Feline Panleukopenia Virus (FPV) is a very contagious disease that is often fatal to infected cats. It is very closely related to canine parvovirus and shares many common symptoms. FPV is also referred to as feline distemper or feline parvovirus. Vaccination is very effective at preventing FPV, so cats at risk include very young orphaned kittens and cats in the feral population. Symptoms of infection begin with lethargy, fever, and anorexia, followed by vomiting bile, and finally severe bloody diarrhea. Treatment for FPV must be very aggressive and include hospitalization to prevent death by dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Being a virus, there is no specific cure for panleukopenia.
All parvoviruses including FPV attack the intestinal villi, the tiny finger-like projections in the intestinal wall that move food through the body and absorb nutrients. Bloody diarrhea will ensue, however the virus at that point has already incubated within the lymphoid tissues and bone marrow for one week before clinical symptoms have occurred. During the incubation period, white blood cells are depleted rendering the immune system unable to fight secondary infections. Platelets, the cells responsible for blood clotting, may also become depleted as the virus replicates in the bone marrow where platelets are formed. Uncontrolled bleeding from the intestinal wall can lead to rapid death within 12 hours from the start of diarrhea. Kidney values will elevate as dehydration becomes severe.
Treatment for panleukopenia would include aggressive IV fluid therapy with crystalloids to replace water and electrolytes, and colloids to compensate for protein loss. Hypoproteinemia causes the vessels to leak water, further dehydrating the body’s systems without evident fluid loss. Injectable antibiotics are administered to help prevent and fight secondary bacterial infections. All oral food, water, and medication is stopped to prevent induced vomiting. Drugs used to control vomiting and diarrhea are used symptomatically. Blood or plasma transfusions are often necessary.
FPV is spread by direct contact with an infected cat or by contact with fomites, objects contaminated with the secretions from a sick cat. Once shed from the infected cat, the virus is unusually hardy in the environment and may remain contagious for years. Disinfection of all contaminated surfaces with bleach will kill the virus.
Prevention of panleukopenia is far superior to attempting treatment of the disease. The prognosis of FPV infected cats is poor. Vaccinations are very effective in protecting cats from this devastating virus. Cats with known or suspected exposures to FPV should be vaccinated and quarantined for at least three weeks before introducing them into a multi-cat household.