Feline Panleukopenia Virus (FPV)
Distemper is an old term used to describe Feline Panleukopenia Virus (FPV)
which is a virus in the same family as the dog Parvo virus.
The feline disease, “panleukopenia,” is a disease that causes
the white blood cell count to fall far below normal.
Since white blood cells are important in defending a cat against
infections and disease, this makes the cat very vulnerable to other infections.
In addition to causing a low white blood cell count, this disease also causes
severe damage to the lining of the stomach and intestines.
How is the infection transmitted?
The virus is shed in all body secretions, particularly feces and urine,
of infected cats.
It can be ingested directly or transferred to a susceptible cat via
contaminated litter boxes, feeding bowls, or even on shoes.
Unvaccinated cats that are exposed to the virus will get
sick within 3-10 days after exposure.
Infected cats that recover can be contagious for up to 6 weeks.
The Feline Panleukopenia virus can survive for years in the environment,
even at fairly low temperatures.
Most common household disinfectants do not kill the virus.
A diluted bleach solution (1:32) must be used to clean any
No new cats should be introduced into a contaminated environment for at
least three months.
What are the clinical signs?
There is some variation, but some typical symptoms include:
fever, depression, not eating, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, and
secondary upper respiratory infections.
The onset of symptoms can be so sudden and so severe that some owners
will mistakenly think that their cat has been poisoned.
Cats may hang there heads over their water bowl but not drink.
These symptoms often progress quickly to coma and death.
Panleukopenia is usually fatal in unvaccinated kittens.
Pregnant cats who become infected with panleukopenia may abort or have
In the case of live kittens, some of these kittens may have brain damage
(cerebellar hypoplasia) which lead to balance and coordination problems.
However, these cats can compensate for their
brain damage and can usually lead normal lives.
How is Panleukopenia diagnosed?
diagnosis is based on a combination of history, physical exam findings,
and routine labwork.
A CBC (complete blood count) will reveal a low white blood cell (WBC) count.
There is also a test to detect the virus on a rectal swab or fecal sample.
Can Panleukopenia be treated?
As for most viral diseases, there is no specific treatment that kills the virus
and treatment consists of “supportive care.”
Secondary infections are treated with antibiotics.
Dehydration and shock are life-threatening components of panleukopenia;
fluid therapy and intense nursing is critical to control them.
Medications are sometimes given to control vomiting and diarrhea.
Many cats do not recover from this disease,
bPanleukopeniaut some will if aggressive supportive therapy is given.
How can I protect my cat against panleukopenia?
Fortunately excellent vaccines are available and are routinely recommended by
veterinarians as part of a vaccination program.
The immunity conferred by panleukopenia vaccine is generally strong and
long-lasting, but it decreases with time.
Therefore, boosters are highly recommended.
Are there any long-term consequences for the cat?
Once the virus runs its course, the lining of the stomach and intestines
recover quickly without scarring.
the bone marrow produces new white blood cells to replace those that were lost.
If a cat survives for a week after becoming sick, there is a good chance
that they will recover completely.