Do cats carry parvo?

The word parvo always causes fear in the hearts of pet owners. Parvo is most commonly associated with dogs. Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious disease that attacks dogs of all ages but is more prevalent in puppies and in young dogs. This viral disease that attacks a dog’s rapidly developing cells has a survival rate of less than 50%. Not many cat owners are aware that cats can carry parvo too. In cats, the disease known as feline distemper or panleukopenia is caused by a virus under the parvovirus group.

Canine parvovirus and feline parvovirus are not the same as these diseases are caused by different kinds of viruses. Both diseases are referred to as parvo because of the similarity in symptoms. Feline parvovirus (FPV) is a tough virus that is resistant to disinfectants but susceptible to household bleach. The virus can stay in the environment for over a year and still remain infective. The virus that an infected cat carries can be transmitted to other cats through direct contact. Most cats though get infected by catching the virus from a contaminated environment. The disease is spread when cats get in contact with an infected cat’s excretions as the virus is shed in the urine, feces, vomitus and saliva. Another mode of transmission is through contact with food bowls, litter boxes as well as cages and bedding of an infected cat. The virus can be transmitted by an infected queen to its unborn kittens. Unborn kittens have a very low chance of survival and if ever they do survive, kittens would have permanent brain damage that will impair its mobility.

FPV is more prevalent in kittens between the ages 4 to 16 weeks as during this period the protection of the natural antibodies kittens receive from the mother’s milk have already waned. Unvaccinated adult cats are susceptible to the virus as well. Unvaccinated cats are more vulnerable as FPV has no cure and the vet would only administer medications for secondary infection. The virus destroys the white blood cells of the cat thereby affecting the animal’s immune system. A cat infected by the virus would be more susceptible to other diseases. Feline panleukopenia is also called feline infectious enteritis as it severely affects the digestive functions so that the cat is prevented from properly digesting the food thus vital nutrients and liquids are not absorbed.

The mortality rate of FPV is high but cats can recover if early treatment is administered. A cat owner has to know the clinical symptoms of this viral infection. The severity of infection can vary. Some cats would show no sign at all until the infection has progressed and the cat has suddenly become depressed. Cats with FPV would have diarrhea and suffer from severe vomiting. The cat will pass bloody and foul smelling feces. Infected cats would lose weight very fast due to loss of appetite. The cat will be lethargic and depressed as well.

As mentioned, there is no cure of FPV. A vet would only provide supportive care. Treatment goal would be to keep the cat reasonably healthy and alive until the immune system takes over and produces antibodies. Cats that are provided with supportive care from the onset of infection will show signs of recovery in 5 to 7 days. Vomiting and diarrhea will upset the cat’s fluid and electrolyte balance. IV with medication is administered to keep the dog hydrated. Medications that will stop vomiting and diarrhea will be given as well. Antibiotics are administered for secondary infections. There is no cure for parvo and the only way to save the cat from this disease is to have the pet vaccinated.