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Tip of the Month

8/25/2009 Panleukopenia in Cats

Also known as feline distemper, Panleukopenia is a very contagious viral disease that occurs in any age of cat. However, cats that have not been properly immunized, sick cats or young kittens are more susceptible.

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/or bacterial infections.

Panleukopenia causes the white blood cells to decrease in number, and it usually occurs within four to six days of exposure. The cells in the intestines and the lymph tissues are most susceptible, but the virus can also affect the G.I. tract.

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 which indicates abdominal pain. The owner may also note that her cat is hanging around the water bowl and is exhibiting a marked depression. Some owners may be led to believe that their pet has been poisoned or has swallowed a foreign object, which sometimes delays treatment.

Supportive therapy is the recommended treatment. 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 nutritional support and antibiotics to prevent the secondary bacterial infections that can occur with this disease. It is important that the patient is isolated from other cats, kept warm and clean, and given a lot of attention, petting, and love along with hand-feeding as the depression can cause the cats to “give up.” It is also important that the caregiver does not transmit the disease on their clothing, hands and/or shoes.

Cats that survive the disease 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 that it produces its own antibodies. It is important to give the vaccine prior to the cat being exposed to the virus.

The frequency of the vaccine varies from area to area. It is best to consult with your veterinary assistant to determine the correct schedule for your cat.

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