Distemper in cats (feline panleukopenia)


 Panleukopenia, viral enteritis or distemper in cats is a deadly disease. Without treatment it leads to death of pet in 90% of cases. The FPV is extremely viable, resistant to freezing, heating and conventional disinfectant liquids, and may survive in the external environment for more than a year. Therefore, it is extremely important to prevent infection and immediately consult your veterinarian in any suspected case.



Ways of infection


 The virus is excreted into the environment with feces, nose secretions and saliva of infected cats or those animals that have recently been ill. The cat may become infected just sniffing feces, walking on the grass, where a sick cat walked, having drunk from the sick cat’s bowl or having had a contact with an infected animal. Just one short sniff is enough – feline distemper is very contagious. In the place where a sick cat lived, the virus remains for a year after the cat’s recovery. In case of intrauterine infection kittens are born dead or unviable, miscarriages are very frequent.


 Many owners are worrying, whether feline panleukopenia is dangerous for people or not? The FPV virus is species- specific and affects only cats. People and dogs can’t be infected with feline panleukopenia.

What happens after the virus infection?


 Once the FPV virus appears in the cat’s body it spreads almost in all the body systems, affecting the bone marrow, lymph tissue, heart and lungs, and intestines mucous. Symptomatically feline distemper usually manifests itself within a week after infection (in kittens it takes just two days). As the result of the virus pathogenic action the dehydration develops, cats suffer from digestion disorders, heart failure and general intoxication. Distemper in kittens, even with proper and timely treatment, leads to death in 80% of cases. Among non-immune mature animals death occurs in half of the cases (with proper treatment).


Forms of disease

 Like most viral diseases, distemper in cats can occur in three forms: fulminating, acute and subacute.

 Fulminant form of the disease is typical for kittens under 1 year. The disease develops very quickly, the animal weakens day by day, constantly trembling, refuses to eat and drink. The coat becomes messy and sticky. If the nervous system is affected the signs of distemper in cats remind the sings of rabies: the cat is hiding, not coming to light, gets frightened by any sounds, lies near the bowl with water, but doesn’t drink. Soon the cat starts vomiting with yellowish foam, having intolerant foul-smelling diarrhea, sometimes bloody. Distemper in nursing kittens is developing rapidly: kids refuse to eat, don’t move around the house, and just squeak poorly not reacting to their mother.


 Acute form is more common for mature cats with good health. At the beginning of the disease the pet suddenly loses interest to everything going on around, is lying around breathing hard and refuses to eat or eats just a little. The distemper symptoms in cats associated with gastrointestinal disorders are the following: greenish or yellowish vomiting with foam and light watery diarrhea. The body temperature sharply rises to almost 106 °F with subsequent reduction to normal or to less than 98.5 °F (in the latter case, the prognosis is poor). After 36-48 hours watery vomiting is replaced by think mucous vomiting with splashes of blood. If the disease affects the heart – the heart failure starts developing: dry barking cough, bluish mucous membranes, “dog breath” (with the open mouth). The signs of distemper in cats when the respiratory system is affected: discharge from the nose and eyes, wheezing in the chest, coughing, hot nose and red eyes. There may appear reddish inflammations on the skin that gradually get filled with pus covered with crusts. The cat has severe thirst, but can't drink because of laryngeal spasms and stomachache. 
If the treatment isn’t started as soon as possible, the animal will die within one week. Recovered cats acquire immunity, which remains for several years.

 Panleukopenia in cats immune to the disease (vaccinated) proceeds in the subacute form. Most cats quickly recover with proper treatment. The disease is slow, progresses for about two weeks. The symptoms of distemper in cats are the same as mentioned above, but all manifestations are expressed almost unobservable.


Diagnosis of distemper


For diagnosis, the vet sends the cat for a blood test, a feces test, and a test of nasal discharge. In feces the FPV virus reaches its maximum on the third day of illness, but modern laboratory methods allow detecting the virus as soon as feline distemper gets manifested symptomatically. In addition, distemper provokes sharp decrease in the white blood cell count, which is a characteristic symptom of the disease.

Panleukopenia treatment


Because of the extreme resistance of the virus there is no effective drug against this disease. The treatment is complex and laborious, and should be carried out according to the individually designed plan. The vet takes into account the symptoms and selects a number of medications that help the cat to cope with the disease:


  • salt solutions (prevent dehydration and intoxication and restore the cell balance);


  • glucose;


  • vitamins;


  • antibiotics;


  • antiviral drugs (in many cases, distemper in cats is treatable by fosprenil).


 In addition, the vet may prescribe painkillers, anti-edema and cardiac drugs, antihistamines, and immune-boosting medications based on symptoms. Sometimes gastric lavage and enemas also help. The course lasts from seven to fourteen days and you should fully keep to this schedule, even in case of significant improvements, as distemper in cats is a relapsing disease. Often the appointed treatment should be adjusted during the course of treatment, so the cat must be regularly examined by the vet during the whole treatment course, and you should immediately inform the vet of any changes in the cat’s condition.


In order to increase the chances for successful treatment, it is necessary to follow the recommendations on keeping a sick animal:


  • remove feces and vomit as soon as possible clean the eyes from pus, clean the cat’s nose and face from excreta;


  • air the room where you keep a sick pet daily. It is desirable to darken the room, hanging heavy curtains; But it is important that the room was warm and there was no draught. For the time of airing, bring the pet to another room;


  • do not force your cat to eating. After the appetite returns the diet should consists of foods easy to digest – warm and pureed food. Feed the cat with small portions five times a day. Don’t give the cat cereals, greens, any vegetables or fruits during the recovery and during the next two months.


 Distemper treatment with “popular” traditional remedies (like alcohol) is ineffective and unacceptable! It will lead to further dehydration and growing intoxication, that won’t help a weakened organism.

Panleukopenia prevention


 The only effective preventive measure is timely vaccination. According to many vets, the most effective and safe vaccines are Nobivac, Quadricat and Multifel.  Vaccine against panleukopenia gives a strong immunity for about a year and is safe for cat’s health.

 Mature animals are vaccinated once a year, after deworming performed in advance. It is forbidden to vaccinate animals weakened by injuries or stress, sick, pregnant and lactating cats, kittens in the period of teeth change. Distemper in kittens often leads to death, so kittens are usually vaccinated against this disease at the age of nine weeks (with Nobivac tricat)  with the obligatory revaccination in three weeks. 
 Panleukopenia, especially in young or senior cats often undermines the health of the pet for years: chronic disorders in the respiratory, cardiovascular, or digestive system (sometimes a lifelong diet is required). Ignoring vaccination is an unacceptable negligence.


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