All Pets Veterinary Clinic
Feline distemper, also known as feline panleukopenia or infectious feline enteritis,
is a highly contagious and potentially fatal viral disease that can affect cats. The
virus is so commonly found in the environment that it is estimated that virtually all
cats have been exposed by the time they are one year old. This article will discuss the
spread, signs, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of feline distemper.
Transmission. The virus that causes feline distemper is spread by direct contact
with infected cats and their secretions. Clothes, bedding, food dishes, and people can
all spread the virus to an unaffected animal.
Signs. The virus generally affects rapidly dividing cells in the body. For the
most part, these include the bone marrow, gastrointestinal cells, and depending on the age
of the animal, certain areas of the brain. Signs can include any of the following: fever,
anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, painful abdomen, abortion, tremors, and
Diagnosis. Diagnosis is often based on history, physical exam, and bloodwork.
Since some cases may be subclinical (i.e. lacking signs) serology may need to be done
to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment. Affected animals should be hospitalized for aggressive treatment.
Treatment is often supportive in nature. The cat will generally be given antibiotics to
prevent secondary bacterial infection and be given IV fluids to correct dehydration. If
the cat is not vomiting, vitamin B, valium, or oxazepam may be used to help to stimulate
appetite. Good nursing care is also essential.
Prevention. The best way to prevent your cat from getting feline distemper is to
assure that he/she is vaccinated properly. Kittens should be vaccinated twice, three
weeks apart starting at age 6-7 weeks. Adult cats should be vaccinated every year.
Because the vaccinations for feline distemper are so effective, there are relatively few
cases. However, animals not receiving vaccinations are at an increased risk since the
virus is so common in the environment. Vaccinations are especially critical for cats that
spend any amount of time outside.
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not
intended to take the place of your regular veterinarian. Please do not hesitate
to contact your regular veterinarian if you have questions regarding your pet.
Karen Blakeley, DVM, MPH
13 December 2002