Distemper in cats - Contagion, symptoms and treatment

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The disease of feline distemper It is also known as feline panleukopenia and feline infectious enteritis. We are talking about an especially serious disease, since there is a very high risk of mortality among individuals who suffer from it, hence the importance of vaccination, especially in puppies and in those cats that present risk factors.

In this AnimalWised article we will talk in detail about the distemper in cats, the usual forms of contagion, the most common symptoms and the treatment that the specialist in the veterinary clinic will suggest. Fortunately, the number of cats with distemper has decreased considerably in recent years thanks to the prevention and development of distemper vaccine for cats, which has turned out to be very effective.

You may also be interested in: Distemper in dogs - Symptoms, contagion and treatment Index
  1. Distemper disease in cats
  2. Distemper contagion in cats
  3. Symptoms of distemper in cats
  4. Diagnosis of distemper in cats
  5. Treatment of distemper in cats
  6. How to prevent distemper in cats?
  7. How to care for a cat with feline distemper? - 5 tips
  8. Is distemper in cats contagious to humans??

Distemper disease in cats

Feline panleukopenia is a contagious viral disease of a serious nature that especially affects puppies or young cats and that, in most cases, is fatal. The term "panleukopenia " refers to an abnormally low level of white blood cells.


The causative agent of feline infectious enteritis is a DNA virus of the genus of Parvoviruses (of the Family Parvoviridae) that requires cells with high mitotic activity to replicate. It grows at great speed, in the kidney cells of the cat, which causes intranuclear inclusions in the same.

We are talking about a virus especially strong and stable, as it can survive more than a year indoors at room temperature. It also resists freezing and treatment with various types of disinfectants, including ether, chloroform, alcohol, phenol, trypsin, iodinated organic diluents, and quaternary ammonium compounds. However, it can be destroyed in one minute to 100 ºC.

exist 2 forms of infection of feline panleukopenia:

  1. Systemic infection: it replicates during the first 18-24 hours and from the seventh day it spreads throughout the body. It can affect various tissues, such as lymphoid tissue, the intestinal tract, or the bone marrow. It damages vital areas for organic defense, which makes individuals who suffer from it susceptible to also experience a secondary bacterial infection.
  2. Uterine and nervous system infection: When it occurs during the first third of gestation, it can cause early fetal deaths, resorption and the birth of dead animals. When it occurs in the second or third third of pregnancy, it can cause hydrocephalus, hypoplasia of the cerebellum, and damage to the retina and the optic nerve..

Distemper contagion in cats

Feline panleukopenia develops mainly in domestic cats, although there are other animals susceptible to suffering from it. Although it can affect cats of all ages, young felines are the most vulnerable, especially from the three months old, at which point they stop receiving the necessary antibodies provided by the mother's colostrum when breastfeeding.

Feline infectious enteritis virus is present in all secretions from sick animals, including saliva, feces, vomiting, and urine, especially during the early stages of the disease. It can also be located in the blood of the infected animal.

The ways of contagion of feline distemper are:

  1. Direct contact between sick cats and susceptible cats.
  2. Contaminant material in food, bedding, cage, clothing...
  3. Transmission by vectors, such as fleas and ticks.

In addition, recovered cats they can carry the virus in their tissues for months, becoming subclinical carriers, while eliminating the remains of the virus in feces and urine for up to 6 months. Cats infected from birth can carry feline distemper virus in their kidneys for more than a year.

Risk factors for feline panleukopenia

Those cats that live in shelters or foster homes, where the transit of animals is very high. So are those cats that live in households with various pets and those that have access to the outside and can come into contact with infected felines.

¿Distemper in cats is spread to dogs?

Although the terms used are similar, canine distemper and feline distemper are not caused by the same virus. Therefore, the distemper virus in cats it is not contagious to dogs. In addition, it is not contagious to humans either. However, the fact that feline infectious enteritis is the virus from which canine parvovirus developed is still debated today. It is also very similar to the mink enteritis virus..

Symptoms of distemper in cats

There are various symptoms that can indicate that something is not going well, therefore, below we will review the most common symptoms of feline panleukopenia. However, remember that these symptoms can also occur in other of the most common diseases of cats.

The symptoms of distemper in cats are:

  • Fever: the cat may experience fever for 24 hours between 40 ºC and 41 ºC. Generally descends and rises again.
  • Depression: we can see that the cat is listless, sad or discouraged.
  • Vomiting: At first we will observe that the vomiting contains food remains but, as the disease progresses, it will become foamy, yellowish-white vomit.
  • Diarrhea: appears after overcoming the feverish period, between two and four days later. We will observe liquid black stools, the result of digested blood. At this time the disease is in an advanced stage.
  • Dehydration and weight loss: caused mainly by vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Anorexy: the cat rejects any type of food.

We can also observe that the cat, as a result of pain and fever, adopts certain postures to feel better, thus placing the abdomen on a cool surface. Likewise, it is very likely that it will resist abdominal palpation, show the yellow gums (jaundice) and bloody diarrhea.

