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Kittens and FVRCP: When and Why Your Kitten Needs This Vaccine

Your adorable kitten is growing fast. And, in addition to the growth you can see, there’s a lot going on inside their body.

One of the most important parts of growing up includes your kitten’s immune system development — and vaccines are an important part of developing a healthy immune system.

What Is the FVRCP Vaccine for Cats?

If you’re planning your kitten’s next vet visit, maybe you’re wondering: What exactly is that FVRCP vaccination kittens need? What does the FVRCP kitten vaccine protect against, and why is it so important? And, why does my kitten need it if they will be indoor only?

FVRCP is a core vaccine. This means veterinarians recommend it for all cats regardless of their lifestyle. The diseases covered by this vaccine are very common, very contagious, and can be very serious or even fatal, especially in young kittens or in cats who are immunocompromised. 

But not to worry: Routine vaccination can do a lot to protect your kitty.

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What Does FVRCP Stand For?

FVRCP stands for Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia.

Also known as the feline combo or feline distemper vaccine, the FVRCP vaccine is a combination vaccine, meaning it includes protection against more than one disease (in this case, three common, but potentially serious, airborne viruses).

None of these diseases affect humans, but they are extremely contagious between cats.

The FVRCP Vaccine Protects Against 3 Airborne Diseases

1. Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis Virus

Also known as feline herpesvirus type-1 or FHV-1, FVR is an upper respiratory infection. Infected cats may show signs of:

  • Red, watery, goopy, or crusty eyes.
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye).
  • Ulcers or lesions on the surface of the eyes (usually, you’ll notice your cat squinting).
  • Sneezing.
  • Nasal discharge.
  • A sore throat.
  • A fever.
  • Lethargy.
  • Inappetence (due to not feeling well, difficulty smelling food, nasal congestion, and difficulty swallowing due to a sore throat).
  • Less commonly, a cat may develop mouth ulcers and pneumonia.

Severity of symptoms vary from cat to cat. Most cats recover well with treatment, but in severe cases (particularly in kittens) the viral infection can be fatal.

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Unfortunately, the respiratory disease is so common and so contagious that most cats are exposed at some point in their life. And, after an infection, the virus remains in a cat’s body in a latent or “dormant” state.

The good news is, cats who carry the virus aren’t sick all the time. Many only have illness flare ups during times of stress, such as when boarding or moving to a new home. On the other hand, some cats battle chronic flare ups their whole life. Certain veterinarian-recommended supplements can help cats with frequent flare-ups.

2. Feline Calicivirus

This virus, also known as FCV, causes symptoms that can be very similar to FVR, as listed above.

But, painful mouth ulcers are much more common with this infectious disease. One clinical sign is drooling.

While much rarer, there is also one strain of calicivirus that causes a severe disease affecting the rest of the body, and is much more likely to be fatal.

3. Feline Panleukopenia Virus

This virus, sometimes called feline distemper, is caused by a virus in the Parvovirus family and usually more of a risk in young kittens than in vaccinated adult cats. It affects blood cells in the intestinal tract, bone marrow, and brain, and is possibly the most dangerous of the viruses covered by FVRCP.

Panleukopenia virus causes:

  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea, which may be severe or contain blood.
  • A major decrease in white blood cells, which makes it harder for a kitten’s body to fight the infection.
  • A fever.
  • Inappetence.
  • Lethargy.
  • Death.

A kitten sick with panleukopenia virus requires veterinary care right away, as the disease is often fatal.

Panleukopenia can also affect a kitten’s brain development if their mother is infected while pregnant. This results in a condition called cerebellar hypoplasia, which causes tremors and underdeveloped coordination and balance — something that might not be apparent until a kitten first tries to walk. Fortunately, many kittens with cerebellar hypoplasia can lead very happy lives and adapt to perform all the daily activities other cats do. These kittens just need loving homes ready to meet their special needs.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Side effects of the FVRCP vaccination for cats are generally very mild. They may experience slight swelling and soreness near the injection site, develop a low-grade fever, have a decreased appetite, or act a little sluggish. 

These signs almost always go away within a few days. If your kitten experiences more severe symptoms, though, contact your vet immediately.

FVRCP Kitten Vaccine Schedule

Your kitten’s first vaccine should occur when they’re 6-8 weeks of age, which is likely before you adopted them. After that, vaccine boosters will be repeated every 3-4 weeks until your kitten is at least 16 weeks old. 

Because of the way a kitten’s immune system develops, booster shots are necessary to be sure your kitten receives strong immunity to these viruses.

Do Adult Cats Need the FVRCP Vaccine?

One study found that 52% of America’s 74 million cats don’t receive regular veterinary care, and less than half of cats return to the vet after their first year, making them susceptible to avoidable diseases and illnesses. That's why it's important to visit your veterinarian regularly.

If you adopted or rescued a cat as an adult, a situation where you might not know their vaccine history, your DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) will probably recommend giving them two FVRCP vaccines, an initial vaccine followed by a booster shot 3-4 weeks later.

But, if your kitten or adult cat has already had their initial vaccine with booster(s), their vaccine needs going forward will depend a lot on your cat’s lifestyle. If your kitty goes outdoors or to a place such as a boarding facility where they’ll be around other cats, your vet will probably recommend yearly vaccines. However, if your cat is a 100% indoor cat and not around other cats, your vet may recommend a vaccine booster less frequently, such as every 3 years. 

Older cats or cats with health problems may have a different feline vaccine schedule recommendation, too.

Every kitty is unique, so check with your veterinarian for the best, personalized schedule for your individual cat.

Bottom line? All kittens should receive the FVRCP vaccine when they are young to help prevent these diseases and keep your furry BFF healthy.

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