What Is Feline Panleukopenia?

Vaccinate kittens to protect them from feline panleukopenia

Contributed to and reviewed by Dr. Katie Reed

You may see it among our recommended vaccination program for cats and wonder ... What is feline panleukopenia?

With lots of spring kittens looking for homes, some of which may be new to cats, we thought this would be a great opportunity to educate all cat owners on this feline disease.

What Is Feline Panleukopenia?

Feline panleukopenia (FP), also known as feline distemper, is a highly contagious viral disease among cats. It infects and kills rapidly growing and dividing cells in the body, such as those in the bone marrow, intestines, and in the stem cells of a developing fetus.

While FP is caused by the feline parvovirus, don’t confuse feline parvo and feline distemper with canine parvo and canine distemper -- the names are similar, but they are caused by different viruses and are species specific. In both cases, however, the viruses do not infect people.

How Do Cat’s Become Infected?

"Infection occurs when a cat is exposed to the virus," says Dr. Katie Reed. "Close contact with a large number of cats (adoption centers, humane societies, etc.) increases the chance of exposure."

FP has been found in all parts of the U.S. Kennels, pet shops, animal shelters, unvaccinated feral cat colonies, and other areas where cats are housed together appear to be hubs of the disease. Warm-weather months bring a heightened risk for infection since cats are more likely to spend time outdoors and come into contact with other cats.

Cats can shed the virus in their urine and stool; even the fleas from infected cats can carry it. And since the virus can survive for up to a year in the environment, cats can become infected without actual direct contact with an infected cat.

Ideally, unvaccinated cats should not be allowed in areas where an infected cat has been.

If Infected, How Is A Cat Treated?

"Treatment involves supportive care of hospitalization with IV fluids," explains Dr. Reed. "Antibiotics are often given to prevent secondary bacterial infections as well as medications to address vomiting (anti-nausea) and anti-diarrheals."

There are no medications that will kill the virus itself. And without supportive care, up to 90 percent of cats with FP may die. If a cat survives for 5 days with treatment, its chances for recovery greatly improve.

The other key part of treatment -- strict isolation from other cats. This is necessary to prevent the virus from spreading.

Which Cats Are At Risk?

Kittens age 3 to 5 months are the most susceptible to the feline panleukopenia virus, and death from FP is more common at this age. Kittens infected in utero or up to 2 weeks of birth can suffer permanent nervous system damage. Generally, the prognosis for these kittens is not good.

While kittens are at highest risk, it can strike cats at any age, particularly sick cats, pregnant cats, and unvaccinated cats. Generally, adult cats are more resistant, as they’ve either been vaccinated or developed their own immunity through exposure. However, previously unexposed cats of any age can become infected.

How Can Feline Panleukopenia Be Prevented?

Preventing FP is vital to your cat’s health, and the best protection available is through vaccination. Vaccination is equally important for strictly indoor cats as well as indoor/outdoor cats.

Through Badger Veterinary Hospital’s vaccination program, young kittens receive their first vaccination at 8 weeks of age, and follow-up boosters are given at their second and third kitten visits. Adult vaccination schedules vary with the age and health of the cat.

Bringing a new kitten into your home? Schedule his or her first kitten wellness visit with a Badger Veterinary Hospital veterinarian today!