Feline panleukopenia, commonly referred to as distemper, is caused by a highly contagious virus. The disease, which can easily be fatal, destroys the white blood cells and damages the lining of the intestines and stomach. Since white blood cells help fight infections, this disease leaves your cat at risk for various other conditions.
The virus that causes panleukopenia in cats can be spread a variety of ways. Contact with infected cats, food dishes, bedding, and litter pans can spread the virus. Owners can also harbor the virus on their shoes, clothes, and hands and give it to their cat. Fleas can also transmit the disease.
Feline panleukopenia causes symptoms to appear after an incubation period of about five days. Cats experience diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite and thirst, and abdominal pain. Your cat may also stop grooming himself properly and develop a rough coat. The “third eyelid” may also appear in the inner corner of the eye.
Different diseases share some of the same signs as those caused by panleukopenia in cats. The vet will review your cat’s medical history and symptoms. A blood test to check for antibodies to the virus will help confirm that your cat has this disease.
Feline panleukopenia causes frequent diarrhea and vomiting which can lead to dehydration. Therefore, treatment will likely involve fluid therapy to prevent this and to help stop the diarrhea and vomiting. Secondary bacterial infections will also need to be prevented until the immune system can hopefully take over.
There is a vaccine available to help prevent panleukopenia in cats. It is usually combined with shots to protect against calicivirus and herpes virus. Your cat will need to have booster shots every one to three years.