Panleukopenia Fact Sheet for Cat Parents

by catfood

What is panleukopenia?

Panleukopenia, also known as “feline distemper,” is a parvovirus that resembles canine parvovirus in structure. It is extremely contagious and resistant to disinfectants and high temperatures. The virus’s strains can infect not only domestic cats, but also all other feline family members, as well as raccoons and minks.


How is it transmitted?

The panleukopenia virus spreads through direct cat contact or through contact with “fomites,” which are common surfaces on which the bug can survive for a year or more. Litter boxes, food bowls, cages, and hands are all fomites, and infected cats can spread the virus through vomit, feces, and other bodily secretions. Scrubbing and disinfection can help prevent the virus from spreading to other cats through contaminated items.

What are the signs?

The panleukopenia virus attacks and destroys white blood cells, weakening the immune system and increasing the risk of secondary infections in the cat. In addition, the virus has the ability to infect rapidly dividing cells in the gastrointestinal tract, lymphoid tissues, and the cerebellum. Some cats die suddenly with no symptoms, while others have severe symptoms such as fever, fluctuating temperatures, depression, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. Infected cats frequently droop their heads over their water bowls, thirsty but unable to drink, which is a major red flag.


Which cats get it?

The panleukopenia virus affects cats of all ages, but it is most common in kittens aged three to five months. Adult cats are generally more resistant because they have either been vaccinated or have developed their own immunity through natural virus exposure. Kittens infected in utero or within the first two weeks of life can sustain permanent nervous system damage; if they survive, they may struggle to walk and maintain their balance.

How is panleukopenia treated?

Antibiotics, fluids, and, in some cases, blood transfusions are used as supportive therapy. During treatment, infected animals must be isolated; otherwise, they may contaminate the general environment, putting other animals at risk of contracting the disease.


How is panleukopenia diagnosed?

When diagnosing panleukopenia, veterinarians look for disease symptoms as well as a low white blood cell count. The virus can also be found in the feces of cats; fecal testing kits are available.

How can panleukopenia be prevented?

The most effective means of preventing the spread of the panleukopenia virus will be vaccination and thorough disinfection. While many shelters prefer to use quaternary ammonium compounds for routine disinfection, experts say that cleaning food bowls, litter pans, cages, and other surfaces with a dilute bleach solution is the only sure way to kill the panleukopenia virus (1 part bleach to 32 parts water). When possible, use stainless steel; plastic food bowls and litter pans are too difficult to disinfect after repeated use. Requiring staff, volunteers, and visitors to wash their hands before and after handling each animal can also aid in disease prevention.

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