There are a lot of conditions that are specific to cats, and feline distemper is one of them. Panleukopenia, also known as feline distemper, is a very contagious viral disease that is transmitted among cats and kittens. It is also common in both minks and raccoons. It is a virus that invades the cells in the digestive system, lymph tissue, bone marrow, and nervous system. There is a vaccine that helps to protect against this disease, and it is something worth talking to your veterinarian about.
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Characteristics of the Panleukopenia Virus
The virus that causes distemper in cats is actually closely related to the one that causes parvo in dogs. The virus is stable and can survive at room temperature for years. It can also survive in really low temperatures, and it doesn’t die off from most common disinfectants used these days. To get rid of the virus, you must mix a bleach solution with about a half cup of bleach and a gallon of water and leave it for ten minutes. This will inactivate the Panleukopenia virus.
What many cat owners may not know is that feline panleukopenia virus (FPV) is very widespread. In fact, just about every cat is exposed to it by the time they are a year old. This is why vaccinating against it is so very important.
How Distemper in Cats is Transmitted
FPV is most often transmitted through contact with fecal matter or urine from an infected cat. Most of the time, cats will shed the virus in their fecal matter up to six weeks after they have recovered from the condition. It is also often transmitted through contaminated food and water dishes, bedding, clothing, litter boxes and other cat items. Fleas are also a common culprit when it comes to spreading the virus, and it can even be transmitted from a mother cat to kittens in utero.
What to Expect in Pregnant Cats
As we stated earlier, distemper in cats can actually be transmitted from the mother cat to her kittens in her uterus. Many times, the kittens will be stillborn if this occurs. Some of them may be born alive, but may have serious issues when it comes to their coordination and balance. This is because the virus is affecting their brain and nervous system. They may make a recovery, but it may cause long term issues, especially with sight and coordination.
Diagnosing Panleukopenia in Cats
When you first notice that your cat is starting to act ill, it is time to make an appointment with your veterinarian. They will look into their medical history and symptoms, and will do a physical exam along with some lab tests to be able to correctly diagnose the issue. They have to differentiate between FPV and FeLV – Feline Leukemia Virus, intestinal issues and salmonellosis. These can all have similar symptoms, which is why further testing is required for an accurate diagnosis.
When your vet is doing a physical exam, they will look for fever, depression, dehydration, and enlarged lymph nodes. These are all common physical characteristics of this virus. When they are evaluating blood work, they will look for a low white blood cell count and a decrease in the platelets in their blood. They may also follow up with a fecal sample, because often the virus is passed through the fecal matter and can be detected there.
If your cat has been diagnosed with distemper, proper and immediate treatment is vital. First, they will start by giving IV fluids to help treat the dehydration that comes along with it. If it is a severe case, a blood transfusion may be necessary. They will then treat the upset stomach with medication, and give antibiotics to protect the cat and keep them from getting a secondary bacterial infection. B vitamin injections are also a common treatment option that will help to boost your cat’s health as they are getting back to their normal selves. While treating your cat, it is important to give them a bland diet and feed them small portions more often.
Prevention is Key
Now that you see just how scary distemper in cats can be, it is really important for you to understand the importance of prevention. The best thing that you can do when you first get a new kitten is make sure that they get their immunizations. There is a vaccination that helps to prevent distemper, and it is one of the best ways to keep the Panleukopenia virus away from your cat! Talk to your veterinarian about the best times to vaccinate, and whether to use killed virus vaccines or modified live vaccines for the best prevention. Typically, the modified live vaccines work best, but you have to give them in a series of two vaccines 2 to 4 weeks apart, but you should know that it’s not safe for pregnant cats, or kittens younger than four weeks in age.