Are vaccines for cats who live outdoors different from cats who live in the house? And what do you do if a trip to the vet is just too stressful for the outdoor kitties? Those were the questions a reader asked me — here’s my reply.
Q: I live on a ranch and have been acquired by a pair of outdoor cats. I know that they were vaccinated a year ago. I’ve never had cats before, and I want to know if they need a yearly booster. One cat is 14 years old and the other is 2 years old, and they don’t like being handled or in a carrier. I want them to feel safe here, so I’m reluctant to stress them by taking them for a long car ride to the veterinarian for shots if it isn’t necessary.
A: Vaccinations are important for good health, but in most instances, annual vaccinations are a thing of the past. When it comes to frequency of vaccination, factors to consider in consultation with your veterinarian are lifestyle and environment, the cats’ age and health, and the prevalence of infectious disease in your area.
Because your cats live outdoors and may come in contact with wild animals that carry the rabies virus, such as skunks or bats, rabies is a concern. A rabies vaccination is good for three years and protects your cats in the event of exposure to a rabid animal.
Other diseases include panleukopenia (feline distemper), feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus-1. The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends vaccinating for these diseases every three years. The AAFP recommends the feline leukemia vaccine for cats who go outdoors and are thus at risk of encountering infected cats.
You are correct that a car ride for cats who aren’t used to it can be overly stressful. If possible, try to find a Fear Free-certified veterinarian who makes house (or ranch) calls to come and examine your cats and give rabies or feline leukemia vaccines if their records don’t indicate protection from these diseases.
Read more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.