What should I know about Feline Panleukopenia?

General Information

Feline panleukopenia (FP), also known as feline distemper, is a highly contagious viral disease that occurs wherever there are cats. Cats at any age may be stricken. Young kittens, sick cats, and cats that have not been adequately immunized are most susceptible; older cats are more likely to have acquired an immunity and, therefore, are infected less frequently.

Urban areas are most likely to see outbreaks of feline panleukopenia during the warmer months. The virus has appeared in all parts of the United States and most countries of the world.

Kennels, pet shops, humane shelters, and other areas where groups of cats are quartered appear to be the main reservoirs of feline panleukopenia today.

Dogs are not susceptible to feline panleukopenia. Canine distemper is a different disease caused by another virus. Neither disease is transmissible to humans.

What Does Panleukopenia Do?

The feline panleukopenia virus is passed from cat to cat by direct contact. The source of infection is most commonly fecal waste from infected cats, but the virus may be present in other body secretions.

A healthy cat can also become infected without coming in direct contact with an infected cat. Bedding, cages, food dishes, and the hands or clothing of handlers that contact infected secretions may harbor and transmit the virus.

The feline panleukopenia virus is very stable. It is resistant to many chemicals and may remain infectious at room temperature for as long as one year. Short of raising a cat in total isolation, it is nearly impossible to prevent exposure.

Feline panleukopenia is a complex disease. It can vary in severity from very mild to extreme. The many signs are not always typical and many owners may even believe that their cat has been poisoned or has swallowed a foreign object. Because of this fact, treatment may be delayed or neglected.

After exposure to the virus, many of the cat’s cells are destroyed. This cell loss makes the cat more susceptible to other complications and bacterial infections.

How Can You Tell If a Cat Has Panleukopenia?

The first signs a owner might notice are generalized depression, loss of appetite, high fever, lethargy, vomiting, dehydration, and hanging over the water dish. The course of the disease may be short and explosive. Advanced cases, when discovered, may cause death within hours. Normally, the sickness may go on for three or four days after the first elevation of body temperature.

Fever will fluctuate during the illness and abruptly fall to subnormal levels shortly before death. Other signs in later stages may be diarrhea, anemia, and persistent vomiting.

Feline panleukopenia virus is so prevalent and the signs of disease are so varied that any sick cat should be taken to a veterinarian for a definite diagnosis.

How is Panleukopenia Treated?

The prognosis for very young kittens is poor. Older cats have greater chance of survival if adequate treatment is provided early in the course of the disease. Treatment is limited to supportive therapy to help the patient gain and retain sufficient strength to combat the virus with its own immune system. There are no antibiotics that can kill the virus.

The veterinarian will attempt to combat extreme dehydration, provide nutrients, and prevent secondary infection with antibiotics. Pregnant females that contract the disease, even in its mildest form, may give birth to kittens with severe brain damage.

Strict isolation is essential. The area where the cat is kept should be warm, free of drafts and very clean. Plenty of “tender loving care” even after hospital discharge is very important. Cats may lose the will to live; so frequent petting, hand feeding, the cautious use of heating pads, and good nursing care by the owner is essential.

Other cats that may have been in close association with the infected animal should be carefully examined.

Prevention and Protection

Feline panleukopenia is controlled in several ways. Cats that survive a natural infection usually develop sufficient, active immunity to protect them for the rest of their lives. Mild cases may go unnoticed and also produce immunity.

It is also possible for kittens to receive immunity from their mother through the transfer of antibody. This passive immunity from the mother is temporary and its effectiveness varies in proportion to the level of antibody in the mother’s body.

Vaccines offer the safest protection. They stimulate the cat’s body to produce protective antibodies against the virus to prevent infection by natural, disease causing viruses. The vaccines are very effective but are preventive, not curative. They must be administered before the cat is exposed and infected to be effective.

Specific vaccination schedules vary dependent on many factors, such as the disease incidence in the area, and age and health of the cat.

The pet owner should consult a veterinarian for advice on the correct schedule for each cat.

What should I know about Feline Leukemia Virus?

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) is a usually fatal disease affecting the cat’s immune system. This increases susceptibility to other disease in addition to causing leukemia. Signs of feline leukemia virus include weight loss, recurring or chronic illness, lethargy, fever, diarrhea, unusual breathing patterns, and a yellow color around the mouth and the whites of the eyes. A blood test is necessary to prove that the feline leukemia virus is present.

Until recently, there was no vaccine available to fight this usually fatal disease. A newly developed inactivated virus vaccine can protect cats.

What should I know about Feline Respiratory Disease?

Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis , Feline Calicivirus, and Feline Pneumonitis are diseases of the respiratory tract of cats. Infected animals are highly contagious to other cats and may show either acute or chronic respiratory signs.

Your cat is seriously threatened by three highly contagious respiratory diseases. These diseases are easily transmitted from cat to cat through direct contact, through the air by sneezing or coughing, or by contact with you if you’ve been close to infected cats. A cat with a respiratory disease appears to have a serious cold with fever, loss of appetite, depression, and pneumonia. It may even die. The best protection is vaccination. For your cat’s sake, ask your veterinarian about a vaccination program.

What should I know about Feline Immunodeficiency Virus?

“Feline AIDS”

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a virus that attacks the immune system of an infected cat. This virus can cause deadly progressive immune disorders in cats, eventually leading to Feline Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (Feline AIDS). The importance of FIV lies in its contribution to the increased likelihood of other viral, bacterial or fungal diseases. Up to one in twelve cats test positive for FIV. Any cat that has an opportunity to come in contact with outdoor or free-roaming cats has an increased likelihood of becoming infected.

Fortunately, a new vaccine has been introduced that is an aid in the prevention of this infection. We are now recommending and using this vaccine at our hospital to protect our feline patients from this disease.

The vaccine is given in a three-dose series. Your cat will receive an initial dose of vaccine followed by two boosters given two to three weeks apart. After this initial series, the vaccine will be given as part of your cat’s annual vaccinations.

Thank you for taking the time to review this important information about feline health. Please make sure to schedule an appointment for your cat’s FIV immunization today.

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