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What Is the FVRCP Vaccine For Cats? (Vet Answer)

Dr. Paola Cuevas (Vet)

By Dr. Paola Cuevas (Vet)

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

Vet, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you are a new cat owner, you have probably heard of the FVRCP vaccine. Why? Because it is one of the core vaccines that every cat should get. Core vaccines are considered essential to every cat because they protect against diseases that are widely distributed and highly transmissible, as in the case of rabies. In addition, a vaccine for feline leukemia virus is also considered core for kittens and outdoor cats.

In this article, we will explain the FVRCP vaccine for cats, the recommended schedule, cost, as well as potential side effects.

What Is the FVRCP Vaccine?

The FVRCP vaccine is a combination vaccine that protects cats against three different viral diseases.

1. FHV-1

Feline herpesvirus 1, or FHV-1, is a viral disease that causes feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR). This herpes virus is globally distributed and highly transmissible. The acute infection causes an inflammation of the nasal passages and trachea of cats. Eye and nose secretions, sneezing, fever, depression, and lack of appetite are some of the symptoms. It can also cause conjunctivitis and corneal ulcers. This virus disrupts the respiratory immune system, making the cat susceptible to upper respiratory tract infection by secondary pathogens such as bacteria or another virus.

 On rare occasions, feline herpesvirus 1 can also cause oral ulcerations and lead to pneumonia.


2. FCV

 Feline calicivirus (FCV) is another highly infectious respiratory virus that causes eye and nose secretions. Some strains can cause oral ulcerations, mouth infections, pneumonia, and could even infect the joints, causing kittens to limp.

Most infected cats develop a fever and become anorexic which puts them at risk of dehydration. Like other viruses, the infection of FCV causes immunosuppression and can lead to other secondary infections.

Infected animals shed the virus in body fluids and feces even after recovery, and the transmission can be by direct contact or via objects like clothes, bowls, beddings where the virus can survive for weeks.

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Veterinarian at vet clinic giving injection to cat
Image Credit: Tom Wang, Shutterstock

3. FPV

Feline panleukopenia (FPV) also known as feline distemper or feline parvovirus. Is a very infectious virus that causes gastrointestinal, immune system, and nervous system diseases. The virus attacks the cat’s bone marrow and lymph nodes causing a drastic reduction of white blood cells in the cat, these are normally the defense cells in the blood, so this disease makes cats very susceptible to acquiring other infections.

The symptoms of this disease are variable because it infects different systems. Besides the respiratory symptoms with excessive eye and nasal secretions (usually caused by secondary infections), high fever, vomit, profuse diarrhea, and dehydration. This virus causes ulcerations and damage to the lining of the intestinal tract commonly resulting in profuse bloody diarrhea. Pregnant females can suffer from miscarriages. Kittens can also suffer cerebellar ataxia if the virus infects the nervous system causing incoordination and lack of movement control. The mortality rate is over 90% in kittens.

Infected cats shed the virus by all body fluids even weeks after recovery. This virus can survive for long periods in the environment, so it is considered ubiquitous, which means that it is considered to be present in every place that is not regularly disinfected.

The Necessity of the FVRCP Vaccine

a female veterinarian with cat
Image Credit: Tom Wang, Shutterstock

As you can see, these highly transmissible viruses are also resilient and can survive for long periods in the environment. These pathogens can be transmitted via animals, people, and objects, which is the reason the FVRCP is considered a core vaccine. It is necessary even for indoor cats, as you or any visitor can bring the virus to your home via your shoes, clothes, or any other object. An indoor cat could also get the disease via insects such as fleas or other animals and bring the virus to your house.

What Is the Recommended Vaccination Schedule for FVRCP?

When kittens are born and nursed by their mom, they receive more than nutrition from the milk, they also receive passive immunity. The first mammary secretion called colostrum contains specialized defense cells of the mother called immunoglobulins that will protect the kittens during the first period of their life. This immunity does not last forever, it wears out and the kittens need to develop their immune system to survive.

Vaccines present the body with a form of the pathogen that is not viable to develop the disease. Exposure to these attenuated, modified, or inactivated pathogens stimulates the immune system by providing it with access to the virus. Having this information, the cat’s body is no longer naive to those viruses.

Vaccines provide the immune system with an opportunity to develop specific defense mechanisms against a pathogen without having to acquire (and survive) the disease. The repeated exposure to vaccines allows the immune system to be “trained and developed” in this way the kitten acquires immunity from the real pathogen.

Kittens receive the first shot of FVRCP when they are between 6 to 9 weeks, if at this age they might still be protected by the mother’s immunity. If this is the case, this initial exposure might not allow them to develop their immunity against these viruses.

The second dose of FVRCP is 3-4 weeks after the first one when kittens are between 10-14 weeks old. Then the third dose should be when the kittens are 14-18 weeks old.  Some kittens start their vaccination schedule a little later, but it is recommended that they have all received the first three shots of the FVRCP vaccine by the age of 5 months (20 weeks). This repeated exposure ensures that the kittens develop immunity against this virus.

After the initial three shots, the fourth dose will be a year after the third one. Immunity might be “wearing off” and these booster shots ensure the cat remains protected against this virus. After the first year, the FVRCP vaccine boosters can be given only every third year to maintain the protection.

What Is the Cost of the FVRCP Vaccine?

The price of the FVRCP vaccine is variable in each country. In the USA the price range is usually between $30-$60 depending on the state, the clinic, and the specifics of the vaccine brand and formulations.

What Are the Side Effects of the FVRCP Vaccine?

For most kittens, there are no or minimal side effects of this vaccine. Few kittens will develop a fever and a slight decrease in appetite, their energy level might be a little low. On occasions, there might be swelling at the injection site. All these effects should disappear within a few days.

On rare occasions, kittens might suffer an allergic reaction to the vaccine, swollen or red eyes, lips, face, itchiness and even vomit, and diarrhea are possible signs. The veterinarian must be informed if your kitten develops any of these symptoms, with difficulty breathing being considered an emergency.

There is a rare form of tissue sarcoma that has been associated with the vaccine injection site in a small number of genetically susceptible cats. This controversial issue is still being studied and because it has only been presented in a very small number of cats, the recommendation is to get your cat vaccinated against these highly transmissible viral diseases.

Conclusion

The FVRCP vaccine protects cats from three different widely distributed and highly transmissible viral diseases. Kittens must have received three injections of this vaccine by the time they reach five months of age as it is classified as a core vaccine. Booster injections will be required throughout the life of the cat to maintain immunity. While there are some minimal secondary effects and a few risks associated with this vaccine, the benefits outweigh the risks of this vaccination as it protects your cat against three potentially fatal diseases.


Featured Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

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