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Distemper in cats

Distemper in cats: does my cat have panleukopenia?

We all worry about our cats getting ill, and there are plenty of diseases that can be really harmful to cats if they aren’t properly treated.

Panleukopenia can be especially dangerous for kittens and unvaccinated cats. Let’s take a look at the symptoms and the best way to prevent FPV

What is panleukopenia?

Feline Panleukopenia Virus (FPV) – also known as feline distemper or feline parvovirus – is a viral disease that can cause severe illness in cats, attacking their immune system.

Due to its high mortality rate, the virus is really dangerous for kittens because they haven't yet built up enough protective antibodies to effectively fight the disease.

FPV is a highly contagious viral disease in cats that affects the blood cells in the intestinal tract, bone marrow, and stem cells. It commonly goes on to cause anaemia and other viral and bacterial illnesses.

The virus is very hardy and can live in environments for a long time, up to a year in some cases. Due to its highly infectious nature, once cats are exposed to the virus, it can be passed on really quickly.

Is my cat at risk of panleukopenia?

Feline Panleukopenia is most common in kittens aged between two and six months, because of their underdeveloped immune systems. Pregnant and elderly and unvaccinated cats, as well as those with a weakened immune system, are also members of the cat population at risk.

Predominantly spread through the air, panleukopenia can be transmitted by breathing in the virus from an infected cat or environment, or through direct contact with bodily fluids such as the saliva, faeces, nasal discharge or urine of an infected cat.

Most cats will catch FPV from a contaminated environment from infected faeces, although the virus can also be passed through direct contact with infected cats.

grey cat sleeping

Identifying the signs and symptoms of panleukopenia in cats

Left untreated, FPV kills around 90 per cent of infected cats. If you spot any of the signs or symptoms in the box below, keep your cat away from other animals and make an appointment with your local vet right away.

The symptoms of feline distemper:

  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Fatigue
  • Sickness
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Excessive sneezing

However, sometimes cats with distemper may display no obvious clinical signs that they are carrying the disease, and affected cats can die without having suffered from any symptoms.

If a pregnant queen catches distemper, their kittens are at risk of being born with brain damage and mobility issues.

Why it’s important to vaccinate your cat against panleukopenia

Feline distemper was historically one of the most common causes of death in cats, but the effectiveness of vaccinations means the condition is now rare.

Despite the rarity of the condition, there’s still no known cure for the disease – making it vital to keep your cat or kitten up to date with their annual booster injections.

As well as protecting your cat or kitten against this highly contagious and nasty disease, regular vaccinations are required by many catteries and pet insurers as a condition of cover.

The FPV vaccine is often administered at the same time as other disease prevention vaccines, such the cat flu vaccine.

Need advice on panleukopenia in cats?

For more information on feline distemper, contact your local vet.

Find your nearest vet using our Find a Vet page, or speak to a vet online using Online Vets.