Feline Distemper

Feline distemper, otherwise known as the panleukopenia virus, is a deadly and widespread disease affecting cats all around the world. Because the chances are great that any given cat will be exposed to the disease in nature during the first few months of its life, all veterinarians recommend a vaccination against this virus at an early age. Still, it is helpful to be aware of the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of this often fatal disease.

Symptoms of Distemper

Distemper affects young and pregnant cats most of all. In fact, older cats may contract the virus and not show any symptoms at all. The most common symptoms for panleukopenia virus include the following:

  • Fever
  • Refusal to eat
  • Depression or other behavior changes
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting and diarrhea, occasionally including specks of blood
  • Hypothermia
  • Dehydration

If a pregnant cat contracts distemper, her body may abort the pregnancy or she may end up delivering stillborn kittens. One of the most dangerous parts of the distemper virus in young and pregnant cats is that it leaves them weakened and susceptible to other diseases and infections.

Diagnosing Distemper in Cats

If your pet shows any of the symptoms listed above, have him examined by a vet as quickly as possible. A prompt diagnosis and treatment is crucial to protecting your cat's health. Your veterinarian will make a diagnosis of distemper through a number of different tests and exams. Initially, he will inspect your cat for physical signs of disease and will examine your pet's medical history.

Because there are a number of other diseases with symptoms similar to panleukopenia, including feline leukemia and salmonella, it is important that you and your veterinarian ensure that your pet has distemper and not another condition. A complete blood count (or CBC) can help to determine the underlying disease definitively. By taking a small sample of your pet's blood and analyzing it in the laboratory, your veterinarian can look for the number of white blood cells in the blood. Cats experiencing distemper have a low white blood cell count, and may have lowered platelet levels as well.

Treating Distemper

There is no known treatment for the distemper virus itself. The best option available is to treat the symptoms of the virus and ensure that your cat remains as healthy as possible while the disease runs its course. There are a number of ways that you can work to keep your pet healthy while he is suffering from distemper. Intravenous hydration is helpful to keep your pet's system in balance, and blood transfusions may also be necessary. Antibiotics can reduce the likelihood of secondary infections, while anti-vomiting medications help to keep your pet's strength and weight at normal levels.

The best way to treat distemper is through active preventative measures. Fortunately, this virus is almost entirely avoidable. Kittens should receive a vaccination against distemper in their first weeks of life. If you have acquired a new kitten, make sure to speak with a veterinarian about scheduling the proper vaccinations. With some foresight, you can ensure that your pet will never suffer from distemper.