What Is Feline Distemper?

Feline distemper — also know as panleukopenia — is a severe and highly contagious disease that affects felines, raccoons, and mink. The virus that causes feline distemper is similar to the parvovirus in dogs.

Panleukopenia is very widespread and common in nature; a cat can easily be exposed to it within the first year of life. The virus is very stable, and can survive for years at room temperature. Many common disinfectants do not kill the feline distemper virus. Contact with 1:32 bleach solution for ten minutes will deactivate the virus.

Feline distemper is most commonly transmitted when a cat comes into contact with the feces or urine of an infected cat. Anything that has been in contact with contaminated waste — like bedding, food bowls, shoes, and litter boxes — can spread the virus. Infected cats may shed the virus in feces and urine for up to six weeks after recovery from feline distemper. The virus can also be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her developing kittens.

Common symptoms of feline distemper are similar to those seem in dogs with parvo:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Low white blood cell count
  • Seizures
  • Dehydration
  • Fevers, depression, and refusal to eat in cats between the age of three and five months

The panleukopenia virus invades cells that grow quickly, like those in the digestive system and nervous system. Bone marrow and lymph tissue are also easily affected. In young and unvaccinated kittens, the disease is usually fatal. Cats who survive the symptoms for more than five days usually survive. Complete recovery can take weeks or months. Treatment is mainly focused on the symptoms. Fluids are given to correct the dehydration. Antibiotics may help protect the cat from a secondary infection. Other medication may help stop the vomiting.

Regular vaccination can help protect cats against feline distemper. Read more about pet health here at Families.com!