It’s cat parent’s worst nightmare: a viral disease that can be fatal for their cat. Luckily, this cousin to parvovirus is almost eradicated. But panleukopenia, also known as distemper, can still infect unvaccinated cats and kittens. What else do you need to know about this deadly disease?
What Exactly is Panleukopenia?
Feline panleukopenia virus (FPV) is very closely related to canine parvovirus. Like its cousin, is difficult to treat once a cat becomes infected. And this virus is difficult to kill beyond your cat’s body. The virus can live in organic material for up to one year and is not easily destroyed with disinfectants.
This virus spreads from cat—to-cat contact and through secondary contact with an item an infected cat touched. This virus is spread through feces, vomit, and other bodily fluids like saliva.
How Does Panleukopenia Affect Cats?
Like parvo, FPV causes diarrhea and vomiting. It also leads to
- Lack of appetite
- Change in mood
- Decreased white blood cells
These symptoms cause their own problems for an infected cat. The vomiting and diarrhea cause severe dehydration while the decreased white blood cells leave a cat vulnerable to infection.
FPV causes internal damage that cannot be repaired. FPV ravages the intestines, bone marrow, and lymph nodes.
Kittens are the most common victims of FPV since they don’t receive their vaccines until they’re a few months old. And a mother infected with FPV does pass it to her kittens. FPV is often fatal for kittens and causes brain damage that impairs their motor skills and makes it difficult for the kittens to walk.
Once a cat is infected with panleukopenia, she cannot be cured.
When a cat contracts FPV, she needs to be brought to the veterinarian, immediately. Because the symptoms of FPV are deadly, most work in saving a cat from death requires managing these symptoms. This means, providing intravenous fluids, controlling diarrhea and vomiting, and preventing infection.
Some cases require blood transfusions.
What Should You Do If You Suspect Your Cat Has FPV?
Because FPV is highly contagious, any cat suspected of infection should be separated from other cats and kept in isolation until she’s seen by a vet. Even after a cat is treated for FPV, she remains contagious for several weeks.
How Can You Prevent Feline Panleukopenia Virus?
Cats can become immune to FPV through vaccinations. In fact, the distemper (or panleukopenia vaccine) is considered a required and core vaccination. This immunization is administered in several rounds, starting when a cat is 6 to 9 weeks old. Kittens usually receive their last round around 4 months of age.
Until your kitten has been fully vaccinated against FPV, she should not go outside. This should expose her to infected stray cats, raccoons, and mink or items that have been infected in a secondary form. Your vet can clear your cat to go outside when she’s fully protected.
How Does the FPV Vaccination Work?
Just like the flu show, your vet will inject a tiny bit of the feline Panleukopenia virus into your cat’s system. This small amount isn’t strong enough to truly get your sick, but it is present enough for her immune system to fight off. In the process of fighting FPV, your cat builds up a resistance and immunity to the virus.
Final Thoughts on Feline Panleukopenia Virus
Preventing your cat from FPV is the kindest thing you can do for your cat. The vaccination is simple, effective, and relatively inexpensive. This deadly virus may not be as common as it once was, but it’s still fatal for most of the unfortunate cats that are unlucky enough to contract it.
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