Distemper – Cats
Feline Panleukopenia Virus
Feline Panleukopenia Virus (FPV) is a viral disease of cats. It is also known as “Feline Infectious Enteritis”, “Feline Distemper”, “Feline Ataxia”, or “Cat Plague”. It is highly contagious and life-threatening. The name, panleucopenia, is derived from the low count (leucopenia) of white blood cells (leucocytes in the immune system) characteristic of affected animals. The virus attacks primarily the intestinal tract, bone marrow and stem cells of the developing fetus. Specifically, it attacks the rapidly dividing blood cells in these tissues, meaning infection often leads to anemia and the animal becoming highly susceptible to secondary viral or bacterial infections.
FPV is one of the most significant feline diseases in the non-vaccinated population. The virus is highly resistant and can survive for years in contaminated environments. This means that vaccination is the best prevention measure for your cat. Kittens between 2 to 6 months of age, pregnant cats and immune compromised cats are at the highest risk of developing severe symptoms. In adults cats, FPV generally occurs in only mild form and may not show any symptoms. Cats which survive an FPV infection develop immunity to any further infection with the virus.
The virus causing FPV is related to the canine parvovirus as they are both in the genus Parvoviridae, however, the feline parvovirus can not be transmitted from cats to dogs, or vice versa.
• Complete loss of interest in food or water (may hang head over bowl but not drink or eat)
• Hiding for several days
• Tucking feet under the body for extended periods
• Resting chin on the floor for extended periods
• Diarrhea (often contains blood)
• Anorexia (weight loss)
• Poor coat condition
• Ataxia (other neurological symptoms if the virus attacks the brain)
FPV is caused by the feline parvovirus which is transmitted by contact with infected blood, feces or urine. The virus can also be transmitted by fleas that have been feeding from an infected cat, or by humans who have not washed their hands between handling cats, or by equipment that has been used by other cat such as bedding or bowls. Proper human hygiene, e.g. using soap and water during hand-washing after handling each animal, minimizes the possibility of transmitting the infection to healthy animals.
The feline parvovirus can survive and persist on many surfaces. It is therefore important to practice safe methods to effectively clean the cat’s environment, including its handlers, to reduce the possibility of transmission. Even with these precautions, the virus may persist in environments where an infected cat has been. Establishments which house large numbers of cats (e.g. shelters and kennels) may harbor the virus.
Kittens can acquire FPV while in the uterus if the pregnant mother is infected, or, through her breast milk during nursing. The prognosis is generally poor for kittens which have contracted the disease whilst in the uterus.
Because cats tend to go outdoors more during summer, the disease is more likely to be transmitted during this season.
If you suspect your cat has FPV, your veterinarian will require a thorough history of her health and recent activities. This will include whether your cat has recently been in contact with other cats, or if she is allowed access to the outdoors.
FPV symptoms can be similar to several other diseases including poisoning, pancreatitis, feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus and others. It is therefore important to give as much detail as possible to your veterinarian so that appropriate treatment can start quickly.
The veterinarian will initially perform a physical examination. If necessary, blood tests will be taken for a complete blood count and biochemistry profile, and possibly a urine test for urinalysis. The feline parvovirus attacks and kills cells that divide rapidly, such as those in the intestine and those produced in the bone marrow. An infected animal will typically have a blood count that is low in white and red blood cells. Microscopic examination of feces may reveal remnants of the virus.
Cats infected with FPV are likely to require immediate treatment. Because dehydration is one of the primary symptoms, the major aim is to restore body fluid levels to normal values and maintain these, along with appropriate electrolyte balance. It is critical this is done quickly as the dehydration can quickly become life endangering. Because the virus compromises the immune system, your cat may have to take antibiotics to reduce the possibility of opportunistic bacterial infections.
Your cat will need to be rested during her recovery. Provide a warm and quiet space away from other animals and children. Avoid her exerting herself by placing food, water and the litter tray close to her recovery bed. Isolate the infected cat from others, however, maintain your own physical contact with the cat as the probability of your cat’s recovery are increased by receiving affection from you; this infection has an extremely depressing effect on both the mental and physical health of your cat and your cat ‘s recovery will benefit considerably from your affection and comfort. Strict hygiene is essential. Remember that the virus can remain infective on surfaces and people which handle an infected cat should stay especially clean to avoid transmitting the virus to other cats.
If your infected cat is treated effectively and quickly, and survives the first 2 days, it is likely she will make a full recovery. It may take several weeks for your cat to return to complete normality, but once she has, she will have a life-time immunity to FPV and will not transmit the virus after the initial infection.
LIVING AND MANAGEMENT
Follow your veterinarian’s advice with regards medication, isolation of your cat and household disinfection. Closely observe your other cats for signs of illness and discuss with your vet, the possibility of vaccinating other cats in the home.
Although household bleach is an effective disinfectant against the FPV virus, replacing all items associated with an infected cat is the best way to ensure any traces of the virus have been removed. Remember that although your infected cat will not be susceptible to re-infection, other cats can easily be infected by contaminants that remain.
The most important action in the prevention of FPV is vaccination. Ensure you ask your veterinarian to include the FPV vaccine in any vaccination program for your cat. Non-vaccinated, pregnant cats have a compromised immune system and are therefore highly susceptible to fatal complications. If the developing fetuses become infected with FPV, they are very likely to have severe developmental dysfunctions at birth.