The presentation of one or more of the symptoms described are reason for consultation, therefore, if you have noticed that your feline shows any of these signs, do not hesitate to go to the vet. Next we will talk about the veterinary tests that can confirm the presence of the feline panleukopenia virus.

Diagnosis of distemper in cats

In the veterinary clinic the specialist will perform the necessary tests to confirm the presence of the feline distemper virus. In addition to asking us about the animal's symptoms, it will look at its appearance. It is likely that after symptom described the cat shows traces of feces and vomit on the coat. You can also see pale mucous membranes, sunken eyes, extreme dehydration, depression and even a runny nose..

To confirm that the cat suffers from feline panleukopenia, the most common is to perform a hematological analysis to help measure red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. You may also request a biochemical analysis to assess normal serum protein levels, glucose levels, or increases in ALT and AST enzymes. The least used diagnostic method for distemper in cats is serology.

Sometimes the ELISA test (common in the diagnosis of canine parvovirus) to confirm feline infectious enteritis. However, it should be taken into account that it is not specifically manufactured to diagnose feline distemper and that a false positive may occur 5-12 days after vaccination of the cat..

Treatment of distemper in cats

We must know that there is no specific treatment to treat distemper in cats. Treatment focuses on alleviating the symptoms that the feline experiences and helping to expel the distemper virus. Generally, the cat hospitalization infected, where intravenous fluids and supportive care are performed. It may also be necessary to use antibiotics to treat possible secondary bacterial infections..

Thus, there is no solution for distemper in cats that is direct and effective, but rather a series of intensive care is required to help the feline overcome the disease successfully..

Prognosis of feline panleukopenia

The prognosis can only be offered by a vet and it is generally reserved. However, it is estimated that when an animal is able to survive the infection for more than five days, it recovers. Even so, the convalescence of the feline can last several weeks and even months.

Mortality in adult cats older than 5 years is around 50-60% while in cats younger than 6 months it is around 90%. As we can see, it is a disease with a high mortality rate.

Home remedies for distemper in cats

Once the veterinary discharge has been received, we can take the cat home, however, we must continue to offer certain care, with the aim of Improve your quality of life. Since there is no home treatment for distemper in cats, we will mention some natural remedies that can help you at this delicate time:

  • Lower the fever: we can apply cold compresses to the belly of the animal or, directly, wrap it with a moistened towel that is very well wrung out. We will leave it for a minute or two at most. It will also be important to encourage him to drink to keep him hydrated, which in turn will help lower his fever..
  • Avoid dehydration: We will encourage you to drink, but not large amounts at once. It may be interesting to buy a drink enriched with electrocytes (sold in pharmacies). If the cat refuses to drink, we can use a blunt syringe to slowly administer the drink into its mouth..
  • Control vomiting: after vomiting we will remove the food for at least 12 hours. Then we will offer you a soft diet, preferably a veterinary prescription wet gastrointestinal meal..
  • Stimulate appetite: to encourage the intake we can heat the food slightly, mix it with water or broth (without salt, onion or garlic) and spread small portions gently on their teeth so that they eat it. We can also try other foods that are more palatable, such as boiled meat and fish, always taking care to remove the bones or bones..
  • Improve your mood: we must dedicate it so that your mood improves and thus increases your well-being, which will directly influence a better recovery. We can caress him, massage his body gently or talk to him, in short, spend time with him.

Before applying any of the aforementioned remedies, we recommend consulting with your veterinarian to ensure that they do not affect in any way the treatment prescribed by the specialist..

How to prevent distemper in cats?

Prevention is key to preventing our feline from contracting the feline panleukopenia virus. The puppy cats that have not received colostrum from the mother will not be protected, so it is advisable to isolate them from the outside and take extreme hygiene measures until the moment of starting the cat's vaccination schedule.

The first dose of the vaccine is inoculated at two months of age and then three reminders are made, although we must emphasize that vaccination may vary depending on the country. From then on it must vaccinate the cat annually to ensure that your body has the necessary antibodies.

Cat deworming is another important prevention method when it comes to fighting feline distemper, as certain external parasites can act as disease vectors and transmit it to our cats. We will consult with the veterinarian to prescribe the most appropriate products.

How to care for a cat with feline distemper? - 5 tips

To finish we want to offer you five basic tips What to follow if you have a cat that is recovering from feline panleukopenia:

  1. Avoid introducing a second cat into the home for at least a year.
  2. Offer quality food that is easy to assimilate.
  3. Leave fresh and clean water at your fingertips. Do not forget to renew it regularly.
  4. Regularly clean the home and provide a comfortable and pleasant environment.
  5. Make sure she receives all the love and support she requires at this time.

¿Would you add some more advice? ¿Do you still have any doubts? If you are also going through this situation, do not hesitate to leave your comment and share your experience.

Is distemper in cats contagious to humans??

This virus is very contagious between cats, however, it is not transmitted to people or other animals, so we do not have to worry about suffering from FPV. We can handle our feline and offer it the best care with the peace of mind of knowing that we are not going to get infected.

This article is merely informative, at AnimalWised.com we do not have the power to prescribe veterinary treatments or make any type of diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the vet in the event that it presents any type of condition or discomfort.

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