Indoor Dogs and Infectious Disease

indoor_dogs_and_infectious_diseaseMy dog spends 100% of her time indoors.  She potties in a litter pan or on “potty pads.”  She doesn’t need vaccinations, does she?

It is a myth that dogs who live indoors don’t 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 dogs anyway.

Canine distemper virus and the other components known as the canine distemper complex are diseases against which veterinarians vaccinate their canine patients.  Vaccination against the canine distemper complex is important because these diseases can be deadly.  They 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) has 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.


I read that canine influenza virus and the Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria require direct dog-to-dog contact.  Surely my indoor dog is safe from these diseases?

The current canine vaccine recommendations from the AAHA 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.  When deciding about Bordetella or influenza vaccination, it is important to consider all the potential dog exposures.


What about rabies vaccination for my indoor dog?

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, presenting an attractive hunting target for an indoor dog.  It is simply not worth the risk to the dog or the human family members to decline vaccination against rabies.

Your veterinarian is your best source of the most current recommendations for vaccinating dogs in order to protect them from preventable infectious diseases - even dogs who live strictly indoors.  The current guidelines for canine vaccination 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.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Robin Downing, DVM, CVPP, CCRP, DAAPM

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