Can Cats get Parvovirus from Dogs?

When it comes to parvo in cats, there are many misconceptions surrounding the parvoviruses. In order to understand the subtleties of the parvovirus as observed in cats and dogs, this article will take a closer look at the disease while addressing many frequently-asked questions and concerns.  So, can cats get parvo from dogs? Read on for helpful information, including signs and symptoms of species-specific strains of the parvovirus, how to protect dogs and cats, and other useful pet care tips.  

What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Parvovirus: Understanding The Virus Strains

In order to understand how parvovirus affects cats and dogs differently, we must first note the distinctions between canine and feline parvovirus strains. To clarify, Parvovirus is the common name applied to all the viruses in the Parvoviridae taxonomic family. However, cats and dogs each have their own separate parvovirus strains that are specific to their species. The cat strain is actually known as feline panleukopenia virus (FPV), and poses a serious threat of disease within the feline population.

Additionally, most research indicates FPV cannot be transferred to dogs. However, there are some studies that have shown that a mutated strain of the canine parvovirus (CPV) can, in fact, infect cats. So while it is uncommon, yes – cats can get parvovirus from dogs. For example, if a parvo outbreak in an animal shelter takes place, there is the possibility of cross-contamination. Consequently, if a cat has been in contact with a dog who has parvo, the cat should be considered potentially contagious and quarantined from other animals for at least several weeks.

So – what is the difference between the viruses?

According to veterinary and animal research, FPV and CPV differ only by 0.5% in their DNA sequences. Despite their similarities, however, each virus strain possesses its own acute characteristics:

Feline panleukopenia virus (FPV): Also referred to as feline distemper, feline infectious enteritis, cat typhoid and cat fever, FPV is a life-threatening, highly-contagious viral disease among the cat population and is closely related to the canine parvovirus. This aggressive virus attacks blood cells in the body – mainly the cells located in the bone marrow, skin and intestinal tract. Essentially, the body’s defense cells are killed by FPV. In addition to anemic conditions, this virus can also put the feline at risk for other infections – both bacterial and viral.

Furthermore, it is a very resilient cat disease, and is capable of surviving for years in contaminated environments. As stated by the ASPCA, “Feline panleukopenia is a highly contagious viral disease of cats that can be found worldwide. Estimated mortality rates are 100% without treatment in young kittens – and even with aggressive therapies, are over 90%. The prognosis is better in older cats, but…many cats and kittens do not survive.” Therefore, FPV vaccinations have shown to be the best method of prevention among the feline population.

Symptoms for FPV include:

It should also be noted that FPV causes severe damage to the cells that line the intestines. In addition, it attacks the lymph nodes and bone marrow within the cat, resulting in shortages of all types of white blood cells (panleukopenia) and of red blood cells (anemia). Cats who are most at risk of developing severe FPV symptoms include kittens (between the ages of 2–6 months), pregnant cats, and immune-compromised cats.

Canine parvovirus (CPV): The canine parvovirus (CPV) infection is a highly transmittable virus affecting the dog population. However, this viral illness manifests itself in two different strains.

The more common of the two is a highly-contagious gastrointestinal type of canine parvo known as CPV-1, which is distinguished by symptoms including diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss and a severe lack of appetite (anorexia). The other strain of parvo virus in dogs is the cardiac form known as myocarditis, also known as CPV-2 or heart inflammation. Often fatal, this particular strain attacks the heart muscles of canine fetuses as well as newborn puppies. Both strains of CPV are very dangerous to canines.

In most CPV cases, the virus is noted in puppies that are between the ages of six and 20 weeks old, but occasionally older animals are affected. Fortunately, the incidence of canine parvo infections has been drastically reduced since the 1970s, when canine vaccinations and boosters for puppies became the norm. It is therefore of utmost importance for pet parents to follow a basic vaccine schedule for dogs in order to prevent canine parvo and other dangerous diseases.

Symptoms for CPV include: