats should have for daily living. These include:

  • panleukopenia (feline distemper)
  • feline calicivirus,
  • feline herpesvirus type I (rhinotracheitis) 
  • rabies 

Non-core vaccines may be recommended for cats at risk of developing certain diseases. Non-core vaccines recommended for cats include:

  • Feline immunodeficiency virus
  • Feline leukemia 
  • Bordetella
  • Chlamydophila felis

Do indoor cats need vaccines?

Many pet parents think that because their cat lives indoors, there's no need for shots. This is a misconception since there are multiple ways for exposure to happen. Your cat doesn’t have to be near a sick kitty to catch something — you could actually be the carrier. 

Preventable diseases can easily sneak into your home by way of contaminated clothing.  What’s more, some pathogens can linger for days on shoes and soft surfaces. You don't even have to come in contact with an infected cat. Even something as simple as accidentally stepping in their feces can cause you to transmit something to your kitty. 

Plus, there’s always the risk of your rambunctious kitty making a run for it when you open your door, especially if they aren’t spayed or neutered. Felines in heat tend to roam looking for a male to mate with. If they pick up the pheromones of a female in heat, males will often try to escape in search of them too. 

Mingling with other cats isn’t the only danger lurking outdoors. Fleas picked up outside can transmit illnesses like distemper, which can be deadly for kittens. These fleas transmit the pathogen from the infected cat's blood and transfer it to other felines when they bite.

What can happen if I don't vaccinate my kitty?

Cats can develop a number of illnesses if they don’t have their shots, but feline leukemia is one of the worst. This illness is a top cause of feline death with a fatality rate of nearly 90%. 

Feline immunodeficiency virus, also known as cat AIDS, is a serious, lifelong illness transmitted by unvaccinated cats. This disease leaves cats vulnerable to opportunistic infections because it damages virus-fighting white blood cells. At this time, there is no known treatment for FIV, only prevention by vaccines.

Bordetella is a less severe bacterial infection that often spreads through colonies of felines. This illness is tricky to prevent since the bacteria can survive on shared surfaces, like food bowls, for weeks. Cases are usually mild, but it can be serious for kittens and immunocompromised cats. Treatment of bordetella is challenging since it’s resistant to many common antibiotics.

Chlamydia felis is another bacterial infection that vaccines help prevent. Symptoms of this illness include eye infection, sneezing, and infertility. This bacteria can also infect humans and cause eye infections, though this is uncommon.

Rabies is perhaps the scariest illness an unvaccinated cat can get. What's more, cats are more likely than any other domesticated animal to get rabies. This illness poses a human health risk and is always deadly since the CDC requires euthanasia for all rabid animals, domesticated or otherwise. 

Other infectious diseases unvaccinated cats can contract are feline calicivirus and herpesvirus. Since they’re spread by airborne particles, these upper respiratory illnesses can quickly pass from one fur-baby to another. Both of these illnesses can be prevented by the feline distemper vaccine.


There are many ways cats can catch preventable diseases even if they are exclusively indoors. It’s important to consider that most states mandate rabies vaccinations, so opting out of these may get you fined. Talk to your vet about the pros and cons of vaccinating and if your cat needs non-core vaccines as well. Choosing whether or not to vaccinate can be a life-saving decision.  It’s up to you to make decisions for your cat, so weigh the risks carefully.

Preventable conditions like feline leukemia aren't just life-threatening — they're also expensive to treat. To avoid high vet care costs, start searching for pet insurance today. Brought to you by Pet Insurer, Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Trupanion. Find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

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