PCR Testing for Feline Distemper Virus

Feline distemper, also known as feline panleukopenia, is a contagious disease that's caused by a single-stranded DNA virus. Cats become infected with the virus through direct contact with contaminated sources. Kittens are more susceptible to the virus and once infected they're capable of shedding the virus in the environment even after complete recovery. The feline distemper virus survives in the environment for several years and is not easily eliminated with household cleaning agents. Since many pets, especially kittens, succumb to the virus, prompt diagnostic tests have to be conducted in order to begin treatment. Pet owners should watch for any symptoms of disease.

Symptoms of Feline Distemper Virus Include:

  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures
  • Dehydration

Diagnosis of Feline Distemper Virus

The symptoms of feline distemper virus are often similar to several other diseases. Due to this the vet will perform a thorough physical examination and evaluate the clinical symptoms exhibited. A physical examination will also reveal swollen lymph nodes and changes in the abdomen. A blood test will determine the amount of platelets and white blood cells present in the blood. Cats suffering from feline panleukopenia exhibit a lower white blood cell count. The feline distemper virus can also be detected in pet's feces. However, since this diagnostic test doesn't provide prompt results, it isn't relied upon. Newer tests such as PCR testing provide more precise and speedy test results.

PCR Tests

This test is a polymerase chain reaction test that's used to detect viral DNA sequences. The specimen used to perform a PCR test is either a blood sample (0.5 ml) in a EDTA tube or a stool sample that's necessary if the pet is suffering from diarrhea. PCR testing is more precise in comparison with other antibody tests as it detects specific strains of the virus that's unique to feline distemper. Since PCR tests detect the presence of genetic components of the pathogen present in the blood sample, it reduces the occurrence of false positive test results. Feline distemper that occurs in the peracute form progresses rapidly and causes death, particularly in un-vaccinated kittens. Due to this, PCR tests are a reliable diagnostic aid to confirm feline panleukopenia virus.

Advantages of PCR Tests for Feline Distemper Virus

Pets that are infected with the feline distemper virus don't exhibit the symptoms for nearly 10 days. Adult cats may also spread the virus without exhibiting any symptoms. PCR testing is effective as it detects the virus in the early stage and doesn't rely on antibody levels to diagnose any disease. It also prevents false negative diagnoses as its capable of detecting pathogens or viruses in low titers. Since the test results are available within a short period of time, PCR testing helps the vet to confirm the disease and begin treatment to prevent severe damage and even death.

Treatment of Feline Distemper Virus

Most pets are given supportive care in the form of IV fluids and blood transfusions. Antibiotic medication is necessary to prevent the formation of secondary bacterial infections. Younger pets may also be administered anti-serum injections to boost recovery.

There are various vaccinations available to protect pets from feline distemper virus. Pet owners should discuss with the vet, vaccinations that may be helpful to improve the pet's quality of life.