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Distemper in cats

Feline panleukopenia virus (FPV), also called feline parvovirus, is a highly infectious and potentially fatal viral disease suffered by kittens and cats.
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What is feline panleukopenia?

Feline panleukopenia virus (FPV), also called feline parvovirus, is a highly infectious and potentially fatal viral disease suffered by kittens and adult cats.

What are the symptoms of feline panleukopenia?

A kitten or cat suffering from FPV will show several different symptoms. Always look out for any of the following:

  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea (often bloody)
  • Dehydration

It can also result in very sudden death. Those cats that survive the first few days become immunosuppressed and lose the function of their immune system. This is because when the virus is present in the organism it causes a shortages of blood cells, including the white blood cells which are key to fighting infection.

If a cat is infected when pregnant, it’s likely she’ll miscarry, have stillbirth or give birth to kittens with abnormal brain development (cerebellar hypoplasia).

Is feline panleukopenia still common in cats and kittens?

FPV is now well controlled in pet cats due to widespread vaccination, however, it can still cause outbreaks in shelter cats and feral cat populations. When this happens, there is a very high death rate.

What else should I know about feline panleukopenia?

The first thing to note is that it is very contagious. Specifically, it is initiated by a parvovirus that exists for a long time in a specific environment – this can be several weeks or more, depending on the conditions.

The virus may therefore be spread underfoot. This is why it’s important to vaccinate your kitten, with the risk of contamination very real, even if they never go outside.

Should I get my kitten vaccinated against feline panleukopenia?

Vaccination against FPV is essential for all cats. There are two categories of vaccines, 'core' and 'recommended'. All core vaccines must be given to all kittens and cats, regardless of their lifestyle. Feline panleukopenia falls into the core category, along with herpesvirus and calcivirus.

It is vital that your vet administers these vaccines to your new kitten.

When should my kitten have the FPV vaccination?

The FPV vaccination course consists of two injections, given three to four weeks apart. Your kitten may have already had their first injection before they came to you, as the first dose can be given from the age of about seven to nine weeks.

Always check whether they have had their first injection before you bring them home. Once home, you’ll need to contact your vet to arrange the second injection.

When will they be protected against the virus?

Your kitten won’t be protected until sometime after the second injection, and so they should be kept indoors until then.

There are several different companies which supply vaccines and the protocol varies between them, so make sure you ask your vet about the exact arrangements for your kitten’s injections.

Does the FPV vaccine require a booster?

Your kitten will then need a regular booster one year after the second injection was given, and annually after that.

The immunity against different diseases lasts for different lengths of time, and so your cat will not necessarily get the same booster each year. Speak to your vet as they’ll be able to explain which diseases they are vaccinating against at each appointment.

What should I look out for before choosing a cattery?

Once feline panleukopenia has entered a population, it is very difficult to get rid of it due to the nature of the virus.

There are specific measures that should be adopted by all good catteries to help prevent it spreading and reduce the effect it can have on a cat’s health.

Strict sanitary measures need to be put in place, including:

  • Sectorisation – establishing specific sectors for quarantine and infirmary
  • The forward flow principle – creating a one-way circuit from the cats at the highest risk to the sector containing the lowest risk cats
  • Adequate cleaning and disinfection - not all disinfectants work against FPV, it’s therefore essential to ensure the cleaning products used by the cattery are effective against it

It’s important to ask the cattery if they have these preventative measures in place.

As FPV is so infectious and potentially fatal, it's vital you make sure your kitten has the appropriate injections at the right age, followed by their annual boosters. If you are unsure of anything relating to your kitten's vaccination schedule, always speak to your vet.

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