What is feline panleukopenia?

Feline panleukopenia (FP) is a highly contagious viral disease of cats caused by the Feline Parvovirus. Over the years, Feline panleukopenia (FP) has been known by a variety of names including feline distemper, feline infectious enteritis, cat fever and cat typhoid.

Feline distemper should not be confused with canine distemper—although their names are similar, they are caused by different viruses.

Because the Feline panleukopenia (FP) virus is everywhere in the environment, virtually all kittens and cats are exposed to the virus at some point in their lives. Vaccination is extremely important because the rates of illness and death from Feline panleukopenia (FP) is high in unvaccinated cats. The feline parvovirus infects and kills cells that are rapidly dividing, such as those in the bone marrow, intestines, and the developing fetus. Infected cats usually develop bloody diarrhea because of the damage to the cells that line the intestines. They also develop panleukopenia (shortages of all types of white blood cells) because the parvovirus infection damages the bone marrow and lymph nodes. White blood cells are necessary for the immune system’s response to infection. A decrease in red blood cells may also occur (a condition called anemia). When both the red blood cell and white blood cell numbers are low, the condition is called “Pancytopenia”.

Humans cannot develop Feline panleukopenia (FP) if they come in contact with an infected cat because the virus does not infect Humans.

How can I tell if a cat has Feline panleukopenia (FP)?

Core disease signs of Feline panleukopenia (FP):

  • It starts with generalized depression, loss of appetite, high fever, lethargy, vomiting, severe diarrhea, nasal discharge, and dehydration.
  • The sickness may go on for three or four days after the first fever.
  • The fever will come and go during the illness and abruptly fall to lower-than-normal levels shortly before death.

Cats are very good at hiding diseases and by the time your cat displays the signs of illness, it may be severely ill. Therefore it is important to have your cat examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Feline panleukopenia may be suspected based on a history of exposure to an infected cat, lack of vaccination, and the visible signs of illness. When that history of exposure is combined with blood tests that show very reduced levels of all white blood cell types, Feline panleukopenia (FP) is very likely the cause of the cat’s illness.

Feline panleukopenia (FP) is confirmed when the feline parvovirus is found in the cat’s stool, but the results might be falsely positive if the cat was vaccinated for FP within 5-12 days prior to the test.

Feline  Panleukopenia

How do cats get infected with the virus that causes Feline panleukopenia (FP)?

Cats can “shed” the virus in their urine, stool, and nasal secretions, and infection occurs when susceptible cats come in contact with the blood, urine, stool, nasal secretions, or even the fleas from infected cats. An infected cat tends to shed the virus for a relatively short period of time (1-2 days), but the virus can survive for up to a year in the environment, so cats often become infected without ever coming into direct contact with an infected cat. Bedding, cages, food dishes, and the hands or clothing of people who handle the infected cat may harbor the virus and transmit it to other cats. It is, therefore, very important to isolate infected cats.

Any materials used on or for infected cats should not be used or allowed to come in contact with other cats, and people handling infected cats should practice proper hygiene to prevent spreading the infection.

The virus that causes Feline panleukopenia is difficult to destroy and resistant to many disinfectants.

Ideally, unvaccinated cats should not be allowed into an area where an infected cat has been—even if the area has been disinfected. Pregnant female cats that are infected with the virus and become ill (even if they do not appear seriously ill) may abort or give birth to kittens with severe damage to the cerebellum, a part of the brain that coordinates nerves, muscles and bones to produce body movements . These kittens are born with a syndrome called feline cerebellar ataxia, and their movement is accompanied by severe tremors (shaking).

In most cases, a cat recovered from Feline panleukopenia (FP) can also shed virus upto 6 month after recovery.

Which cats are susceptible to Feline panleukopenia (FP)?

Young kittens, sick cats, and unvaccinated cats are most susceptible.

It is most commonly seen in cats 3-5 months of age; death from Feline panleukopenia (FP) is more common at this age. Kennels, pet shops, animal shelters & unvaccinated wil cat colonies the main reservoirs of Feline panleukopenia (FP). During the warm months, urban areas are likely to see outbreaks of Feline panleukopenia (FP) because cats are more likely to come in contact with other cats.

How is Feline panleukopenia (FP) treated?

The chance of recovery from Feline panleukopenia (FP) for infected kittens less than eight weeks old is very poor. Older cats have a greater chance of survival if adequate treatment is provided early. Since there are no medications capable of killing the virus, hospitalization and treatment, with medications and fluids, are important to support the cat’s health  until its own body and immune system can fight off the virus. Without any supportive therapy, up to 90% of cats with Feline panleukopenia (FP) may die.

If the cat survives for five days, its chances for recovery are greatly improved.

Once your cat is back at home, you must :

  • Kesp the cat in an  area where the infected cat is kept should be warm, free of drafts, and very clean.
  • Keep your cat isolated from other cats in the home if there were any.

How can Feline panleukopenia (FP) be prevented?

Cats that survive an infection develop immunity that likely protects them for the rest of their lives. It is also possible for kittens to receive temporary immunity through the transfer of antibodies in the colostrum—the first milk produced by the mother. This is called “passive immunity,” and how long it protects the kittens from infection depends upon the levels of protective antibodies produced by the mother. It rarely lasts longer than 12 weeks. Cats must be vaccinated to keep them safe and vaccination schedule should be followed strictly.