Are you a parent of a cat? Do you know about the life-threatening diseases in a cat called feline distemper? Are you aware of what feline distemper is, its causes and symptoms? Are you looking out to know how to prevent this dangerous disease? Then you are at the right place; read this article to know more about the causes, symptoms and the preventive measures to be taken to protect your cat.

Feline Distemper

Feline distemper is also known as feline panleukopenia or feline infectious enteritis (FIE). This disease is curable but is highly contagious. It is the most serious and severe forms of cat enteritis.

This disease has common symptoms of other cat illnesses, and hence it is difficult to spot.

Causes of feline distemper/ feline panleukopenia in cats and kittens:

  • Feline distemper / feline panleukopenia is a life threatening disease caused by a virus called “feline parvovirus”. This virus attacks the gut wall and the white blood cells (WBC) of the cats.
  • Since feline parvovirus attacks the gut wall, the cats often suffer from severe problem with their digestive system
  • The ability to fight against infections is also reduced because the virus also attacks the white blood cells (WBC).
  • Feline parvovirus is a single stranded DNA virus.
  • This disease spreads from cat’s bodily secretion like nasal discharge, urine, feces, and saliva.
  • It can also be spread through the fleas that have fed on infected cat
  • When cats and litter of kittens come into direct contact with an infected cat or an environment which is contaminated (like pet bedding, water bowel, food, etc), then they become infected.
  • It is difficult to remove the traces of the feline distemper virus which is left by an infected cat. The virus is resistant to disinfectant cleaners and it can remain in an environment for several years.

Symptoms of feline distemper in cats:

Symptoms of feline distemper disease are variable. It depends on the age of the cat and also its ability to fight. Litter of kittens is the once who suffer the most severe form of the disease.

can cats get parvo

Sometimes the disease is so severe and spreads so rapidly that the kittens can die before the cat parent/owner even notices that there is something wrong.

The initial common symptoms of feline distemper are enumerated below:

  • Frothy – yellow stained liquidly vomiting which lasts for a long period of time.
  • Feline depression (if your cat exhibits aggressive behavior like hissing and if he/she meows excessively, then this might be a sign of depression)
  • Excessive sneezing which lasts for several hours.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • High fever
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Running nose
  • Discharge from eyes
  • He / she might feel lethargic 
  • Fever (the temperature will be104 degree or more)
  • Appearance of third eyelid
  • Loss of balance (because the virus attacks the cerebellum and this leads to the loss of balance in cats).
  • Cat will be in pain and may spend time hunched over a water bowl.
  • He / she might refuse to eat
  • Reduced white blood cells (WBC) might lead to repeated sickness

At times the above-mentioned symptoms are often mistaken by cat parent as the cat is been poisoned. As soon as you observe the above mentioned symptoms, take the cat to vet without any delay and get feline distemper vaccination.

The later symptoms of feline distemper are enumerated below:

  • Yellow, watery and blood-streaked diarrhea.
  • Blood vomiting
  • Since the immune system of the cat is depleted, it cannot fight against the infections.
  • If the infection is mild, then the immune system can fight against the infection; but if the infection is severe, then it leads to death.
  • Death usually occurs because of dehydration.

Symptoms of feline distemper in kitten infected inside the womb:

  • The movement and coordination of the kittens get damaged because the virus attacks the cerebellum which leads to cerebellar hypoplasia.
  • Kittens display tremors, jerky and uncoordinated movement.

Prevention of distemper in cats:

  • Get your cats vaccinated against the virus.
  • You can also prevent the spreading of distemper in cats by washing your hands before touching or handling different groups of animals.
  • Even kittens can be vaccinated after 12 weeks of age.
  • Limited contact with unfamiliar cats can also reduce the risk of distemper in cats

Is feline distemper in cats curable?

  • Distemper in cats is curable. It does not matter if the cat has been vaccinated or not.
  • Some cats survive from this infection if proper medical care is given and if the immune system is strong enough.
  • Make sure the cat is eating the required amount of food for him/her to survive.

Treatment for feline distemper in cats:

  • Cats are kept hydrated by feeding them water / raw goats milk / fermented fish broth  through a syringe
  • If required, antibiotics are also given.
  • The main aim of the treatment is to keep the cat stable and to prevent the disease from progressing.
  • Once the cat survives this fatal distemper disease, then he /she is immune to the disease for a life time.

How feline distemper in cats is diagnosed?

  • The detailed history of your cat will be taken by the vet
  • The vet will perform a thorough physical examination
  • Certain test to check the functioning of organs like liver, kidney, and pancreas will be done.
  • Other tests to be done are:
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) test 
  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) test 
  • Complete blood count (CBC) will be tested
  • Urine tests will be done to check for urinary tract infection and other diseases, and to evaluate the ability of the kidneys to concentrate urine
  • Electrolyte tests will be done to ensure whether your cat is dehydrated or not and also to check if your cat is suffering from an electrolyte imbalance
  • X-rays of the chest and abdomen
  • Fecal evaluation and microscopic examination

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