One Shot, Five Vital Vaccines. The 5 in 1 for Cats Simplified

What is the 5 in 1 vaccine for cats?

The 5 in 1 vaccine for cats, also known as FVRCP, is a combination vaccine that protects against 5 major feline diseases: feline distemper, feline calicivirus, feline herpesvirus, chlamydia, and bordetella bronchiseptica.

It is considered a core vaccine and is recommended for essentially all kittens and cats by veterinarians. The 5 components work together to stimulate the immune system and create antibodies against the most common and serious infectious diseases in cats.

Specifically, the 5 in 1 vaccine protects against:

  • Feline distemper virus (panleukopenia) – highly contagious and often fatal viral disease
  • Rhinotracheitis virus – upper respiratory infection
  • Calicivirus – common viral cause of respiratory and oral disease
  • Chlamydia psittaci – bacterial infection that can cause conjunctivitis, rhinitis, and pneumonia
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica – bacterial respiratory infection

The vaccine contains weakened or killed forms of these disease agents to safely trigger immunity in cats without causing the actual diseases. Typically the vaccine is first given to kittens around 6-8 weeks old, with booster shots every 3-4 weeks until 16-20 weeks of age. Annual booster shots are recommended for adult cats thereafter.

Feline Distemper

Feline distemper, also known as feline panleukopenia, is a highly contagious viral disease in cats caused by the feline parvovirus (FPV) [1]. The disease attacks rapidly dividing cells like those in the bone marrow and intestine. Without treatment, up to 90% of infected cats can die from dehydration, sepsis, or blood loss.

The most common symptoms of feline distemper include [2]:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Severe diarrhea
  • Rapid dehydration

Feline distemper spreads through direct contact with an infected cat’s bodily fluids or indirect contact with contaminated objects like food bowls, toys, or litter boxes. It is highly resistant in the environment and can survive for a year or more on surfaces.

There is no specific treatment for the virus itself. Supportive care with fluids, anti-nausea medication, vitamins, and antibiotics may be given. Strict isolation, disinfection, and proper vaccination help control outbreaks.

Feline Calicivirus

Feline calicivirus is a highly contagious virus that causes upper respiratory infections and oral disease in cats (Cornell University, 2023).

Common symptoms include (American Association of Feline Practitioners, 2014):

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite

Feline calicivirus spreads through infected saliva, nasal discharge, and fomites (contaminated surfaces or objects). It is highly contagious and transmission can occur through direct contact, shared food bowls, or communal litter boxes (VCA Hospitals, 2022).

There is no specific treatment for the virus itself. Supportive care such as fluids, nutritional support, and pain management help the cat’s immune system fight off the infection. Antibiotics may be prescribed for secondary bacterial infections. Strict hygiene and isolation help limit spread of the virus.

Feline Herpesvirus

Feline herpesvirus (FHV) is a highly contagious virus that causes feline viral rhinotracheitis, an upper respiratory infection in cats [1]. It is one of the most common causes of respiratory infections in domestic cats. The virus can affect cats of all ages, but kittens are particularly susceptible [2].

Common symptoms of feline herpesvirus include sneezing, runny nose and eyes, conjunctivitis, ulcers on the eyes, fever, and loss of appetite [3]. In some cases, infected cats can develop pneumonia. The virus often causes lifelong latent infections, leading to flare-ups during times of stress.

Feline herpesvirus spreads through direct contact with infected nasal, eye, or mouth secretions. It can be transmitted through sharing food bowls, grooming, and sneezing. The virus can survive in the environment for several weeks. There is no cure for feline herpesvirus, but symptoms can be managed through supportive care, antiviral medication, lysine supplements, and vaccines.

Feline Chlamydiosis

Feline chlamydiosis is an eye infection caused by the bacteria Chlamydophila felis that affects cats. The disease was previously known as feline pneumonitis due to the belief it could lead to pneumonia, but this is now known to be rare Feline Chlamydiosis.

The most common symptoms of feline chlamydiosis are conjunctivitis (inflammation of the membranes around the eyes) and rhinitis (inflammation of the nose). Symptoms include ocular and nasal discharge, sneezing, squinting, and red or swollen eyes. The discharge is initially clear but can become thick and purulent as the disease progresses. In severe cases, ulcers may form on the cornea leading to blindness. The disease is typically seen in young cats under a year old Feline Chlamydophila Disease.

Feline chlamydiosis spreads through direct contact with respiratory secretions from infected cats. It can be transmitted from mother to kittens and between cats in multi-cat households. The bacteria can survive in the environment, so shared litter trays, food bowls, and bedding can also transmit the infection Chlamydial Conjunctivitis in Cats.

