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Distemper in Cats

"Distemper in cats is called feline panleukopenia. Cat distemper is a highly contagious, sometimes fatal and viral disease. This disease occurs worldwide and with distemper in kittens happening because they are more susceptible due to their age and immature immune system. It is caused by a very resistant strain of parvovirus and may remain in the environment for several months, despite the use of disinfectants. Unvaccinated cats are most susceptible and with the feline distemper symptoms characterized by fever, depression, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and in terminal cases, septic shock (lethal drop in blood pressure). Kittens may die in acute cases, without showing any symptoms. Diagnosis requires clinical examination, blood and fecal tests. Treatment involves vigorous fluid and supportive therapy, keeping the cat in isolation, along with antibiotics and supplements. A feline distemper shot or vaccine with inactivated modified live vaccine is highly recommended for healthy cats to prevent this disease."

Cause of Distemper of Cats:

Feline panleukopenia virus (FPV) is part of the parvovirus family. Parvoviridae causes distemper in cats, which is very much identical to canine parvovirus, type 2. In a recent study, Canine parvovirus 2a & 2b have been proved for causing a distemper in cats like illness in domestic cats.

Virus may spread by contact via all secretions and excretions from ill to healthy cats. Recovered cats can shed the virus in their feces for up to 6 weeks after recovery. Parvovirus is considered to be a resistant genus and can exist in environment for a year despite the use of common disinfectants, which only makes virus inactive but can not eradicate it.

Feline panleukopenia virus (FPV) destroys cells which divide in the body, such as those of bone marrow, lymphatic tissues, and intestinal epithelia (cells that line the intestines). In young cats, the cerebellum (part of the brain that controls coordination) and retinal tissues are also affected. The virus may cause abortion and mummification of the embryo in pregnant queens, resulting in abdominal tremors and coordination.

Feline Distemper Symptoms:

Symptoms of feline distemper are more common in kittens and cats below the age of one year. In many cases the disease appears as sub clinical (not showing symptoms, asymptomatic). Many kittens die suddenly without showing any signs and symptoms. After an incubation period of 2 – 7 days, cats may show signs of acute distemper. After signs of depression and anorexia, the next symptoms is usually a high fever (104 – 107 Degree Fahrenheit). Vomiting and diarrhea appears after 1 – 2 days of onset and fever and results into a rapid dehydration. Vomiting is unrelated to eating and a cat may tend to vomit without any ingestion.

In severe and untreated cases, hypothermia (Lowered temperature) is noted and at last a septic shock along with coagulation in the vessels results in death. Affected cats may experience depression, anorexia and ataxia (lack of muscle coordination) in the case of severe dehydration. Abdominal pain may also exist and abdominal palpation may induce vomiting. Tremors are noted if nervous tissues of the cerebellum (brain) are involved.

The course of the disease persists for 5 – 7 day and mortality is usually very high in kittens less then age of 5 months.

Diagnosis of Distemper in Cats:

Diagnosis usually requires clinical examination of the affected cat. A laboratory examination of blood samples and feces may reveal the presence of parvovirus when cultured and isolated.

Distemper in cats should be differentiated from feline leukemia, salmonellosis and profound depression.

Treatment of Distemper in Cats:

Most often, vigorous fluid therapy is required. A balanced isotonic solution like ringer’s lactate with potassium supplementation is highly recommended, through IV route. Vitamin B complex and 5% glucose should be added to the infusion in case hypoglycaemia is proven or noted. Broad spectrum antibiotics can be administered through the parenteral route ( intravenous or intramuscular injection), to prevent secondary bacterial complications. Nephrotoxic drugs like gentamycin and amikacin should not be administered in dehydrated cats.

Anti–emetic drugs like metoclopramide is very effective in controlling vomiting.

For added support a homeopathic remedy is available that was made specifically to support cats with distemper. The product, Panleuk-Free , helps to protect cats by supporting the immune system, and can help to relieve feline distemper symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and helps restore the appetite. Ingredients include Arsen alb. (gastric disorders), Phosphorus (digestive health, exhaustion) and Baptisia (fatigue) and Ferrum phos. (inflammation). The manufacturer is a good source of additional research on distemper.

Prevention of Distemper in Cats:

Cases of distemper in cats have been significantly reduced due to a recommended vaccination schedule and follow up in cats. Vaccinating cats with an inactive modified live vaccine (MLV), results into a long lasting immunity. Cats should be vaccinated at age of 6 – 9 weeks and repeated with 2–3 more doses, 3 weeks apart. Annual booster doses are recommended but are not obligatory. Usually a triennial booster dose is enough.

Precautions: 

Cases of distemper in cats have significantly reduced due to a recommended vaccination schedule and follow up in cats. Vaccinating cats with an inactive modified live vaccine (MLV), results into a long lasting immunity. Cats should be vaccinated at age of 6 – 9 weeks and repeated with 2–3 more doses, 3 weeks apart. Annual booster doses are recommended but are not obligatory. Usually a triennial booster dose is enough.

References:

The Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health (Home Edition) 

 

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