Distemper in Cats
Panleukopenia, also known as feline distemper, is a very contagious viral disease that can occur at any age. However, cats not properly immunized, sick cats or young kittens are more susceptible.
How Panleukopenia Spreads
The disease is passed from an infected cat to another cat through fecal waste and/or other secretions of the body. It can also be transmitted through bedding, food bowls and the hands and clothing of pet owners. The virus is very stable in the environment and can live for months or even years. Once exposed to the virus, the loss of cells causes complications and bacterial infections.
Panleukopenia causes the white blood cells to reduce in number, and it usually occurs within four to six days of exposure. The cells in the intestines and lymph tissues are most susceptible, but the virus can also affect the G.I. tract.
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Symptoms of Feline Distemper
Panleukopenia symptoms can include a dull coat, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, the appearance of the third eyelid, lack of grooming and a hunched-over appearance that indicates abdominal pain. The cat owner may also notice her cat hanging around the water bowl and exhibiting a marked depression. Some owners may be led to believe their pet has been poisoned or has swallowed a foreign object, which sometimes delays treatment.
Supportive therapy is the recommended treatment for feline distemper. This includes giving fluids either intravenously or subcutaneously (under the skin) to help combat the fluid loss that occurs with diarrhea and vomiting as well as provide nutritional support and antibiotics to prevent the secondary bacterial infections that can occur with this disease.
It’s important the patient is isolated from other cats, kept warm and clean, and given a lot of attention, petting and love along with hand-feeding since the depression can cause the cats to give up. It’s also important the caregiver doesn’t transmit the disease to her clothing, hands and shoes.
Get Your Cat Vaccinated
Cats who survive panleukopenia can develop an active immunity to help protect them for the remainder of their lives. However, vaccines are the best method for protection, as they stimulate the cat’s system so it produces its own antibodies. Make sure to give the vaccine prior to the cat being exposed to the virus.
The frequency of the vaccine varies from area to area. It’s best to consult with your veterinary assistant to determine the correct schedule for your cat.
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