Treatment involves antibiotic eye drops or oral antibiotics like doxycycline. Infected cats should be isolated during treatment to prevent transmission. Severe cases may require additional medications. Preventative measures include keeping cats indoor and vaccinating kittens. The bacteria can be cleared from the body but reinfection is common .

Feline Bordetellosis

Feline bordetellosis is a highly contagious upper respiratory disease caused by the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica. It causes inflammation of the trachea and bronchi in cats.

Symptoms of feline bordetellosis include sneezing, nasal discharge, coughing, fever, and eye discharge. In severe cases, pneumonia can develop. Kittens and cats with weakened immune systems are most susceptible.

Bordetella spreads through direct contact with respiratory secretions and droplets from infected cats. It can also survive for a short time in the environment. Cats in crowded conditions like shelters are at highest risk of exposure.

Treatment involves antibiotics like doxycycline to clear the bacterial infection. Supportive care like fluids, nutritional support, and nebulization may also be used. Preventing exposure is key, and vaccination is recommended for at-risk cats.

For more on the causes, risks, and prevention of feline bordetellosis, see this overview from Merck Animal Health.

When to Get the Vaccine

The 5 in 1 vaccine is recommended for all kittens and cats according to the following schedule:

For kittens:

  • First dose: 6-8 weeks old
  • Second dose: 9-12 weeks old
  • Third dose: 12-16 weeks old

For adult cats:

  • Booster 1 year after kitten vaccinations, then every 3 years thereafter
  • Pregnant and lactating cats should receive booster prior to breeding

Annual boosters may be recommended for cats with high disease exposure risk (e.g. outdoor cats, cats living in close groups like shelters). Core vaccines like the 5 in 1 are considered extremely safe and important for all cats to receive according to this schedule. Discuss your cat’s individual vaccine needs with your veterinarian.


Risks and Side Effects

While the 5 in 1 vaccine is considered very safe, there are some potential side effects to be aware of. The most common side effects include soreness or swelling at the injection site, lethargy, decreased appetite, and mild fever. These mild reactions usually resolve on their own within a day or two.

More severe reactions are possible but quite rare. Signs of a more serious reaction can include facial swelling, hives, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and collapse. If any of these signs develop, immediate veterinary care is recommended. Severe vaccine reactions typically occur within minutes to hours after vaccination.

According to one source, anaphylactic reactions were estimated to occur following 0.65% of vaccinations (Argylevet). Such life-threatening reactions require emergency treatment. To help avoid anaphylaxis, cats should be monitored for at least 30 minutes after vaccination.

Certain medical conditions may increase the risk of adverse reactions. Kittens and senior cats may also be more prone to side effects. In general, the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the small risk of side effects for most cats.

Alternatives to the 5 in 1 Vaccine

While the 5 in 1 vaccine is very common, some vets may recommend alternative vaccine protocols for cats based on their lifestyle and risk factors. Here are some other vaccine options:

3 in 1 vaccine – Protects against panleukopenia, rhinotracheitis and calicivirus. May be an option for indoor-only cats according to

4 in 1 vaccine – Includes the 3 viruses above plus chlamydia. May be recommended for cats with some outdoor access.

Rabies vaccine – Required by law in most areas. Protects specifically against the rabies virus which can be fatal.

Feline leukemia vaccine – For cats with outdoor exposure who are at risk of this disease. Not part of a routine kitten series.

Non-adjuvanted vaccines – Contain lower inflammatory ingredients so may have less side effects.

Discuss the pros and cons of different vaccine protocols with your veterinarian for the best health of your individual cat.

The Importance of Vaccination

Getting cats vaccinated against common feline viruses and bacteria provides major health benefits and protects against potentially fatal diseases. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, vaccines help prevent infectious diseases by stimulating the immune system to produce antibodies against specific antigens [1]. When a vaccinated cat is exposed to that antigen in the future, the immune system is prepared to neutralize it quickly before illness can develop.

Some of the key benefits of vaccinating cats include:

  • Preventing dangerous infectious diseases that could be fatal without vaccination, like panleukopenia and rabies
  • Reducing the severity of disease if a cat does get infected
  • Decreasing the spread and transmission of viruses between cats
  • Providing herd immunity when a high percentage of cats are vaccinated in a community

Conversely, failing to vaccinate cats can have serious consequences. Unvaccinated cats are at much higher risk of contracting viruses like feline distemper or upper respiratory infections from feline herpesvirus and calicivirus. Kittens are especially vulnerable. These viruses can lead to severe symptoms, lasting health complications, and death in many cases [2]. Allowing diseases to spread among unvaccinated cats also increases risks for cats with weaker immune systems.

That’s why veterinarians strongly recommend keeping cats up to date on core vaccines like the 5 in 1. Vaccination protects the health of individual cats while also minimizing the spread of viruses in the feline population.



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