Feline Panleukopenia

Also Known As
Feline infectious enteritis
or Feline Distemper

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About the viral disease in cats known as Feline Distemper, Feline Panleukopenia, or Feline Infectious Enteritis

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Feline panleukopenia is a highly contagious, often fatal, viral disease of cats being especially severe in kittens.

We don't see this disease much anymore in our pet cats because of widespread use of effective vaccines. However, vets like me that see a large number of rescued feral cats and shelter cats still see a number of cases; infection rates remain high in feral and other un-vaccinated feline populations.

Etiology, Transmission, and Pathogenesis:

Feline panleukopenia is caused by a parvo virus called feline panleukopenia virus (FPV)  which infects and destroys actively dividing cells of all feline species as well as raccoons and mink.

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In pregnant cats the virus causes fetal death, miscarraiges, abortion, and stillbirth.
Clinical Findings:
Many infections are subclinical (not obvious), especially in adult cats. But in kittens and young adult cats that get exposed... often from older cats that don't appear sick... typically show the following symptoms about 2-7 days later:

eye and nasal discharge   sneezing
vomiting is pretty common
diarrhea tends to start a few days later
Sometimes the brain is affected and the kitten or young cat will act dizzy, drunk, or disoriented.  Most of the kittens showing neural signs end up dying.

Be aware that these symptoms are similar to other viral diseases in cats like feline respiratory complex (cold and flu virus') as well as more serious diseases like feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (AIDS), and Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP).
Your vet will also tell you that sick kittens often have multiple problems at the same time; once the immune system is compromised, every nearby germ and parasite takes advantage.

Treatment: Successful treatment of acute cases requires careful monitoring, antibiotics, vigorous fluid therapy, control of nausea, and supportive care. Electrolyte disturbances, acidosis, hypoglycemia, hypoproteinemia, anemia, and systemic infections commonly develop in severely ill cats infected with FPV, and appropriate treatment should be administered. 

Prevention: This disease is easily and inexpensively prevented by having your kittens vaccinated soon after weaning; we recommend vaccinating at about 6, 10, and 14 weeks of age, and then once a year.

For those of you wackos that don't believe in vaccinating your cats, come spend a week in any busy vet clinic watching unvaccinated kittens die a miserable death.

Coons may be a resevoir of this disease in your neighborhood
Abortions and stillbirths are common in cats that otherwise have no symptoms
While often fatal, many kittens can be saved with aggressive fluid therapy,
antibiotics, and other supportive care.