Preventing Feline Distemper (Panleukopenia) Through Vaccination

Perhaps the most effective way of preventing feline distemper (Panleukopenia) is through vaccination. Vaccination at an early age generally helps build immunity against the infection.

Cat Distemper Defined

Cat distemper (Panleukopenia) is an invasive and penetrating infection caused by a highly stable virus. Exposure to a strong bleach solution will kill it, but the virus can withstand disinfectants, freezing and months of undisturbed room temperature. It is likely that the virus will enter all cats, whether by mouth or nasal capacity, and that infection will develop if immunity is not in place.

Infection moves directly to the rapidly dividing cells of the body, starting with the lymph nodes. Latching on to the lymph node system allows infection to quickly spread throughout the entire body, the bone marrow and intestine. The virus cuts off all white blood cell manufacturing, which damages the body's ability to fight infection. Once the virus reaches the intestine, ulcers that cause diarrhea and more bacterial infection form.

Felines suffering from panleukopenia die from bacterial infection caused by the lowered immune system or from dehydration, brought about by diarrhea. Cats who are not vaccinated and ready to fight infection have a high mortality rate. However, some research suggests that kittens who weather the first five days of infection are likely to pull through.

Prevention with Vaccinations

Most felines receiving vaccination will fight off the viral infection. Vaccinations are usually given at first when the feline is 12 weeks old, and then again at about 14 weeks, although some vets like to give the vaccine as early as 8 weeks old. This schedule attempts to bypass any immunity passed on via the mother's milk, which will eliminate the effectiveness of the vaccination. After the initial series of vaccinations, felines are vaccinated every 1 to 3 years.

Vaccinations for feline panleukopenia have proven to be effective barriers against recurrent infection. For this reason, infection is most frequent with young, unvaccinated pets that are part of large groups. Their young immune system cannot fight off the invasive virus and they have a better chance of contracting the virus from one of the many other pets in their vicinity.

Symptoms of cat distemper may not develop until several days after infection. Keeping your infected pets isolated if symptoms develop will work hand in hand with the vaccination to prevent infection.

Feline distemper vaccinations may be administered through an injection or nasal cavity. Injections are usually given through the area by the right shoulder and may be killed or live virus vaccine. Some live vaccines have been noted as potentially harmful to brain development of kittens if administered during pregnancy. Other cases of aggressive cancer (fibrosarcoma) have also been documented as a result of killed vaccine injection.

Nearly all felines will be infected with the panleukopenia virus. Keeping your cat's vaccinations up to date will help her fight off the pervasive virus both in the short term and long term.