Victoria Navas Via-Dufresne
Feline distemper, also known as Feline Panleukopenia or FPLV, is a highly contagious virus among unvaccinated cats. It attacks bone marrow cells and divides them, reducing the number of white blood cells in the feline’s body. This low amount of white blood cells leads to severe infections and causes problems in their intestines, as well as in the immune and nervous systems. The virus attacks lymphoid tissues, which make the white blood cells, creates ulcers in gastrointestinal tract, and can also attack the cerebellum and retina of young cats.
The virus is contracted when it enters through the nose or the mouth of the cat, and the severity of the illness depends both on how exposed the pet has been and its immune system. Symptoms usually show up between 2-14 days of contracting the virus. Although there is no cure for this disease, it is treatable. Animals can still infect each other even after 6 weeks of overcoming the disease. The virus is secreted by various bodily fluids such as urine, vomit, saliva, mucus and even feces.
Some signs of Feline Distemper are anorexia, lethargy, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, loss of skin elasticity and abdominal pain. Other signs found by laboratories are lack of electrolytes and proteins leading to dehydration, leukopenia, lymphopenia, neutropenia and thrombocytopenia, which all affect different types of white blood cells.
Since the body’s protective system is so inhibited, felines can easily be exposed to secondary infections that can be bacterial, fungal or viral. The risks for endocarditis and cardiomyopathy increase. Terminal cases can have hypothermic, aseptic shocks or even disseminated intravascular coagulation, where small clots of blood travel through the bloodstream, blocking them and possibly leading to strokes.
FPLV can affect newly vaccinated kittens who are exposed to a highly contaminated environment and can result in death. Young kittens are usually protected by maternally derived antibodies, but those antibodies later disappear and leave kittens to develop antibodies by immune responses or by natural infections. Kittens are subject to high mortality rates, between 20-100%, and are susceptible to sudden deaths.
Stray cats can easily get infected in under a year of roaming, and those that survive have a strong immune system afterwards. In domestic cats, the mortality rate extends from 25-90% of cases. In pregnant cats, Feline Panleukopenia can cause fetal resorption, kittens being assimilated by their siblings, mummification, abortion and stillbirth of the litter.
When kittens get infected in utero or when very young, they can develop cerebellar hypoplasia, a neurological disorder reducing cats’ motor capacities, retinal dysplasia and optic neuropathy, affecting cats’ optic nerves and causing inflammation.
Once felines are infected, immediate and aggressive treatment is necessary for the pets’ survival. It is by giving antiemetics, which will reduce nausea and vomit, IV antibiotics, intravenous fluids, which will increase electrolytes in the felines’ body, by giving vitamin B injections and by plasma or blood transfusions.
Since the disease persists and has no cure, it is better to prevent it. Prevention can come from isolation or quarantine of a pet when known to have contracted the virus in order to protect others, or the most recommended is to vaccinate the cat. This is considered one of the “core” vaccines for pets since it’s a highly contagious and dangerous virus.
Originally Published in Bandersnatch Vol.49 Issue 09 on February 12th, 2020