Feline Panleukopenia Virus

Regular widespread vaccination in the small animal world, has almost made the occurrence of feline panleukopenia or feline parvo virus, a thing of the past.  That said, Vetlife Timaru have had many cases and suspected cases over the last week and a veterinarian at Vetlife Alexandra has seen two cases in under a week.   This disease, also known as feline distemper, is devastating with an extremely high mortality rate, especially in young kittens.

The virus is still around in any unvaccinated population and lasts for months in the environment. Transmission of the virus occurs from cats coming into contact with virus particles in excretions and secretions of infected cats and can be shed in the faeces of recovering cats for up to six weeks.  The virus is very hardy and can be transported on surfaces, clothing, any animal or parasite related to them.  Most free roaming cats will come into contact with the virus within the first year of life.  Many infections are subclinical, or produce mild disease.  But in the very young and very old, the disease can be devastating.   In cats under a year old, mortality rates can reach 90%.  As cats age and their immune system is stronger, they are able to survive the disease with intense treatment.

The onset of the disease is very sudden.  A cat can be normal one day, then fighting for their life the next.  Acute cases show a high fever, depression, and inappetence.   Vomiting may develop within a day or two and they may have a painful abdomen.   Diarrhea can occur a day or two later, but is not always seen.  Extreme dehydration develops rapidly.

The virus affects rapidly dividing cells:  gut lining, bone marrow and the immune system.  Severely affected cats will die from dehydration or secondary bacterial infections as their intestinal lining can be damaged and bacteria from the gut cause systemic infection.  If their immune system is affected, they cannot produce enough white blood cells to fight off normal infection.

Of the two cases seen in Alexandra this week, one was a four month old kitten that died despite several days of intensive therapy, and a two year old cat that recovered after two days of  hospitalisation.  Treatment can be very expensive and is not always successful.

The disease is easily prevented by routine vaccinations.  Kittens should be vaccinated at 6-9 weeks of age, and receive booster vaccines every 3-4 weeks, with their last vaccine after 16 wks.  They then have a booster in a year, and adult vaccinations every three years.  Cats that are vaccinated develop a solid long lasting immunity against this deadly disease.  It is heart breaking to treat this disease which can be totally prevented by vaccination.  Ensure that your cat’s vaccinations are up to date and if you are unsure please consult your veterinarian.

Lori Linney
DVM
Vetlife Alexandra