What Vaccines Do Indoor Cats Need?

In my world of raising 4 cats, I always went with what my veterinarian recommended when it came to vaccines. Until I let almost 4 years go by without a visit.

Guess what?

They were fine. (except dental issues, but that’s another post)

This led me to rethink if they really needed these vaccines every year. For this question, there is no simple answer.

So, what vaccines do indoor cats need? For me, the most important list of vaccines for indoor cats are:

  • FVRCP – Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (herpes), Calici, Panleukopenia (feline distemper) every 3 years
  • Rabies

Understand, the best way to know what vaccines your cats may need, and the frequency is to do a consultation with your vet to look into your situation.

black and white cat looking out of a hole in cat crate at the veterinarians

An awesome vet sits down, takes the time to discuss your cat’s entire situation with you:

  • lifestyle
  • age
  • background

Again, I have 4 indoor only cats that range from 11-13 years old.

So, because they’re older and indoor, they aren’t at as much risk for panleukopenia or feline leukemia.

The AAFP Advisory Panel, however, recommends that the following “core” vaccines for cats be:

  • Feline panleukopenia (FPV) – feline panleukopenia
  • Feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1)
  • Feline calicivirus (FCV)
  • AAFP UPDATE 2013: They removed Rabies from the core due to the area of a cat’s would risk exposure to infectious disease. You can read the panel report here.

Should rabies be included as a core vaccine? Tell me what you think in the comments below!

I’ve listed these vaccines below for cats that aren’t suggested for my situation:

  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
  • Chlamydophila felis – should only be considered in situations where the need can be substantiated through testing.
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica – a bacterial respiratory infection
  • Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)
  • Dermatophyte vaccines
  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus “feline AIDS” or FIV: this is an adjuvanted, ineffective vaccine because the test can’t tell the difference between a vaccinated or infected cat.

The issue with getting vaccines for indoor cats is there isn’t a standard, straightforward answer.

Just “suggestions”.

It’ll be up to you, your consultation with your vet and your comfort level to decide how you want to handle vaccines for your older indoor cats.

Outdoor cats and kittens are another matter as they need more upfront vaccines.

It’s becoming an industry standard to vaccinate your cats every 3 years or more. (recommended by the American Animal Hospital Association)

Basically, to sum up:

  • Leukemia vaccine: not so much for indoor cats but for outdoor
  • Benefits of giving the rabies vaccine depend on your home life and situation.

And, cats with a history of having sarcomas would need vaccinations with less frequency.

Again these are just guidelines, please see you vet to determine what your cat needs.

How To Decide What Vaccines Your Cat Needs

Consider these issues when deciding what vaccines your cats needs:

  • Age of the patient
  • Risk of exposure to the disease in question
  • Prevalence of the disease in the environment
  • The consequence of the infection
  • The overall health of the patient (speaking of healthy, bone broth is great for cats!)
  • Vaccine efficacy
  • DOI studies (Duration of Immunity) for the vaccine: From two separate studies, the panleukopenia vaccine shows that the immunity lasts for at least 7.5 years. Some feel that this actually lasts for the life of your cat.  Sometimes, on rare occasions, a cat won’t respond… even if they keep getting the vaccine.
  • Vaccine properties (adjuvanted/non-adjuvanted)
  • Titer testing
  • Your comfort level – we are emotional creatures, so when I decide to inject anything into the body of my own cats, I always feel if I’m doing the right thing or not.

The Most Common Vaccines For Cats

Everyone has a different ‘take’ on a risk-benefit analysis and people have to work within their own comfort zone.

Below are “suggestions” that people most commonly get their cats vaccinated for:

♦️ Rabies

This disease is fatal for all mammals, including humans.

The Merial’s PureVax rabies vaccine, non-adjuvated, is available… but know that sarcomas still happens with these so keep an eye on the frequency you give to your cat.

There are 2 choices:

  • 1 year: PureVax rabies vaccine. – problem with frequency because a sarcoma can develop
  • 3 year: Merial’s PureVax rabies vaccine. – recommended suggestion for cats.

♦️ Feline Leukemia (FeLV)

For most adult cats, even if they have access to the outdoors, at 1 yr old, they should have a strong natural immunity.

Mainly, in rare situations, it’s recommended that adult cats get this vaccine if he/she would be near/contact a positive FeLV cat. 

AAFP guidelines “suggest” vaccinating all kittens, though.

Same rules apply here for kittens, I wouldn’t vaccinate a kitten unless you are going to let them outside (not really a safe for these little ones) or in contact with a FeLV positive cat/kitten. [source]  

Vaccinate with a one-time PureVax (NON-adjuvanted) is a good way to go.

Types Of Vaccines

As I’m digging into this world of vaccines, I learned there are types that they use to give cats.

  • Killed
  • Modified Live (MLV)
  • Intranasal (IN)
  • Recombinant

What Are The Two Categories Of Vaccines

Again, this is all new to me.

When researching vaccines for my cat, I came across “categories” of vaccines.

AAFP Recognizes 2 Categories: Core and Noncore

The “core vaccines” are basically for all cats.

