Indoor Dogs and Infectious Disease

By Krista Williams, BSc, DVM; Robin Downing, DVM, CVPP, CCRP, DAAPM

Why does my dog need vaccinations if she spends 100% of her time indoors.

It is a myth that dogs who live indoors do not need to be vaccinated against infectious diseases. While living an indoor lifestyle is certainly safer overall than living outdoors, and indoor living contributes to a longer life expectancy, important infectious diseases can find indoor dogs.

Canine distemper virus and canine parvovirus are two infections against which veterinarians vaccinate their canine patients. Vaccination against distemper and parvovirus is important because these diseases can be deadly.

"Because transmission does not require direct contact with another dog, indoor-only dogs can be exposed and become ill if they are not appropriately vaccinated."

These are hardy viruses that can be brought into the home on inanimate objects like clothes or shoes. Because transmission does not require direct contact with another dog, indoor-only dogs can be exposed and become ill if they are not appropriately vaccinated. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) have published vaccination guidelines that reflect the current standard of vaccine science. Your veterinarian will help you understand the most appropriate distemper vaccination schedule for your dog.

How important is it to vaccinate against canine influenza virus or Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria (kennel cough) if my dog doesn’t leave my house?

The current vaccine recommendations for dogs from the AAHA and WSAVA provide guidance for assessing the risks of exposure to various diseases and subsequent recommendations about vaccination. You and your veterinarian should have a thorough discussion about exposure risks your dog faces for these two diseases. For a strictly indoor dog, your veterinarian may recommend forgoing this vaccine.

One scenario to consider that may provide an opportunity for exposure to canine influenza or Bordetella, aside from an inadvertent escape from the house, is the dog who travels to the groomer periodically. Another is the risk posed by a guest dog, should a family member or friend come for a visit and have their dog with them. Bordetella can also be transmitted on clothing and other objects. Does anyone in your house come into contact with other dogs? Do your visitors have dogs at home? When deciding about Bordetella or canine influenza vaccination, it is important to consider all the potential dog exposures.

Why would my indoor dog need vaccination against leptospirosis?

As rodents are the main carrier of this disease; indoor dogs may still be at risk of exposure. As urban areas become increasingly overpopulated with rodents the infection rate in indoor dogs has increased. Given the severity of illness, it is worth a discussion with your veterinarian to determine if your dog should be vaccinated for leptospirosis.


Why does my indoor dog need rabies vaccination?

Rabies is a human health concern, not just an animal health issue. Because rabies can be transmitted to humans and is nearly universally fatal, many communities have laws mandating rabies vaccination of pets. Rabies is most commonly transmitted by a bite from an infected animal. Bats, skunks, and raccoons are the most common sources of exposure to rabies by companion animals.

"Rabies is a human health concern, not just an animal health issue."

Regardless of legal requirements, maintaining regular rabies vaccination makes good medical sense. Even a strictly-indoor dog may find a way to sneak out of the house and be exposed to rabies by a wild animal in the neighborhood. A rabid bat could find its way inside your home, presenting an attractive hunting target for an indoor dog. It is simply not worth the risk to the dog or your human family members to decline vaccination against rabies.

Your veterinarian is your best source of the most current recommendations for vaccinating your dog in order to protect him from preventable infectious diseases - even if yours lives strictly indoors. The current guidelines for dog vaccinations involve a rotating vaccine schedule -it is no longer considered appropriate to vaccinate against every disease every single year. Instead, an individual risk assessment is performed to determine the most appropriate disease protection and prevention plan for your dog. Your veterinarian has your dog's best interests in mind.

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