Feline Panleukopenia is a serious and highly contagious viral disease. It is fairly common in unvaccinated cats and kittens and is often fatal. The panleukopenia virus has a tendency to invade rapidly growing cells such as those of the digestive system, lymph tissue, bone marrow and the developing nervous system. Any kitten or cat that has not been vaccinated against this disease is at risk.
Feline distemper is easily spread by contact with a diseased animal or it’s secretions. Infected cats shed the virus in their urine and feces for up to six weeks after they recover from the disease. The virus can also be spread by contact with feces or urine contaminated bedding, litter boxes, water bowls, food bowls or toys. This virus is very hardy, not easily killed and can survive for years in upholstery and carpets. The feline panleukopenia virus is widespread in nature and virtually all cats are exposed to it within their first year of life. Kittens are especially susceptible to this disease since their immune systems are often not fully developed. This virus can also be transmitted from a mother to her developing kittens within her uterus or during the birth process. Panleukopenia in young unvaccinated kittens is usually fatal.
Symptoms of feline panleukopenia can be similar to those seen in dogs with canine distemper, which is why the disease is often referred to as “feline distemper”. The symptoms usually occur within a week and a half after exposure to the virus. Many older cats do not show any symptoms at all. Symptoms of the disease will appear suddenly and include high fever, apathy, loss of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.Dehydration may develop causing a lower than normal body temperature. The cat may become weak or even comatose. At this point in the disease, a cat is very susceptible to developing a bacterial infection in addition to the viral disease.
Treatment for this disease is basically supportive care. IV or subcutaneous fluids are given to combat dehydration and medications are given to stop vomiting. Blood transfusions may be given to severely ill cats. Antibiotics may also be administered to protect the sick cat from developing a bacterial infection. Cats surviving the symptoms for more than five days will usually recover although it may take several weeks for full recovery. If you suspect your cat may have feline panleukopenia, take it to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Early detection and treatment are crucial for the survival and recovery of your pet.
Prevention is the best treatment for this disease. Have all kittens and cats vaccinated against this disease. Every kitten should receive this routine vaccine. Yearly boosters are also required to keep the cat’s body defenses active. Because kittens require time to fully acquire the immunization, avoid exposing them to other cats, other than their litter mates, until the age of four months.