Feline Panleukopenia is caused by the feline parvovirus. This is a pathogen that affects all cats, but it causes severe forms of the disease in kittens, in particular. The virus can be quite resilient and survive in the outdoor and indoor environment for a long time.
Unfortunately, FPV has a high mortality rate, and outbreaks can be seen in circumstances where cats live together, such as in shelters, catteries, or in households where several unvaccinated cats reside.
In this post, we’ll look at how cats are infected with Feline Panleukopenia Virus, which cats are the most susceptible ones, some of its clinical signs, how it is diagnosed, and whether it can be treated and prevented.
How can cats get infected with FPV?
Believe it or not, this virus can survive in the environment for as long as a whole year, and there are only several disinfectants that can kill it. Hydrogen peroxide products are usually effective, but it is assumed that chloride solutions can kill the virus, too. Washing all surfaces with water and soap can also remove some if not all of the virus on the surfaces in your home.
Most cats contract FPV from a contaminated surface via a cat’s infected feces rather than coming in direct contact with another infected cat. Of course, this is still possible if there are several cats living in the same household, and one of them becomes infected.
The virus is capable of passing from one cat to the next very quickly. Even though cats usually shed FPV in their feces for a few days, the pathogen remains in that environment for a very, very long time.
Kittens are particularly susceptible, around the age of 4 to 12 weeks. This is when the antibodies that they receive from their mother’s milk begin to wane. Needless to say, all unvaccinated cats, regardless of their age, can be vulnerable to the infection.
This is why forgetting about your cat’s vaccination plan and not going in for a yearly check-up and vaccination can be very dangerous even for older and technically immunized cats. If you have an outdoor cat or there are several ones living in your house, you have to vaccinate all of them against FPV.
There are many cats, especially those that have a perfectly healthy immune system, that never show signs of a Feline Panleukopenia Virus infection. Some can show symptoms, however, and these are the following:
- Vomiting and being wet or foamy around the mouth
- The cat can be hungry or thirsty but can find it impossible to feed or drink water
- A variable temperature (raised in the early stages of the disease and low later on)
- Watery diarrhea – which may contain blood or not
When a pregnant cat is infected with FPV, the infection can be passed on to the unborn kittens, causing brain damage. Once the kittens are born, they will manifest balance problems and a somewhat wobbly gait.
Affected kittens often have difficulty feeding when they are being weaned as their heads bob up and down. Breeders who get just one litter of kittens that manifest this problem should consider closing down their facility and disinfecting it thoroughly before resuming activity. Plus, the cats should be separated and checked for symptoms every day.
The veterinarian can test your cat’s blood and fecal samples and see whether there are any antibodies or the virus present. If the cat has died, the intestines can be sent to the laboratory and tested for the virus, too.
You can also find out whether the virus is present in your household by testing the rest of your cats, even if they aren’t showing any symptoms at this time. They can always be tested for high levels of antibodies against the Feline Panleukopenia Virus.
Treatment and prevention
There is no particular cure at this time. The clinical signs are usually treated symptomatically, and there are some cats that can recover with fluid therapy, good nursing, as well as assisted feeding. However, there is also a high number of cats that don’t recover and that die.
The virus passes through the cat very fast, and even if an infected cat sheds it for just a couple of days or up to six weeks, it can still be detected in apparently healthy cats. As for the treatment, a study in 2017 has presented several advances in this sense. The truth is that preventing this disease is a lot easier and more effective than trying to treat it.
Vaccination is very important, even though traditional vaccination plans begin when cats are eight to nine weeks of age. However, if the queen was vaccinated, too, she has a good chance of transmitting some of her antibodies to her kittens through her milk. Once the vaccination course has been initiated, try to stick to it as best as possible. A second dose has to be administered two to three weeks after the first one.
Cats usually get polyvalent vaccines, meaning that they get immunized against several diseases at the same time. So, don’t hesitate to take your feline friend to the vet when the right time comes around. Vaccination saves lives, especially when it comes to this unforgiving disease.
Pregnant queens can be vaccinated against FPV, too, but it’s quite likely that the vaccine affects the kittens. If your cat is healthy, make sure that you practice good hygiene and isolation from potentially infected cats, if you have any other in your household. Try to prevent the spread of the disease in your home as much as possible, although removing the virus from surfaces such as upholstery or carpets can be very difficult, if not impossible.
Indoor cats are significantly less exposed to Feline Panleukopenia Virus, so avoid letting your cat go outside until you have finished the vaccination course. This will allow you to rest assured that, even if your feline companion comes in direct contact with an infected cat or gets the pathogen from the environment, she isn’t going to develop the medical condition.
Last, but not least, consider getting pet insurance. Treatment of this disease can be very expensive and some insurance plans include the vaccinations, too.