Care and Treatment of Cat Distemper

"Cat distemper (also called Feline Parvovirus, Panleukopenia or FPV) is a virus that affects cats that have not been vaccinated. It is contracted after contact with urine or feces and is diagnosed with a blood test. Treatment options can only help the symptoms, not the underlying disease."

Feline distemper, also called panleukopenia, is a highly contagious virus that affects rapidly growing cells, such as those of the digestive system, the nervous system, the lymph tissue, and the bone marrow. It is very similar to the virus that causes parvo disease in dogs. It is transmitted through contact with the urine or feces of an infected cat. Infected mothers also pass the disease to their kittens.

Kittens should be vaccinated who are older than 4 to 6 weeks for panleukopenia and receive booster shots each year.

Feline panleukopenia has an incubation period of 2 to 14 days. Cats are contagious 2 to 3 days before the first symptoms appear. A cat can spread the disease for 4 to 6 weeks after symptoms first appear.

The disease can live in the environment for a year and is resistant to common disinfectants.

Cat Distemper Symptoms

Symptoms of distemper (panleukopenia) often resemble those of parvo disease in dogs or canine distemper, which is why the disease is often called cat distemper. Some older cats do not show many symptoms, but younger, unvaccinated cats can become severely ill.

Symptoms include:

* Vomiting
* High fever
* Anorexia
* Lethargy
* Dehydration
* Diarrhea (not common)
* Endotoxemia (toxins from bacteria in the blood)
* Bacteremia (live bacteria in the blood)
* Disseminated intravascular coagulation (blood clotting throughout the body instead of just where an injury occurs)
* Cerebellar disease (lack of muscular coordination)
* Sudden death

Panleukopenia is the number one rule-out for sudden death in an unvaccinated shelter or rescue cat. Some owners believe that their cat has been poisoned.

Cat Distemper Diagnosis

Your vet will perform a thorough physical exam. If your cat has feline distemper, she will have a fever and her abdomen will be painful. The lymph nodes in her abdomen will be enlarged and her intestines will feel thick.

Panleukopenia means a decrease in white blood cells. Your vet will do some blood tests called a ELISA SNAP test or an IDEXX brand test. Your cat will have a low white blood cell count and may also have a low platelet count (the components of blood that help it to clot).

There are tests which can detect cat distemper in feces and urine, but these are expensive tests and are usually performed in research settings and not in a vet's office.

Cat Distemper Treatment

There is no cure for feline distemper. That's why it is important to get kittens vaccinated with the feline distemper vaccine. If your cat survives the first five days of the illness, chances are she will survive. Full recovery may take several weeks.

Treatment involves mainly supportive care. Fluids will be given intravenously or subcutaneously (under the skin) to counteract dehydration. Medication will be given to stop vomiting and diarrhea. Once vomiting has stopped, a bland diet will be introduced and fed a little at a time. Medication will also be given to stop seizures. Antibiotics may be given to prevent a bacterial infection from developing.

The environment of a cat with feline distemper should be considered infected. Food dishes, toys, cages, floors, and other items should be disinfected with bleach and water diluted at 1:32 (1/2 cup per gallon. The disease is resistant to many common used disinfectants. Bedding and soft items should be washed in hot water.

An alternative disinfectant is Potassium peroxymonosulfate (TrifectantTM or Virkon-STM). Follow the directions supplied by the manufacturer.

Natural Treatment for Feline Distemper

Alternative remedies can play an important role in lessening symptoms and promoting quicker recovery. There are many registered remedies that can help to relieve common symptoms of feline panleukopenia including nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, congestion and other respiratory problems. These remedies contain ingredients such as:

* Panleukopenia (30C): is a homeopathic form of the Panleukopenia virus vaccine. Homeopathic remedies support the body�s natural resilience to harmful agents without unwanted side effects or compromising the immune system.
* Arsen alb. (30C): is a popular treatment for iron deficiencies and gastric disorders. It is often used for digestive upsets including cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea. This remedy is particularly suited to cats who are affectionate towards their family but who also tend to suffer with respiratory ailments, asthma, or breathlessness. This remedy suits those cats and kittens who tend to suffer with exhaustion.
* Phosphorus (30C): this remedy suits cats that are generally affectionate, enthusiastic, and expressive. When feeling un-well, they tend to become lethargic and crave support, love, and comfort. This remedy is beneficial for alleviating nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and exhaustion.
* Baptisia (30C): was originally proved by Dr. Thompson in the mid-19th century. Baptisia is almost exclusively used for conditions with extreme fevers accompanied by fatigue. This remedy suits instances where diarrhea is present (usually foul-smelling), but passing of stools is not painful.
* Ferrum phos.(D6): is a biochemic tissue salt derived from iron phosphate, and is extremely beneficial when addressing any inflammation. Ferrum phos. also helps to support the walls of the blood vessels, and thus improves the body's ability to distribute oxygen-rich blood and iron to all cells, thereby facilitating healing.

A remedy worth researching that combines these ingredients and is made specifically for feline distemper and feline panleukopenia virus is Panleuk-Free. It is what is known as a homeopathic vaccine and is designed to temporarily relieve symptoms of cat distemper (feline panleukopenia). Discuss this and any other option with your veterinarian so that he or she can track progress.


Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper)
Nash, Holly DVM

Feline Panleukopenia
S. Newbury
Koret Shelter Medicine Program
Center for Companion Animal Health
University of California Davis



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