My cat never goes outside. Why does he need a rabies vaccine?

April 6, 2016
Brian Stewart, DVM

Brian Stewart, DVM, is the medical director at Woodstock Veterinary Clinic in Woodstock, Illinois.

Dont be stumped. Practice this answer and be ready next time clients ask.

Rabies is a serious public health concern. Once it's contracted, it's almost always fatal. Transmission occurs when an infected animal bites another animal or human. Try educating pet owners with these facts:

• Ninety percent of rabies cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are found in wild animals, and most of these are found in bats, though raccoons, skunks and foxes also can carry the virus.

Ten percent of rabies cases are found in domesticated animals, and cats make up more than half of those cases, according to the CDC.

• The CDC also reports that in 2013, 247 cats and 89 dogs tested positive for rabies. Rabies in cats is on the rise in the United States, mainly due to owners not getting their cats vaccinated.

• Indoor cats most often are exposed to rabies when an infected bat enters a household. Any bats that come in contact with domesticated animals need to be tested for rabies if caught. If the bat tests positive for the virus, some recommendations call for unvaccinated animals to be quarantined for six months or euthanized.

How do you explain the need for the rabies vaccine to clients?

You might try something like this: Mrs. Smith, I know you love Felix, and vaccinating him avoids putting him at an unnecessary risk. Bats have been known to get in to houses through an open door or chimney. And if your cat is exposed, the consequences can be grave. There is no cure for rabies, so not vaccinating your indoor cat for the disease can be a deadly risk. That's why we encourage you to have Felix vaccinated, even if he spends all of his time indoors. 

Brian Stewart, DVM, is the medical director at Woodstock Veterinary Clinic in Woodstock, Illinois.