Diagnosing Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper) in Cats

Diagnosing panleukopenia or feline distemper in your cat can be difficult because the symptoms of feline distemper are similar to other feline diseases. Feline distemper is a viral infection that affects the gastrointestinal tract of your cats. The virus survives well in both cold and warm environments. Your cat may become infected with feline distemper if he comes in contact with other cats that are infected with the virus. It is transmitted through urine, feces and even fleas. The virus can be shed through the feces and urine for up to 6 weeks after he has recover from the virus. A mother cat suffering from feline distemper can pass on the virus to her kittens in the uterus.

Symptoms of Feline Distemper

The beginning symptoms of panleukopenia or feline distemper is fever, vomiting, diarrhea and seizures. In young unvaccinated kittens, the development of these symptoms is 4 to 5 days. Symptoms are sudden starting with a fever, depression and loss of appetite. Vomiting may occur 3 to 4 days later and he may become dehydrated. Bloody diarrhea may be present. An older cat exposed to the virus may show little or no beginning symptoms of the disease. If your cat becomes severely dehydrated, his body temperature may decrease causing hypothermia. He may become weak or even comatose. He will be more at risk of getting viral and bacterial infections. If a pregnant cat has been infected with the virus, it can cause her to abort the kittens or deliver stillborns. If the kitten's do survive the delivery, tumors may develop on their heads and they may be uncoordinated. This is due to the virus effecting the cerebellum of the brain. Kittens can recover and live normal lives.

Physical Examination and Stool Inspection

If you suspect that your cat has feline distemper, you need to call your veterinarian to schedule an appointment. They will ask for a full history and do a complete exam on your cat to rule out any other diseases or infections. A blood test will be taken and will show a decease in the white blood cells and platelet count. There is a feline distemper test that requires a stool sample from your cat, but if you vaccinate him against feline distemper then that could cause the test to be positive.

Treatment for Panleukopenia

If your cat is diagnosed with feline distemper, he will need 24 hour supportive care. Intravenous or subcutaneous fluids will be given to fight off dehydration. If he is seriously affected, a blood transfusion might be an option. Antibiotics will be given to stop the development of any bacterial or viral infections. Once the vomiting has stopped, they will start him on a bland diet then finally his normal diet.

Preventing Feline Distemper

There are two different kinds of feline distemper vaccines. The modified live virus is a vaccine that can be given to kittens at age 4 weeks and adult cats. Pregnant cats and kittens 4 weeks and younger can NOT get this vaccine. If given the modified live virus vaccine it could cause abortion and cerebellum damage to the kittens. The other vaccine is the killed virus vaccine. This vaccine can be given to pregnant cats and kittens less than 4 weeks.

The feline distemper virus can last years in an environment. If your cat has suffered with this virus, necessary actions must be done to prevent the virus from spreading. A bleach solution of 1 part bleach to 32 parts water can be used to disinfect litter boxes, floors, cages and pet dishes.