Understanding Feline Panleukopenia

Written by Grantsburg Animal Hospital Admin on . Posted in Blog

Feline Panleukopenia

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, feline panleukopenia was a leading cause of death among cats before the discovery of an effective vaccine. You may also hear the terms feline parvo or feline distemper used to describe the same disease. However, it’s important to understand that both canine parvo and canine distemper come from a different virus than the feline versions. The diseases have similar names, but they affect each species differently. 

Feline Panleukopenia is Highly Contagious
This highly contagious disease originates with feline parvovirus. It affects kittens more severely than it does older cats. The virus affects and kills a cat or kitten’s cells that grow and divide rapidly. The most common places to find the virus is in the intestines or bone marrow of kittens and cats and in an unborn litter of cats inside of their mother’s placenta. 

Risk Factors for Feline Panleukopenia
The feline parvovirus is common, which means that nearly all kittens and cats face exposure at some point. In addition to newborn and unborn kittens, those most at risk of becoming ill with this disease are cats already in poor health and those who have not yet received a vaccination. The most typical age of diagnosis is three to five months, which is also when the most deaths occur due to feline panleukopenia. 

The disease has shown up in all regions of the United States and several foreign countries. It typically spreads in cat colonies, pet shops, animal shelters, and kennels where large groups of cats are together in a small or enclosed space. Feline panleukopenia is more common in urban areas during the warmer months because domesticated house cats have more contact with cats who may be ill or never received a vaccine.

Infection and Diagnosis
A cat who has the virus sheds it through urine, nasal secretions, and feces. Another cat can pick up the infection when he makes contact with the bodily discharges of an infected cat. He can even pick it up from fleas that first landed on the infected cat before transferring to him. Although shedding of the virus only lasts for one or two days, it can live outside of the cat’s body for up to a year. For this reason, an infected and uninfected cat don’t have to make direct contact with each other for transmission to occur. The uninfected cat can easily pick it up through bedding, food bowls, and cages. 

It’s important to isolate infected cats and to keep unvaccinated cats out of the area. The virus is highly resistant to disinfectant, so it can still spread to a new cat even when you have scrubbed everything down. Some of the first indications that your cat may have acquired feline panleukopenia include: dehydration, depressed mood, diarrhea, fever, lack of appetite, lethargy, nasal discharge, and vomiting. Pregnant cats with the virus will often miscarry the litter or give birth to kittens with tremors and severe brain damage.
Treatment and Prognosis
Kittens younger than eight weeks rarely survive this disease, and 90 percent of kittens and cats older than eight weeks will die without treatment. Since no medication currently exists that can kill the virus, treatment typically includes treating dehydration, preventing a secondary infection, and providing the infected cat with nutrients. Survival rates increase dramatically once the infected cat has reached the five-day mark.

If you recognize these symptoms in your cat or want to schedule a vaccine for panleukopenia, please contact Grantsburg Animal Hospital at 715-463-2536 or Wild River Veterinary Clinic at 320-629-7474.
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