Distemper in Cats

How can we detect and prevent distemper in cats? What is feline distemper? Is there any treatment to this disease? These are questions many cat parents ask. This article tries to answer these questions in general terms. If you need additional information, please consult your veterinarian.

If your cat is showing any or several of the signs and symptoms described below, take him immediately to the vet.

Feline distemper (also known as feline panleukopenia) is a serious and extremely contagious disease caused by the feline panleukopenia virus (FPV).

Cat distemper affects the cat’s nervous and digestive systems. It also affects the cat’s lymph tissue and bone marrow.

Un-vaccinated kittens and young cats are more susceptible to the disease. Adult cats may develop immunity to the disease. However, adult cats at also at risk. Sadly, panleukopenia can be fatal.

Symptoms of distemper in cats

Fever, diarrhea, vomiting and seizures are all symptoms of feline panleukopenia. Because of loss of liquids, cats can dehydrate very quickly.

Other symptoms are loss of appetite (cats can stop eating for several days), low white blood cell count, listlessness, and depression.

Many cats with distemper release blood in their stools, so they can also develop anemia. Another symptom of feline distemper is fatigue.

Cats can show symptoms 4 to 5 days after being exposed to the virus.


How can you know for sure that your cat suffers from feline distemper? If you suspect that your cat has panleukopenia, take him to an animal clinic without delay. A vet will run a series of tests to ensure that the symptoms are not caused by other diseases or viruses. Usually, the vet will do a physical exam in addition to lab tests.

Transmission of distemper in cats

Cat distemper is transmitted when a cat comes in contact with urine or feces of an infected cat. The virus can also be disseminated through infected shoes, clothing, litter boxes, food and water bowls. Fleas can also spread the virus.

Mothers transmit the virus to their fetuses when these are still developing in the womb.

FPV is a very stable virus and it can survive in the environment (at room temperature) for up to a year. Unfortunately, most common disinfectants are ineffective against the virus. To kill the virus, you would need to clean the contaminated environment (basically every area the infected cat came in contact with) with a bleach solution of one part bleach and 32 parts water. Leave for at least ten minutes.

Treatment of feline distemper

Vets will give affected cats lots of liquids (both intravenously and subcutaneously) to treat the dehydration. If the cat is very sick, he can get a blood transfusion.

To stop the vomiting, doctors use medications. And to prevent infection, they use antibiotics. Keep in mind that if your cat is sick, your vet will determine your cat’s specific treatment.

How to prevent cat distemper

It is better to prevent than to be sorry. And the best way to prevent distemper in cats is to vaccinate them, particularly if they are kittens.

One disadvantage of vaccination is that cats are not immediately immune to the virus. It might take up to seven days after a second dose for the cat to be really protected.

What about pregnant cats and kittens? As I mentioned above, distemper in kittens can be fatal. Many vets advise that live virus vaccines should not be administered to kittens younger than four weeks old and pregnant cats as it may cause complications and even death. However, a killed virus vaccine can be administrated to pregnant cats and young kittens if they are in a high-risk environment.

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