Feline distemper virus is caused by a feline parvovirus. It is a very stable virus that can survive freezing. The virus is found virtually everywhere so it is almost certain that each cat will come into contact with the it. The virus enters the body through the nose or mouth. It can be passed in vomit, urine and feces as well as mucous. It starts by infecting the lymph nodes at the throat, then travels to the intestines and bone marrow. When the disease gets into the bone marrow, it causes the body’s immune response to slow by suppressing white blood cell production. White blood cells are immunity cells that fight the infection. If a cat cannot make white blood cells, it cannot fight off the infection and the disease progresses. In the intestines the virus causes diarrhea and dehydration by creating ulcers. Dehydration is life threatening. The disease can also cause bacterial infection in the intestines.
Panleukopenia can stay on any surface and can be spread by people not properly washing hands after handling an infected animal or by improperly cleaned bedding, litter boxes, etc. that have been used by infected animals.
Kittens are particularly susceptible as are unvaccinated cats that are kept in large groups (barn cats, feral cats, etc). Symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, diarrhea and vomiting. The disease runs a course similar to that of Canine Parvovirus. The disease has a high mortality rate (nearly 90%) of sick cats. Cats that survive shed the virus for 6 weeks after overcoming it. The chance of survival without hospitalization and aggressive treatment is extremely small. Cats who have contracted the distemper virus and survive are considered immune.
Cats that go outdoors are at risk for exposure by contact with other infected cats. Indoor cats are at risk by visits from unvaccinated cats that have had exposure, an accidental escape to the outdoors, bringing new cats into the household that have had exposure, or bringing a new cat into an environment that has had the disease. The disease is resistant to most disinfectants.
Fortunately, the feline distemper vaccine is effective in keeping the virus at bay. The vaccine also protects against cold-type viruses – Rhinotracheitis and Calicivirus.
Let us help you protect your cat against viral diseases! Make a vaccine appointment to day for your cat or call us with any questions.