How to prevent Feline Panleukopenia Virus

Feline Infectious Enteritis (Parvovirus, Panleukopenia Virus) in Cats

Feline Panleukopenia Virus (Feline Distemper)/ Feline Infectious Enteritis (Parvovirus, Panleukopenia Virus) in Cats

Feline panleukopenia virus (FPV, pan-loo-ko-peeneea), also commonly referred to as feline distemper, is a highly contagious and life-threatening viral disease in the cat population. Feline distemper is actually a misnomer, as the virus is closely related to The term panleukopenia means a decrease in the number of all of the white blood cells in the body. White blood cells play a major role in immunity and are important in defending against infections and diseases.

This panleukopenia virus affects the rapidly dividing blood cells in the body, primarily the cells in the intestinal tract, bone marrow and skin. The name means pan- (all) leuko- (white blood cells) -penia (lack of), meaning that all of the body’s defense cells are killed by the virus.

Because the blood cells are under attack, this virus can lead to an anemic condition, and it can open the body to infections from other illnesses—viral or bacterial.

In the unvaccinated population, panleukopenia is one of the deadliest cat diseases. The causative virus is very resilient and can survive for years in contaminated environments, so vaccination is the best preventative available.

How to prevent Feline Panleukopenia Virus
How to prevent Feline Panleukopenia Virus

Kittens between the ages of two to six months are at highest risk for developing severe disease symptoms, as well as pregnant cats and immune compromised cats. In adult cats, panleukopenia usually occurs in a mild form and may even go unnoticed. Fortunately, cats who survive this infection are immune to any further infection with this virus.

Symptoms and Types

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea/bloody diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Weight loss
  • High fever
  • Anemia (due to lowered red blood cells)
  • Rough hair coat
  • Depression
  • Complete loss of interest in food
  • Hiding
  • Neurological symptoms (e.g., lack of coordination)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Poor coat condition
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hanging head over food/water bowl but not eating/drinking


The feline parvovirus (FPV) is the initiating cause for feline panleukopenia and is contracted when a cat comes into contact with infected blood, faeces, urine or when bitten by fleas which have been feeding from an infected cat. The virus can remain in the environment for years and is resistant to most disinfectants.  It can be transmitted after contact with contaminated surfaces, bedding, food bowels, clothing, shoes, litter trays and hands. Soaking items in a bleach solution (1 part bleach to 32 parts water) will be effective in killing the virus. If you have come into contact with another cat outside of the household, ensure you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. The virus can also be passed on from mother to kitten prior to birth and through the mother’s milk. It may not be initially obvious whether a new born kitten has the virus but, as they develop, they will appear highly uncoordinated due to the virus effecting the development of the kitten’s brain.


Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam and take a detailed history of your pet, including vaccination status.

Additionally, your veterinarian may recommend the following diagnostic tests:

  • Chemistry tests to evaluate kidney, liver, and pancreatic function, as well as sugar levels
  • A feline leukemia virus (FeLV) test
  • A feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) test
  • A complete blood count (CBC)
  • Electrolyte tests to ensure your pet isn’t dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance
  • Urine tests to screen for urinary tract infection and other disease, and to evaluate the ability of the kidneys to concentrate urine
  • X-rays of the chest and abdomen
  • Fecal evaluation and microscopic examination


Affected cats will require immediate treatment, and often hospitalization. The first major goal of treatment is to restore body fluid levels and electrolyte balance. Specific treatment will depend on the severity of your cat’s illness, but it is likely to include in-hospital care for several days in an isolation room to prevent spreading it to other animals.

Good supportive care can mean the difference between life and death. Once your cat is home from the hospital, you will need to isolate her from other cats until all the symptoms have resolved and your veterinarian gives the okay. This could take up to 6 weeks.

This infection has a particularly depressing effect on a cat’s physical and mental health, and your cat will need affection and comfort during the recovery time. Needless to say, you will need to practice strict hygiene, and keeping in mind that this infection can remain on surfaces, make sure to stay especially clean after coming into contact with your sick cat, so that you are not unintentionally spreading the virus to other cats.

If your cat is treated promptly and effectively, she may recover fully. It may take a few weeks for your cat to feel completely back to normal. Unfortunately, mortality is as high as 90 percent for panleukopenia.


How can FP be prevented?

Cats that survive an infection develop immunity that likely protects them for the rest of their lives. Mild cases that go unnoticed will also produce immunity from future infection.

It is also possible for kittens to receive temporary immunity through the transfer of antibodies in the colostrum — the first milk produced by the mother. This is called “passive immunity,” and how long it protects the kittens from infection depends upon the levels of protective antibodies produced by the mother. It rarely lasts longer than 12 weeks.

Prevention is vital to your cat’s health.

Prevention is vital to your cat’s health. Today, there are vaccines that offer the best protection from feline parvovirus infection. Vaccination is equally important for strictly indoor cats as well as indoor/outdoor cats because the virus is everywhere in the environment. Most young kittens receive their first vaccination between six and eight weeks of age and follow-up vaccines are given until the kitten is around 16 weeks of age. Adult vaccination schedules vary with the age and health of the cat, as well as the risk of FP in the area. Consult your veterinarian for advice on an appropriate vaccination schedule for your cat(s).

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