Many people ask this question, feeling that their cat, as an indoor cat, does not need to be vaccinated against Rabies. The simplest answer is that Rabies vaccination is required by law for all cats (and dogs) over the age of four months in Vermont. But that in itself may not be a satisfying enough answer. So let’s look at this a bit more deeply to understand about the risks of Rabies.
We are very careful at Affectionately Cats to vaccinate only when necessary, based on lifestyle and risk, and we listen very carefully whenever an owner has concerns about vaccinations. Please understand this.
But we also must understand that Rabies is a fatal virus. Although it is found mainly in wildlife (especially raccoons, foxes, bats, skunks and woodchucks), Rabies can also infect domestic animals and humans. While the number of people dying from rabies in the United States is small (on average, one or two people per year die of rabies in this country), the number of fatalities is much higher in countries without strong vaccination and post-exposure programs. Very sadly, about 50,000 people die worldwide from rabies each year. Rabies is a very serious disease-that is a fact we can understand.
Another fact is that hundreds of cases of animal Rabies have been reported throughout Vermont since 1992 and the outbreak will continue to be a problem for many years. The Vermont Department of Health has a web site (go to healthvermont.gov) and they list the confirmed positive cases of Rabies that they have found in Vermont. In our Chittenden county, Rabies positive skunks have been found very near to us in Burlington, Shelburne, Winooski, and Jericho, positive raccoons in Huntington and Hinesburg, a positive bat in Shelburne, and very recently a positive cat in Orleans County. Other counties in Vermont are listed on their website. No one can tell if an animal has rabies by looking at it. Rabid animals may seem normal or can be lethargic or aggressive.
The answer to that is that there is no way to ensure that any cat is 100% free of risk of potential exposure to Rabies. There are stories about rabid raccoons breaking through screens and coming indoors, and it’s quite common for bats, which have a high incidence of rabies, to find their way indoors. Bats can enter homes or apartments through small cracks.
Also, there’s always the chance, however small, that an indoor-only cat might sneak outdoors through an open window or door. Rarely a cat has escaped out of their carrier while traveling, when they become frightened. It has happened.
If a cat is unvaccinated and comes in contact with a rabid bat or other animal, the consequences could be quite severe. Lengthy quarantines may be required for up to 6 months, sometimes even at veterinary clinics which can get quite expensive. Unfortunately the only way to test an animal for Rabies is on their brain tissue, which cannot be done in a live animal. While there is an expensive preventative series of shots that humans can receive to prevent disease after exposure to a rabid animal, no similar preventative protection exists for unvaccinated animals.
However, if a cat is up-to-date on the Rabies vaccination and then exposed to a rabid animal, then they simply require a Rabies vaccine booster and a 10 day quarantine at home. That is manageable and a situation we would all want to be in, rather than the unvaccinated situation above, if this was to happen to us.
Similar consequences might occur if a cat were to bite someone. And this is where we get into very difficult situations as we try to protect human health. Cats can get frightened and bites have happened completely unexpectedly..we know that this happens. Bite wounds treated by a physician are reported to the health department, which may then request proof of rabies vaccination. If the owner can’t provide this proof, once again there may be repercussions for both owner and kitty, including a fine for having an unvaccinated animal; a recommendation that the cat be tested for rabies, especially if the cat was ill; or a period of quarantine, for the cat.
Please talk with your veterinarian, go to the Vermont Department of Health website, or call their Rabies hotline at 1-800-4-RABIES ( 1-800-223-8697) for more information. Our best recommendation is to follow the State law and vaccinate all cats over 4 months of age against Rabies. It is just not worth taking any risks, especially when we are talking about Rabies.