Cat Distemper - All Cats Are At Risk

Cat Distemper is also known as, feline distemper, panleucopenia, feline parvovirus, feline infectious enteritis, feline infectious gastroenteritis, cat plague, cat fever, these are but some of the names that the disease has been given.

Your veterinarian however will probably refer to the condition as Panleukopenia.


The first noticeable symptoms of feline distemper may be that your cat is lethargic and depressed, has a marked decrease in appetite, is running a fever, is vomiting.

As the disease develops, and it can develop rapidly, dry heaving is possible and the cat may show signs of being in pain.

Severe dehydration is likely, (a severely dehydrated cat may sit with its head over the water dish but not be able to drink.)

The vomiting becomes persistent and the cat may develop diarrhea which may, or may not, be bloody.

As with many feline illnesses, a cat with panleukopenia may display the 'third eyelid', a haw that shows at the inner corner of the eye.

Grooming is likely to be neglected.

Not all of the above symptoms may be present and there may be other complications, such as hypothermia due to dehydration.

It is vitally important therefore that any sick cat must be seen by a veterinarian for diagnosis. Cat distemper symptoms appear swiftly and often give the impression that the cat has been poisoned.

How is Cat Distemper Spread?

Feline parvovirus is spread by direct contact with contaminated feces, urine, vomit, mucus, blood, and saliva. Fleas can also transmit the virus from cat to cat.

Black and White KittenKittens affected by distemper unfortunately do not have a high survival rate.

A cat is also susceptible to indirect contact to feline distemper from food and water dishes, grooming items, litter trays, cat toys, cat beds and bedding, rugs, carpeting and other household items.

The parvovirus remains infectious even after the body secretion has been removed or faded away.

Is my indoor cat safe from catching cat distemper?

Cats that are kept indoors are at less risk of cat distemper, than are cats that are allowed to roam, but not absolutely free from risk.

The virus can be brought into the home by a human who has been in contact with parvovirus, on their hands, on their shoes, on their clothing etc. Also indoor cats do have a habit of escaping the house.

The panleukopenia virus is a very enduring and persistent virus. It can survive in the environment for a long time and is resistant to ordinary domestic cleaning products.

After an occurrence of distemper in a multi-cat household, the entire house needs to be thoroughly cleaned with a solution of bleach and water and any shared bedding, food bowls etc. need to be thrown away. New cats need to be isolated until they have been tested and vaccinated.

Which Cats Are At Risk For Feline Distemper?

All cats are at risk from this highly contagious disease. Kittens and un-vaccinated cats that roam are the most vulnerable of all, older cats may develop an immunity to the virus.

Feline distemper is known in all parts of the world, in both developed and undeveloped nations, and in both rural and urban areas. The warmer the climate the more chance of an outbreak in urban areas.

Colonies of feral cats are highly susceptible to an outbreak of the virus.

Cat distemper has no relationship to canine (dog) distemper, the two are different diseases, it is however similar to canine parvovirus.

Kittens and Panleukopenia

Kittens affected by cat distemper unfortunately do not have a high survival rate. Strong adult cats that endure the first five days have a much better chance of surviving (provided veterinary attention is sought as soon as symptoms develop.)

ginger cat

It is quite common for a cat with distemper to contract other infections because its immune system has been weakened.

A surviving cat will require plenty of nursing after it is well enough to be taken home.

Full recovery will take some time, a recovering cat should be isolated from all other cats.

When completely recovered a cat will likely have no lasting impairment and will then be immune to reinfection.

What If A Pregnant Cat Has Distemper?

A pregnant cat infected by the parvovirus can transmit the virus to her developing litter.

The resulting kittens are likely to be born with cerebellar hypoplasia, a disorder of the brain, and therefore be uncoordinated in their movement and suffer from head tremors.

The kittens will in all probability survive, but the disorder is permanent. Feline distemper sometimes causes a pregnant queen to abort her litter.

The course of feline distemper can be very short indeed, just four to five days, and if the disease reaches the advance stages untreated then death can occur within a short time, however many cats can survive if they receive speedy attention, there is no cure, treatment consists of intensive supportive care and preventing secondary infection.

Prevention of Cat Distemper is far better than treatment, and the most effective way to prevent the disease is by suitable vaccination.

Do not leave the health of your cat to chance - - consult your veterinarian about feline distemper vaccination.

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