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A-Z Walkthrough of the FVRCP Vaccine for Cats

FVRCP isn’t a secret code—it’s one of the most important tools cat parents have for helping to protect their pet’s health and wellbeing. FVRCP, an acronym for Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus and Panleukopenia, is a vaccine so effective at staving off deadly feline viruses that it’s considered a core vaccine for all cats. Whether you adopt your cat as a kitten or as an adult, veterinarians recommend the FVRCP cat vaccine and periodic booster shots as part of a cat’s routine health care plan. Understanding how this vaccine works and the viruses it protects against will help you make smart decisions for your cat’s ongoing healthcare. You can find this vaccine at neighborhood Petco Pet Care Centers that provides veterinary services. 

What Does FVRCP Help Prevent?

Combination vaccines like the FVRCP vaccine help ensure that cats receive as much protection as possible without the inconvenience—and cost—of individual separate vaccination. Without the FVRCP cat vaccine, cats are more susceptible to three hazardous viruses, each of which poses a significant risk of sickness and death. These three viruses are:

  • Feline viral rhinotracheitis Feline viral rhinotracheitis is a feline herpes virus that can affect a cat’s upper respiratory system. Signs of this virus can include cold or flu-like symptoms such as sneezing, congestion, a runny nose, swollen or drippy eyes and fever. Your cat may also lack energy or lose their appetite, and dangerous dehydration and starvation levels may ensue. Furthermore, cats whose immune systems are compromised by feline viral rhinotracheitis can develop secondary bacterial infections, further increasing the risk of death.
  • Feline calicivirus Feline calicivirus is another potentially fatal upper respiratory virus. In addition to respiratory symptoms such as sneezing, congestion, a runny nose and conjunctivitis, it can also cause inflammation in your cat’s mouth. It can manifest as ulcers or sores on any of the tissue in a cat’s mouth, including the gums, lips and palate, and can even create sores on the nose. This virus can lead to severe respiratory infections like pneumonia. Some particularly deadly strains of feline calicivirus can affect other parts of a cat’s body, leading to organ diseases or lameness. 
  • Feline panleukopenia You may have heard of feline panleukopenia by a different name—distemper. It’s widespread, highly contagious and can be deadly. This virus usually affects a cat’s bone marrow and lymph nodes, leading to decreased production of both white and red blood cells and severely lowered immunity. Symptoms can include fever, vomiting, loss of appetite, severe diarrhea that may be bloody, dehydration and exhaustion. Once contracted, it can overtake a cat’s immune system quickly and may rapidly lead to death.

All three of these feline illnesses have the potential to be painful or fatal, but they’re all highly preventable with the proper vaccines. 

Is the FVRCP Vaccine Necessary for Indoor Cats?

Only two vaccines for cats are considered “core vaccines,”, which means they are universally recommended regardless of a cat’s living situation. One is the rabies shot, which helps prevent cats from contracting the often deadly virus and passing it on to other animals—as well as humans. The other core vaccine is the FVRCP vaccine.

This vaccine is a core vaccine because of how widespread the diseases it helps prevent are, how deadly they are and how easy they are to contract. Even if your cat is an indoor-only pet who lives in a household without any other animals, it’s still possible for them to be exposed to feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia. Any object that has come into contact with the bodily fluids of a cat who has any of these viruses can pass them to another cat. In particular, the feline panleukopenia virus can survive for up to a year on contaminated surfaces and can be difficult to kill with household cleaners. Cats of any age can contract all three viruses. 

These viruses can be passed to your cat through both direct and indirect contact. Some of the many ways unvaccinated cats may contract FVRCP viruses include:

  • Direct contact If one of your cats becomes infected with one of these viruses, they can pass it on to any other cats in your home through direct contact while grooming, licking, biting or sneezing. 
  • Litter boxes Any of these viruses—but especially feline panleukopenia—can be spread through contact with infected feces. Shared litter boxes and outdoor contact with the feces of other cats can spread a virus from one cat to another.
  • Food and water dishes Traces of bodily fluid or discharge on a food or water dish can pass viruses from one cat to another.
  • Bedding and toys Once an unvaccinated cat has a panleukopenia infection, their bedding and blankets need to be disposed of and not shared with another cat, even after cleaning. As mentioned above, the virus can survive up to a year and is resistant to disinfectants.

Even if you have an indoor-only cat, you or a visitor can unwittingly bring traces of a deadly virus into your home and put your cat at risk. This is why the FVRCP cat vaccine is crucial, regardless of whether your pet goes outside. While some vaccines are optional and may be administered based on the health plan you and your vet create for your pets, others are so beneficial they’re universally advised. What vaccines do cats (and dogs) really need? Your vet will probably start with core vaccines, then make additional recommendations based on your pet’s lifestyle.

Do Cats Need FVRCP Shots Every Year?

The recommended FVRCP vaccine schedule varies depending on whether you adopt your cat as a kitten or as an adult and whether you know your cat’s vaccination history. Ideally, a cat’s vaccination schedule should begin when they’re young. The first FVRCP vaccine for kittens is typically given at about 6 to 8 weeks of age. Typically, additional FVRCP vaccine booster shots are administered every three to four weeks until a cat is about 16 weeks old. After that, booster shots will likely be provided periodically throughout a cat’s life. If you adopt a cat when they are fully grown and you don’t know their vaccination history, your vet will likely recommend one or two FVRCP vaccines followed by booster shots three to four weeks later. After that, your cat will usually receive a periodic FVRCP vaccine according to the schedule determined by your veterinarian.

The frequency of the FVRCP vaccine booster your vet will recommend for your adult cat will be determined  by your pet’s age, health and habits. For instance, cats who are particularly susceptible to viral infection or spend a lot of time outdoors may need an annual booster. Pets who live entirely indoors in a home without other cats might only need a booster every three years. At Petco, our vets will make an informed decision about your cat’s FVRCP vaccine schedule based on your cat’s health and lifestyle.

Will My Cat Have Side Effects From the FVRCP Vaccine?

Regular vaccines are an important part of basic cat health care. Side effects are so rare they are outweighed by the tremendous health benefits your cat receives from being vaccinated. FVRCP vaccine side effects are far milder and less dangerous than the symptoms of the diseases the vaccine protects against. If side effects do occur, they are usually mild and may include swelling at the injection site, a slight fever, stomach sickness symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy or sneezing. These symptoms will typically go away within a few hours or days, and many cats don’t experience side effects at all.

On very rare occasions, a cat can have an allergic reaction to a vaccine. Signs of such a reaction might include severe vomiting or diarrhea, difficulty breathing, high-grade fever and swelling or itching around the eyes and mouth. Additionally, if swelling around the injection site does not diminish after a couple of weeks or you see swelling in the area even months or years after vaccination, you should contact your vet as this could indicate a rare inflammation-related tumor.

It’s important to keep in mind that serious side effects related to the FVRCP cat vaccine are uncommon and that it is more likely for your cat to contract a deadly virus than for them to have a dangerous physical reaction to a vaccine. For this reason, you should plan on making core vaccines and appropriate booster shots a part of your cat’s health plan. You can find Vetco Vaccination Clinics near you to learn more about the FVRCP vaccine and other immunizations for your cat.

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Reviewed by Dr. Whitney Miller, DVM, MBA, DACVPM

As Petco’s Chief Veterinarian, Dr. Miller is the lead veterinary subject matter expert, overseeing the company’s standards of excellence in animal care and welfare, growth in pet services and much more. Dr. Miller leads Petco’s medical team, supporting over 200 full-service hospitals and mobile vaccination clinics operating in over 1,000 Petco Pet Care Centers nationwide