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Also known as FPV and Feline Panleukopenia, Feline Distemper is a highly contagious viral disease that can be debilitating and even fatal. Kittens aged between 2 and 6 months are the most vulnerable to the disease, followed by pregnant and immune-compromised cats. Surviving FPV comes with immunity to any further infections by the virus.
The FPV virus is mainly transmitted through direct contact with the blood, feces or urine of an infected cat. It can also be spread by fleas that have been feeding on a contaminated cat. Humans can inadvertently pass FPV after handling the equipment used by contaminated cats if they do not follow proper hand washing protocols. The virus can live on surfaces for up to a year and is resistant to the majority of cleaning products except for household bleach.
FPV attacks the blood cells of an infected cat and in particular those in the bone marrow and intestinal tract. If the infected cat is pregnant, the virus will also attack the stem cells of the unborn kitten. Additionally, FPV makes your pet more vulnerable to other viral and bacterial diseases.
The primary symptoms of FPV include but are not limited to:
Diarrhea (may be blood-stained)
Loss of appetite
Other symptoms include lack of coordination, hiding away from owners, tucking feet away, or resting chin on the floor for prolonged periods.
Diagnosing FPV can be tricky as many of the symptoms that present themselves can be indicative of a wide range of illnesses, such as pancreatitis or poisoning. Therefore, it is necessary to undertake a combination of tests in order to give an accurate diagnosis. These tests can include but are not limited to:
You will also be asked to provide a comprehensive history of the health of your pet and the progression of any symptoms that they have displayed. You may also be asked to provide samples of other bodily fluids.
There is no cure for FPV itself, but it is possible to treat the primary and most life-threatening complication of the virus which is dehydration. Your cat will immediately begin on intravenous fluid therapy to bring their hydration levels up and restore the balance of electrolytes in their system. Antibiotics may also be prescribed in order to prevent the onset of any infections that your cat may be vulnerable to.
If treatment begins within the first 48 hours of contracting the virus, the survival rate is substantially higher.
As with most illnesses, prevention is almost certainly better than cure. Vaccinations against FPV can begin when kittens are around 8 weeks of age. They should then receive booster vaccinations at 12 weeks and 16 weeks.
If you are re-homing an older cat, then check with the shelter or current owner when it last had an FPV vaccination. If you are in any doubt at all, then consult with your veterinarian to ensure that your pet receives the correct vaccination program for their requirements.
Cats that are recovering from FPV should be kept in isolation for several weeks with their litter tray, food, and water all nearby. Your cat will also need plenty of love and affection, so ensure that you adhere strictly to thorough hand washing protocols to avoid unintentionally spreading the virus.
Surviving the Feline Distemper means your cat will be immune if it comes into contact with the virus in the future.