Cat Distemper - Frequently Asked Questions And Practical Advice

Cat distemper, (also known as feline distemper, feline panleukopenia and feline infectious enteritis (FIE)), is probably the best known, and undoubtedly one of the most infectious forms of cat enteritis.

The name of this disease is confusing, as it's not the same as distemper in dogs. Some common questions and answers about distemper in cats are listed below.

Cat Distemper - Questions, Answers and Practical Advice

1) What causes the disease?

It's caused by a virus that attacks the cat's gut wall and white blood cells.

2) Is there a vaccination that prevents it?

Thankfully, yes. This is a nasty disease, but you can minimize the risk of your kitty getting it by having him vaccinated. It's included in the annual routine cat vaccinations your vet administers. The annual boosters are needed to maintain protection.

photo of cream persian cat sitting in paper bag

Kittens are usually given their first vaccination when they're about 9 weeks old, but they aren't fully protected until their second vaccination at around 12 weeks old.

You should keep your kitten indoors until he's had both injections, and also away from cats that may pose a risk (if you have other fully vaccinated cats they are usually very low risk and therefore OK - your vet will advise you further).

3) How is it spread?

The virus is able to survive for a very long time outside the cat's body. For this reason, most cats are infected by picking up the virus from the environment - e.g. on bedding, food bowls etc. If a mother cat is infected whilst pregnant, she can infect her unborn kittens.

The virus can only be spread from cat to cat; there's no risk to other animals or to humans.

4) What are the signs?

The symptoms are variable and depend on the age and general overall health of the cat. click on this text link for a detailed list of feline distemper symptoms.

5) How is it diagnosed?

It's diagnosed by a vet looking at the outward clinical signs and by a blood test (although the blood test may not show positive in the early stages of the disease).

6) Can it be treated?

Because it's caused by a virus, there's no treatment as such - antibiotics are ineffective against it. Good nursing care is needed to prevent cat dehydration and other complications. This may be able to be done at home, or may require hospitalization in more severe cases.

7) Does it cause long-term damage?

Cats that have recovered from cat distemper may have persistent diarrhea, or may have difficulty gaining weight. This occurs due to long-term damage of the gut wall as a result of the disease.

8) My cat died from feline distemper. When can I get another cat or kitten?

If you're in this situation, my heart goes out to you - thankfully it's never happened to me, so I can only imagine how awful it must be.

The virus can live up to a year outside the cat's body. If you don't want to wait that long before getting another cat, it's probably safer to adopt a fully vaccinated adult cat rather than a kitten.

If you even vaguely suspect your cat could have cat distemper, the sooner you can get him to the vet, the better.

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