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Feline distemper, or feline panleukopenia, is caused by feline parvovirus. The virus is extremely resilient and can survive for months or even years, being immune to many household disinfectants.
The virus is spread by the body fluids of infected cats. These are often harbored in litter boxes, bedding, food dishes, and water bowls. A mother can that’s infected can also spread the feline parvovirus to her nursing kittens. Fleas can spread the virus, too.
Symptoms of feline distemper include depression, weight loss, lethargy, vomiting, loss of appetite, weakness, and bloody diarrhea. An infected cat or kitten might also bite itself in the hindquarters.
The disease can spread quickly from cat to cat, but dogs can’t contract the feline parvovirus, even though it’s related to canine parvovirus. If your cat or kitten displays any of the symptoms of feline panleukopenia, get it to the vet as soon as possible.
If allowed to progress, feline distemper can be deadly, causing dehydration, malnutrition, internal bleeding, and severe anemia. Kittens are especially susceptible, with a mortality rate of almost 100% without treatment.
Even with treatment, 95% of the affected kittens under eight weeks of age will die. More than 80% of untreated adult cats will not survive, either. If infected adult felines receive proper treatment, however, about 85% will survive.
As with most diseases and conditions, prevention is much better than treatment. In the case of feline panleukopenia, vaccinations are available. The initial vaccine is usually given at eight or ten weeks old, with follow-up booster at twelve weeks.
After that, boosters should be given every year or so. Another way to halt the spread of feline parvovirus is to clean food bowls, water bowls, litter boxes, and cages with bleach. Allow the items to soak for 10 minutes before rinsing.