The AAFP Advisory Panel recommends the list below for this category:

  • Feline panleukopenia (FPV) – feline panleukopenia
  • Feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1)
  • Feline calicivirus (FCV)

The “noncore vaccines” are for cats in specific risk categories based on: „

  • The lifestyle of the cat
  • The lifestyle of the cat’s owner (take in foster or stray cats?)
  • „Location and geography.

The AAFP thinks you should vaccinate your cats with the following due to your location:

  • Rabies
  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
  • Chlamydophila felis
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)
  • Dermatophyte vaccines

Where Should Vaccinations For Cats Be Administered?

In lieu of Sarcomas, there are certain areas that cats are now administered their vaccines.

Below is a breakdown: (Rabies right, leukemia left )

  • Rabies vaccines:  administer in the right rear leg, below the knee
  • FeLV vaccination: administer in the left rear leg, below the knee 
  • Vaccines for respiratory viruses: below the right elbow
foo foo side profile of where to administer cat vaccines
Totally took image idea from PetHelpful.com

Let it be known…

The panel says that vaccinations shouldn’t be given on the upper legs or hips… AND between the shoulders.

Please don’t let your vet administer ANY vaccine (adjuvanted or non-adjuvanted) to the scruff of your cat.

They need to be given at the lowest part of the limb as possible.  

So, in case, VAS (vaccine associated sarcoma) occurs.

Injection Site Sarcomas In Cats (IJS)

Vaccines are more controversial in cats.

The reason for the controversy boils down to one word:


It’s a tumor of the connective tissues that are created from where your vet injects your cat. 

Injection sites for these are normally located between your cat’s shoulder blades, their back legs and in their hip area.

How are injection-site sarcomas diagnosed?

Your vet will most likely have to do a biopsy via surgery to be certain that’s what it is.  I’ve read that sometimes these issues are thought to be a vaccine reaction or granuloma on aspirates.

So, it’s best to take the route that will be definitive.

How are they treated?


Not to be super detailed but this basically entails that the removal of the tumor to be “wide and deep”, because ss the tumors grow by sending root type pathways of tumor cells within the tissues.

They need to cut out everything for a, what they call, “clean margin surgery”.

Again, this may not solve the issue as the tumor can grow back. In this case, your cat will probably be prepped for radiation treatment and chemotherapy.

Many suggest doing this upfront after the surgery to prevent a regrowth.

These are just a very difficult thing to treat.

Note: Cats that have been treated for an injection-site sarcoma should not receive any future vaccinations.

How can you prevent these?

In my opinion, and my suggestion is to reduce the frequency of your cat’s vaccinations. 

Beyond that…

Start to really think about what vaccines your cat really needs for their own situation.

But one thing’s for sure, please ALWAYS have a talk with your veterinarian about your concerns. Make sure they understand your lifestyle, where you live, and how you live in general. 

This gives them a better idea to give you a well round plan for your cats.

Or even better.

You could have your vet vaccinate on lower limbs OR even into the tail of your cat. So, if anything happens, a leg or tail can be amputated.

Related Questions:

Do indoor cats need Fvrcp? Indoor cats do need the FVRCP vaccine. These diseases are airborne, so every cat needs to be vaccinated against them.

Most of all, this vaccine helps your cat’s immune system remain ready to respond to these diseases.

Do outdoor cats need shots? If you have an outdoor only or an indoor/outdoor cat, then they will need shots as well. They’ll need the feline distemper vaccine and rabies.

For rabies, I feel, they should get every three years… There is no justifiable reason to vaccinate outdoor cats anymore so.

Most importantly, if your cat gets bit and it’s been more than 1 month since its last rabies booster, your cat must be re-vaccinated.

Do older cats need vaccinations? For starters, older cats don’t need any annual or booster vaccinations (other than rabies if lifestyle adheres).

Frankly, it’s not worth the risk of allergic reaction, vaccine-induced sarcoma or immune diseases.

The simple truth…

Many vets agree that your cats should only be vaccinated for the diseases that they are more susceptible to. 

How often do cats need rabies shots? The timing for the rabies vaccine from Merial’s: For healthy cats 12 weeks or older use the PUREVAX Feline Rabies 3 YR, then a 1-year booster, followed by a vaccination every 3 years.

What vaccines do kittens need? By the time she reaches eight weeks old, your kitten should see the veterinarian to begin a series of vaccinations. All kittens should receive vaccines for rabies, upper respiratory infections, and distemper.

Cat’s vaccines cost? The cost for vaccines can vary within each clinic or hospital and they can change.

I would say after the initial costs of $150 or more, your annual costs (depending on your situation) would be $60 or more.

Below is a chart with vaccines and costs for your cats and kittens:

Cat Costs Cost Per Vaccines/Test
6 – 8 weeks
FIV/Leukemia Combo Test $50
1st FVRCP/C $23
Fecal Test $20
Deworming (If Needed) $10 +
9 – 11 weeks
FVRCP/C & Leukemia Vaccination $43
12 – 15 weeks  
FVRCP/C, Leukemia, & Rabies Vaccination $41

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