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Everything You Need to Know about Cat Panleukopenia

Cat panleukopenia is a feline virus that affects cats worldwide. While cases of this disease are declining, it is still high in areas where cats are generally unvaccinated. There are several important things you should know about cat panleukopenia.

1. What is Cat Panleukopenia?

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), cat panleukopenia is a viral disease that is extremely contagious. This illness is caused specifically by the feline parvovirus. The virus infects and destroys cells that grow rapidly and divide quickly.
The disease particularly affects cells in a developing fetus, the bone marrow and the intestines. This virus is especially dangerous for kittens, and for cats that have a weak immune system. Due to the prevalence of the virus, almost all cats will be exposed to it at some time in their lifetime. Most stray and feral cats will likely develop the disease. It's important to note that the panleukopenia virus does not infect people.

2. What are the Symptoms of Cat Panleukopenia?

Persian Cat laying down

Unfortunately, some cats succumb to the virus without showing any symptoms. Other times a cat may have a fever, lack of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, or exhibit signs of depression. Becoming lethargic or dehydrated are also warning signs that the cat is ill with panleukopenia.
Sometimes a diagnosis is made on a physical exam, the symptoms and a general history of the cat. ASPCA reports that the disease can be diagnosed with a basic lab test that includes Enzyme Linked Immunofluorescent Antibody (ELISA). This particular test uses a fecal swab and can be completed in approximately 15 minutes.

3. How is Cat Panleukopenia Transmitted?

Cats spread the virus primarily through bodily fluids and secretions. This includes their stool, urine and nasal secretions. The virus can also be spread by fleas. A pregnant cat that is infected with the virus will often deliver stillborn kittens. If it is late in the pregnancy when the cat is infected, the kittens may survive but their brain development will likely be negatively affected.

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While cats can usually only pass the virus for a few days during the time when they're infected, the virus can survive in the environment for as long as a year. This means a cat may get sick with the virus without any actual contact with another animal. A cat may pick up the virus from bedding, dishes and even people who have handled an infected animal and not washed their hands.

4. How is Cat Panleukopenia Treated?

Cat with Vet

Once a cat has become ill, supportive care is the best treatment that can be offered. This would likely include fluids and antibiotics. IV fluids may be necessary to restore the necessary fluid and electrolyte imbalance. Isolation is critical during the time the cat is infected. Even if there aren't any other animals in the general area, the virus can contaminate the surrounding environment.

The Journal of Veterinary Science & Medical Diagnosis states that successful treatment is largely dependent on diagnosing the disease early and then beginning aggressive treatment. It's important to watch for secondary infections due to a decrease in the level of white blood cells. Once infected with the panleukopenia virus a cat may be more susceptible to serious bacterial infections.

5. Can Cat Panleukopenia be Prevented?

Cats that survive the virus will likely develop immunity that will protect them from another outbreak. Kittens may receive what is called passive immunity through their mother's milk. This kind of immunity, however, is only temporary.
It's important to keep your kitten or cat from being exposed to or developing  panleukopenia. While this illness can be extremely dangerous, the best way to prevent your cat from suffering from this particular disease is to make sure the cat is vaccinated.

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