Feline Distemper Virus

Panleukopenia is also known as ‘feline distemper virus’ – it is a highly contagious disease that affects cats, kittens, racoons and mink. This disease is caused by a virus that is very similar to canine parvovirus.

The panleukopenia virus likes to invade rapidly growing cells and causes serious illness. The symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, fever, low white blood cell count, inappetence and seizures. The diagnostic process includes a full physical examination that takes into account the current history (possible exposure), symptoms, fecal analysis and blood work.

The virus can be contracted through infected fecal matter, urine, saliva; this virus is very hardy and can remain infective for weeks, months and even years. The infected cat can remain infective for up to 6 weeks after recovery, therefore, should be kept away from all other cats and kittens until your veterinarian feels it is safe to reintroduce them into the household. Expecting cats can pass the disease in utero to their developing kittens; other forms of transmission include food bowls, clothing, shoes, hands, fleas, bedding and litter boxes. This disease can be life-threatening and have a high mortality rate in young cats and kittens. Indoor cats can also be infected, as this disease can be carried from an infected household via clothing and shoes, it is wise to keep indoor cats up to date on vaccines.

Once exposed to the disease it can take up to 4 days for the cat to show initial signs of infection. The affected cat or cats usually present with a fever and inappetence; usually, 3 to 4 days later vomiting and diarrhea begins (blood may be noticed in the diarrhea). If caught in the early stages, the disease can be managed with veterinary and supportive care until recovery is achieved.

This disease is very stable in the environment but can be inactivated with good hygiene and decontamination procedures. All hard surfaces and objects that can be bleached should be treated with a bleach and water solution with a 10 minute contact time. During the decontamination procedure the motto ‘if in doubt throw it out’ should apply as this virus if very hardy and will remain a threat.

Please call the clinic if you would like to discuss panleukopenia or any of the diseases that could cause potential harm to your cat or kitten.

Written by Laurie Box, RVT