Feline Panleukopenia and Your Pet
Feline Panleukopenia is a highly contagious virus that causes severe intestinal tract disease in cats. Often referred to as “Feline Distemper” or simply "Panleuk", the virus has made a significant comeback in recent years, particularly among shelter cats and feral cat colonies. Panleukopenia is closely related to and produces many of the same clinical signs as Parvovirus does in dogs, but can be even more deadly.
Direct contact with Panleukopenia infected cats is not required to spread the virus; cats need only ingest the infectious virus particles. One of the hardiest virus known to science, Panleuk can live outside the body in a dormant yet infectious state for more than one year. It may be passed via litterboxes, food bowls, people’s clothing and shoes, and nearly any inanimate surface that has been in contact with the virus. Bleach and specialty disinfectants are generally effective agents in preventing the spread of the virus, but other common household disinfectants are useless against it.
The classic symptoms of Panleukopenia are vomiting and diarrhea (often with blood in it), extreme weakness and severe dehydration. It attacks white blood cells in the body and literally destroys the lining of the GI tract, allowing bacteria to infect the bloodstream (a serious condition called septicemia). It is often this septicemia, combined with the effects of dehydration and the depletion of white blood cells needed to fight the infection, which proves fatal to most cats infected with Panleuk. Some cats, however, -particularly kittens – may die suddenly before symptoms are even apparent due to the aggressive nature of the virus.
Treatment for Panleuk is similar to Parvovirus treatment – supportive care until the virus has “run its course.” Immediate diagnosis and treatment is key to the survival of the cat. The administration of IV fluids, antibiotic injections, anti-vomiting and antidiarrhea medications and intensive care hospitalization is the best course of treatment for Panleuk-affected cats. However, those that do survive the virus typically recover completely with no lasting effects.
Preventing Panleukopenia is as simple as following an appropriate vaccination schedule. Adequate vaccinations begin before birth with a fully vaccinated mother cat who is able to pass some immunity to her kittens through antibodies at birth. (Of course, spaying is even more ideal!) Then, it is important that the kitten receive an initial FVRCP (the "P" standing for Panleukopenia) at 6-8 weeks of age with the appropriate boosters following in the coming months. A booster should be given once each year thereafter. Keep in mind that this very important vaccination does triple duty for your cat – in addition to Panleuk protection, it also vaccinates against two other common viruses, Calicvivirus and Rhinotracheitis… just a couple more reasons not to skip this vaccine.
Having seen more than our share of Panleukopenia in the last few months, I cannot stress enough the importance of vaccinating your cats and keeping them indoors and away from potentially fatal contact with other free-roaming cats. An ounce of prevention, in this case, may save your cat's life.