Feline Distemper

Feline panleukopenia, is more commonly known as feline distemper, and is a viral infection affecting cats caused by feline parvovirus, a close relative of canine parvovirus. It is not related to canine distemper. Protection is offered by commercial feline distemper vaccine, which is usually a mixture of vaccines for several different diseases, including panleukopenia.

Transmission and symptoms - Panleukopenia is primarily spread through contact with an infected cat's bodily fluids, feces, or fleas. The virus may also sometimes spread through contact with bedding, food dishes, or even the handlers of infected cats.

The virus primarily attacks the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, causing internal ulceration and, ultimately, total sloughing of the intestinal epithelium. This results in profuse, usually bloody diarrhea, causing severe dehydration, malnutrition, anemia, and often death.

The virus causes a decrease in the cat's white blood cells, thus compromising its immune system. Typically, infection causes a decrease in WBC, hematocrit and platelet counts on a CBC. This is often key in diagnosing panleukopenia.

Symptoms include depression, lethargy, loss of appetite, a high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of skin elasticity.

If a pregnant cat is exposed during pregnancy, the virus can cause cerebellar hypoplasia in her offspring. This is why administering modified live feline panleukopenia vaccine during pregnancy is discouraged.

Vaccination controversy - In recent years, vaccination has become a controversial topic among veterinarians and pet owners. Recent studies have demonstrated that many vaccines are effective for several years, despite the common practice of "boosting" vaccines every year. This has particularly been demonstrated for the most common vaccine for feline panleukopenia, which is a combined vaccine for feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia (FVRCP). For this reason, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has stated that boosting the vaccine every three years is now often recommended by veterinarians who previously may have recommended annual vaccination.

FVRCP vaccines have also come under scrunity of late due to possible risks to long term health. A study at Colorado State University found potential for a link between panleukopenia vaccine and chronic renal failure due to the fact that the vaccine is often grown using a cell line derived from cat kidneys.

It is thought by some researchers that the vaccine may inadvertently cause antibodies to develop to kidney cells. Combined with findings of effectiveness for multiple years, this has caused many veterinarians to become more cautious in administering the vaccine. Due to the extremely deadly and contagious nature of panleukopenia, the AVMA states that vaccination against panleukopenia is still strongly advised despite any potential risks.

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I've met many thinkers and many cats, but the wisdom of cats is infinitely superior.
~ Hippolyte Taine