Panleukopenia, also known as feline distemper, is a serious and contagious viral disease that affects cats, raccoons and mink. The disease is very widespread and can affect cats of all ages.

Panleukopenia Spread

Panleukopenia is a very common cat disease. The virus can live outside a cat’s body for years and can often resist cleaners and disinfectants. Bleach is one of the best ways to kill the virus.

The virus can live on a number of different objects, including cat toys, cat food and water bowls, cat bedding, human clothing, shoes and litter boxes.

One of the most common ways a cat can get the disease is through contact with the urine or feces of an infected cat. The panleukopenia virus is present in a cat’s urine and feces up to six weeks after symptoms have disappeared.

Mother cats may also pass the disease on to their kittens

Panleukopenia Symptoms

Panleukopenia symptoms can vary from cat to cat and are more severe in kittens than in full-grown cats. In very young kittens that have not been vaccinated, the disease is usually fatal.

The disease typically affects the digestive system, the bone marrow, the lymph system and the developing nervous system, all of which are areas of the body with rapidly-growing cells.

Symptoms of panleukopenia can include:

  • diarrhea
  • seizures
  • vomiting.

Young cats and kittens may also experience:

  • bloody diarrhea
  • depression
  • high fever
  • hypothermia
  • refusal of food
  • severe dehydration
  • weakness.

Panleukopenia can be fatal in just a few days, so it’s important for owners to take their cats to a veterinarian as soon as possible if any of these symptoms appear.

Pregnant cats and litters of kittens may be affected differently by panleukopenia. If a mother cat acquires the disease, she may give birth to still-born kittens. If the kittens are born alive, they may have such issues as:

  • imbalance
  • irregularities of the retina of the eye
  • lack of coordination
  • tremors.

These problems are all caused by the virus affecting the cerebellum of the brain. However, these problems can be mild and the kittens may be able to lead normal lives.

Panleukopenia Treatment

Treatment of panleukopenia will depend on the symptoms of the specific cat. Treatments are generally aimed at keeping the cat comfortable and addressing existing symptoms and can include:

  • antibiotics to prevent or correct infection
  • bland diets with small, frequent portions
  • blood transfusions
  • fluids given intravenously or subcutaneously to correct dehydration
  • medications to stop the vomiting.

Panleukopenia Prevention

The most effective way to prevent a cat from getting panleukopenia is to regularly visit a veterinarian for a panleukopenia vaccine. A vet can recommend a specific vaccination schedule and can tell owners how long to wait between vaccinations, as this will depend on owner and veterinarian preference and particular environmental and risk factors for the cat. Typically, a series of the panleukopenia vaccinations will be necessary before a cat is completely protected from the virus.