What is Distemper in Cats? 

distemper in cats

If you are a cat owner, it is important to know and understand what distemper in cats is. You may be asking yourself, what is cat distemper? Cat distemper, which is also called Feline Panleukopenia Virus (FPV), is an extremely contagious and potentially fatal viral disease that affects the cat population. Feline distemper affects cats on a cellular level and can be extremely dangerous if not treated immediately. As a cat owner, it is important to understand and be knowledgeable about potentially hazardous diseases or infections your animal may contract, as a quick response on your part may the difference between them living or dying. The best way to prepare is to understand how common conditions arise, their symptoms, and what actions you should take if you believe your animal may be affected. To help you establish a baseline understanding of feline distemper, we have put together a guide that delves into what feline distemper is, the causes of feline distemper, common symptoms of distemper, how feline distemper is diagnosed, and potential treatment options available.

An Introduction to Feline Distemperdistemper in cats

Feline Panleukopenia Virus is an extremely dangerous and contagious viral disease that cats can contract. Feline Panleukopenia Virus affects blood cells that are undergoing rapid cellular division within the body. Feline Panleukopenia Virus often targets blood cells within the bone marrow, intestinal tract, and in the stem cells of a developing fetus. Because Feline Panleukopenia Virus targets blood cells within the body, it can result in anemia. If a cat is in an anemic condition, he becomes more susceptible to infections from other illnesses, both bacterial and viral. Feline Panleukopenia Virus is the most important disease to be wary of within the unvaccinated population of cats. Feline Panleukopenia Virus is capable of surviving for years in contaminated environments. Feline Panleukopenia Virus is an extremely resilient causative virus whose danger is compounded by its highly contagious nature. With this understanding in mind, it is now possible to explore the causes of Feline Panleukopenia Virus.

Causes of Feline Distemper

Feline Panleukopenia Virus is caused by an initial contraction of Feline Parvovirus. Many cats acquire Feline Parvovirus by coming into contact with infected urine, feces, blood, or fleas that have been living on an infected cat. Feline Parvovirus is also transferable from cat to cat by human beings who have failed to wash their hands after handling an infected cat. In addition, if food, bedding, equipment, or any other materials are transferred from one cat to another without exercising vigilant sanitizing procedures, Feline Parvovirus can quickly spread. When handling cats with Feline Parvovirus or Feline Panleukopenia Virus, it is essential that soap and water be used to sanitize hands and materials after handling the infected cat so that the probability of spreading the virus to healthy animals is significantly reduced.

Feline Parvovirus can be extremely resistant to being sanitized and is capable of remaining on many surfaces for up to a year, during which it is capable of infecting any susceptible cats that come into contact with it. It is vital that safe and clean hygienic procedures be employed to prevent the spread of Feline Parvovirus, but even with vigilant hygiene practices, it can be difficult to contain. Feline Parvovirus is resistant to disinfectant, making it difficult to rid surfaces and materials of all traces of the virus. Even a trace of remaining Feline Parvovirus can infect a cat. One of the most common breeding grounds for Feline Parvovirus is in shelters and kennels due to their high density of cats, their close quarters, and the use of communal surfaces and equipment. If you kennel your cat while away on a holiday, their risk of contracting Feline Panleukopenia Virus can increase significantly because of their proximity to other cats that are potentially infected. Cases of Feline Panleukopenia Virus increase significantly during the summer months. The summer months carry a heightened risk for infection because they bring warmer weather, which results in more cats going outside and being able to be around other cats who may be infected.

An important piece of information to note about Feline Parvovirus is that kittens are able to contract this virus when they are in utero or through breast milk if their mother is infected with the virus. The mother passes the virus to her kitten when nursing, infecting them in the process. The prognosis for kittens that contract Feline Parvovirus or Feline Panleukopenia Virus while in utero is not promising. If you have a cat that is pregnant or nursing, it is vital to keep them in a safe and clean environment where their exposure to the virus will be limited.

Common Symptoms of Feline Distemperdistemper in cats

Recognizing the common symptoms of Feline Panleukopenia Virus is essential in order to seek early and prompt treatment. Many of the symptoms of Feline Panleukopenia Virus can mimic the symptoms of other common conditions. If you notice that your cat is not behaving normally or is developing symptoms that worry you, it is important to immediately seek out the care of a licensed veterinarian to get a diagnosis and subsequent treatment plan in place. Below are the most common symptoms of Feline Panleukopenia Virus.

  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea/Bloody Diarrhea
  • Anemia (due to lowered red blood cells)
  • Low white blood cell count
  • Complete loss of interest in food
  • Rough hair coat
  • High fever
  • Depression
  • Hanging head over the water or food bowl without attempting to eat or drink
  • Tucking feet under the body for extended periods of time
  • Attempting to hide themselves for a day or two
  • Resting their chin on the floor for long period of time

In addition to the above symptoms, in some cats the Feline Panleukopenia Virus may attack the brain. If Feline Panleukopenia Virus attacks the brain, the cat will begin to develop neurological symptoms. The most common neurological symptom associated with Feline Panleukopenia Virus is a lack of coordination.

