Feline distemper or feline Panleukopenia, is an infectious disease that affects cats, ferrets, and several forms of wildlife, including endangered big cats. It is an entirely different disease from Canine distemper and is not transmissible to dogs. The virus exists everywhere in the US and most of the world. Infection can occur in rural areas at any time.
Itâ€™s most common in cities during the warmer months. Feline distemper is spread through contact with an infected animal or an infected animalâ€™s secretions. Direct contact with an infected animal is not needed, it can be contracted through contact with anything contaminated with an infected animalâ€™s secretions, including bedding, kennels, and food dishes. While itâ€™s not transmissible to humans, humans can infect a cat if their clothes or hands are contaminated with the fluids of an infected animal. It can also be spread by fleas and other insects. It is resistant to many disinfectants and can survive in the animalâ€™s living area for up to a year. Animals that have recovered still shed the disease and should still be considered contagious for several months after recovery.
Kittens are especially susceptible to feline distemper because their immune systems are underdeveloped. They may even contract the disease from their mother before birth. Older cats tend to have developed an immunity over time and are less susceptible, but it is still possible for them to contract the disease at any age.
Symptoms typically show up within 10 days of infection. The first symptoms to appear are usually a high fever, and loss of appetite. Symptoms can vary, they may also include vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. This disease can kill very rapidly, and is very common. Any cat that is behaving abnormally or has any symptoms should be taken to a vet immediately. A diagnosis is obtained by ruling out other diseases through blood tests and considering vaccination history and exposure. There is no cure for feline distemper , but supportive treatment through fluids and antibiotics can help the cat survive.
Vaccination is the most effective method of prevention. Kittens do sometimes acquire an immunity from their mothers, but this protection does not last long. Vaccinations usually start at 6-8 weeks of age, and are repeated at 12 and 16 weeks. Kittens are not fully protected until their vaccinations are complete, so exposure to other cats should minimized until at least 16 weeks. Cats must receive an annual booster to maintain immunity.
Unvaccinated kittens and cats should not be brought in to an area where an infected animal has previously been. Caution should also be used bringing home new cats. If you rescue, or bring strays home, itâ€™s a good idea to isolate the new cats until they have been checked by a vet or vaccinated. Remember that this disease can be spread by fleas or fluids, so treat any flea problem immediately, wash your hands after handling any new or strange cats, and change your clothes.