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Posted on 06-20-2016

What is Feline Panleukopenia?

Feline Panleukopenia (FPV), also known as Feline Distemper, is a highly contagious, often fatal, viral disease of cats.  While adult cats can be affected, the disease is often sub-clinical in them unless they are immune-compromised. However, the virus is very dangerous to young kittens as it attacks the rapidly dividing celss in the bone marrow, lymphoid tissues, and intestinal epithelium.

The virus is related to Canine Parvovirus but the two viruses do not cross infect.  Also, although it is frequently known as "feline distemper," it is unrelated to canine distemper virus.

Feline Panleukopenia virus is present in all excretions and secretions during the active phase of the disease.  In fact, it can be shed in the feces for as long as 6 weeks after recovery. Most importantly, it can be carried long distances on people's hands, shoes, and clothing as well as on bedding, toys, and food/water bowls.  The virus is very resistant living in the environment up to a year at room temperature.  It can be killed by a 1:32 dilution of bleach as well as other known antiviral cleansers.

Cat's are infected by the oronasal route (ingestion or inhalation) through the exposure to infected feces, secretions, or contaminated fomites (bedding, bowls, toys, handlers, etc.)  Most free roaming cats are believed to be exposed during their first year if life.  Those that survive develop a long term, protective immunity.  Transplacental transmission can occur but usually results in resorption, mummification, abortion or stillbirth.  Those affected very close to birth will generally show incoordination and tremors due to the viral attack in their cerebellum, a condition known as "cerebellar hypoplasia."  The retina of the eye can also be damaged.  In the majority of infected cats, the FVP destroys the actively dividing cells of bone marrow, lymphoid tissue and intestinal lining.

What are the Symptoms of Panleukopenia?

Most often it is kittens that show signs of the disease.  Many will die suddenly and with little warning. In those with symptoms, a high fever is characteristic, often as high as 104-107*F.  The kittens are profoundly depressed and, of course, anorexic.  After about two days of fever, they will generally begin vomiting bilious material unrelated to eating.  Many will develop diarrhea which may be bloody.  Extreme dehydration occurs.  Many kittens will hang their heads over their water bowls but be unable to drink.  Anemia is also classic.  If the cerebellum has been affected, the kitten will have incoordination and tremors. In the end, the kittens become hypothermic and develop septic shock. 

How is a Diagnosis Made?

The veterinarian makes a diagnosis of FVP based on clinical signs as described above.  Also, during an examination, it is common for the veterinarian to feel thickened intestinal loops and enlarged mesenteric lymph nodes.  Anemia and decreased white count (leukopenia) cn be noted on a blood count.  Canine parvovirus tests have been used but are not reliable as the fecal antigen is only detectable for a short time in cats.

What is the Treatment?

Supportive care is vital in the treatment of kittens with Feline Panleukopenia.  They must receive vigorous IV therapy constantly monitoring and addressing electrolyte disturbances.  Parenteral antibiotics and nutrition (ie, given by IV) is a must.  Kittens who survive the first 48 hours of treatment have a pretty good chance of living normal lives.  But it must be understtood that this disease is most often fatal in kittens.

How can it be Prevented?

Vaccination is critical in preventing the transmission and spread of Feline Panleukopenia.  Kittens should receive two or three vaccinations 3-4 weeks apart starting at 6-9 weeks of age.  The last dose should not be given before 16 weeks of age to ensure that maternal antibodies do not inactivate the vaccine.  Cat's are revaccinated at a year then as deemed necessary based on the individual cat's lifestyle.

If there s concern that there may be exposure, replacing bedding, toys, bowls, etc is imperative.  Using a 1:32 dilution of bleach can kill the virus on surfaces safe to treat.  Of course good hand washing and diligence will decrease any transmission from human handlers.

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