Diagnosing Feline Distemper

Diagnosing Feline Panleukopenia Virus quickly is essential to treat it and save your cat’s life. If your cat begins to exhibit any of the symptoms listed above, it is important to immediately seek veterinary care. Once you arrive at your appointment with the veterinarian, they will take a complete medical history including any history of procedures or conditions, overall health and exercise, eating habits, any medications they are on, and the duration and severity of their symptoms. In addition, they will weigh your cat when you arrive at your appointment. From there, the veterinarian will begin to do an initial physical examination. If you believe your cat may have Feline Panleukopenia Virus before going to your appointment, it is essential that you disclose this information to your veterinarian so that they exercise additional caution when handling materials or equipment your cat has touched so they can avoid infecting other cats.

Your veterinarian will likely ask you about your cat’s recent activities, whether or not he has recently come into contact with any other cats, and if he is generally a cat that resides and travels around outdoors. These questions will help give the veterinarian an idea if they could have been exposed to Feline Panleukopenia Virus. Feline Panleukopenia Virus can mimic a number of other conditions that cats can develop, such as pancreatitis, feline immunodeficiency disorder, poisoning, or feline leukemia. The level of detail of the information you provide to the veterinarian will help them to eliminate potential causes of the symptoms and will expedite the time to treatment.

Once your veterinarian has collected a detailed history and has done an initial physical examination, they will likely request additional laboratory tests. The most common laboratory tests requested are a urinalysis, complete blood count (CBC), and a biochemistry profile. Since these tests are fairly general, they often do not detect minor changes within the body. However, since Feline Panleukopenia Virus attacks rapidly dividing cells, the complete blood count test will usually show a decreased number of red and white blood cells. In addition, your veterinarian may request a fecal sample. The fecal sample may be able to show microscopic remnants of the Feline Parvovirus that will aid in making a final diagnosis.

Treating Feline Distemper

Cats that are infected with Feline Panleukopenia Virus will require immediate treatment in order to save their life. One of the most common symptoms of Feline Panleukopenia Virus is dehydration, which can quickly endanger their life. To treat feline distemper, your cat must immediately regain proper body fluid levels and the right balance of electrolytes. Since Feline Panleukopenia Virus also affects the immune system and leaves infected cats open to contracting other infections, your veterinarian will likely prescribe a prophylactic antibiotic to prevent your cat from contracting further infections.

Your cat will require supportive and consistent care if they contract Feline Panleukopenia Virus. Receiving the right care can truly be the difference between life and death. If your cat is treated effectively and quickly and is able to stay alive during the first two days (forty-eight hours), there is a good probability that they will make a full recovery. If your cat contracts Feline Panleukopenia Virus and successfully recovers from it, they are immune from it for the rest of their lives.

While your cat is recovering, he will need to rest until he is no longer in danger. To help your cat as he recovers, it is important to create a warm, quiet space in your home that is separated from active areas, children, or other animals. In the area where your cat will be resting, be sure to place food and water dishes, as well as their litter box, close to where they are laying. He will be weak and exhausted from fighting off the virus and placing these essential items close to them will keep them from exerting themselves. One vital step to take if your cat is recovering from Feline Panleukopenia Virus is to keep him separated from other cats. While other cats can contract this infection from them, you cannot.

distemper in cats

It is important that you maintain physical contact with your cat and continue to show him affection as he recovers. He will likely be rundown, upset, and weak. Receiving affection from someone he loves will help to speed up the recovery process and keep your cat calm and resting. Feline Panleukopenia Virus has an extremely depressing effect on the mental and physical state of a cat, so be sure to foster a loving, comfortable environment for them as they recover. While you cannot contract this virus from them, it is still extremely important to practice strict hygiene practices. As mentioned earlier, Feline Parvovirus can remain on surfaces and materials for up to one year and is resistant to disinfectant. After contact with your infected cat, be extremely vigilant in your cleaning practices to avoid unintentionally spreading the virus to other cats. It will usually take several weeks for your cat to return to its normal behaviors.

Management and Prevention

It is important to follow all instructions your veterinarian provides for care while your cat is recovering. One of the most important tasks you will have is to correctly dispense medication in accordance with the timeline and dosage provided by your veterinarian. It is also vital to follow all procedures for household disinfection and quarantine recommended by your veterinarian. If there are other cats in your household, you need to consult with your veterinarian prior to bringing your infected cat home to see if you need to get your other cats vaccinated or what type of quarantine and cleaning practices you need to exercise to keep your other cats safe.

Even when following all provided procedures, if you have other cats in the house it is still best to keep a watchful eye on them to see if they develop symptoms. Bleach is the best disinfectant to use when cleaning surfaces and materials that have interacted with Feline Panleukopenia Virus, and it is recommended that you replace all of your cat’s belongings (toys, bedding, dishes, and litter boxes) to clear your home of all traces of the virus. To help prevent your cat from contracting Feline Parvovirus or Feline Panleukopenia Virus, it is important to vaccinate your cat when he is a kitten. This is usually included in a standard vaccination package and could one day save your cat’s life.

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