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Feline panleukopenia (FP), also called feline distemper or feline parvo, is a highly contagious, life-threatening disease caused by the feline parvovirus. This virus is especially threatening to kittens and elderly cats and attacks by invading cells in their bodies. Once a leading cause of death in cats, it’s a somewhat rare disease today thanks to effective vaccines.

The first signs of the illness include depression, loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, nasal discharge, and dehydration. In young kittens, the virus can also damage the brain and eyes. Very sadly, recovery for infected kittens is poor. Older cats have a better chance of survival if targeted treatment is provided early.

Although the odds are against them, cats are very resilient. Most shelters don’t have the resources to care for this illness and have to euthanize these animals as a result, but Atlanta Humane is fortunate to have the ability to care for them. Immediate veterinary treatments greatly increase the chances of survival, and our Shelter Medicine Team works hard to save as many lives as possible. They provide specialized medical care using the most careful protocols and deepest dedication to saving all cats.

Understanding how FP spreads is the first step towards treating it while protecting other animals in a shelter environment. Contact with an infected cat’s body secretions, such as feces, urine, vomit, saliva, and mucus, can spread FP to other animals. While humans do not get this illness, they can be part of its spread. The virus is only shed 1-2 days, but it can survive up to a year in places like bedding and cages. Staff and volunteers handling infected cats adhere to careful hygiene routines and isolate cats who have contracted FP.

No medications are capable of killing the virus, so intensive care is essential. A regimen focuses on correcting dehydration, providing nutrients, and preventing secondary infection. Without such supportive care, up to 90% of cats with FP pass away. If a cat survives for five days, chances for recovery are greatly improved. Thus, there is hope for these struggling cats—especially thanks to immense support and generosity from volunteers and donors dedicated to the health and well-being of all animals.

How can you make a difference? Firstly, prevention is vital to your own cat’s health. Vaccines offer the best protection and are just as important for indoor cats as they are for outdoor cats because the virus is everywhere in the environment. Most young kittens receive their first vaccination between 6 and 8 weeks of age, and follow-up vaccines are given until the kitten is about 16 weeks old. Adult vaccination schedules vary with age. Your fully vaccinated cat should have a lifetime of immunity against panleukopenia. You can also support Atlanta Humane in a variety of ways, such as volunteering, donating physical items, and making one-time or monthly gifts.

May 15, 2023