Do cats get distemper?

Distemper is a viral disease that is commonly associated with domestic animals. Feline distemper is one of the life threatening diseases cats can get. Distemper in cats is caused by parvovirus. Most pet parents are aware of parvovirus infection as it is a dreaded health concern of dogs. Canine distemper though is different from the kind of distemper cats can get. Dogs cannot get the kind of distemper cats have. Feline distemper and canine distemper are caused by ubiquitous viruses. The infection is highly contagious because the highly stable causative virus can be found practically everywhere.

Feline distemper or Panleukopenia is caused by parvovirus which is very stable in the environment. The virus is difficult to remove from the environment as it can survive freezing temperatures. It is also resistant to common disinfectants. Indoors, the virus can exist and remain infectious for over a year. All cats therefore are virtually exposed to the virus. Due to the highly infectious characteristic of this ubiquitous virus, an outbreak can easily wipe out feral colonies and cat population in shelters, catteries and in pet stores. However, this virus that affects domestic, feral and even big cats cannot be transmitted to dogs.

How is feline distemper spread? Bodily secretions – saliva, mucus, feces, urine and vomit of an infected cat will spread the virus. Large amounts of the virus are shed by an infected cat through its bodily secretions. Because the virus is extremely stable in the environment, it will remain infections long after the bodily secretion is gone. A cat that gets in contact with the feeding bowls, with the kennels, beddings and toys contaminated with the virus or comes in contact with an infected cat will get the infection too. The virus cannot infect humans but humans can carry the virus if their hands or clothing is contaminated by the secretion of an infected cat. A pregnant cat that gets infected by the virus will pass on the infection to the unborn kittens usually causing their death. Kittens that survive will suffer from Cerebrellar hypoplasia, a condition where the cerebellum is damaged so that the infected cat will lose balance and coordination of movement.

Feline distemper is a deadly disease. 50 to 90% of infected cats will not survive especially if treatment is administered when the disease has already advanced. Cat owners have to be aware of the symptoms of feline distemper. After infection, the virus will enter the body of the cat through the nose and mouth and attack the rapidly dividing cells. Symptoms of distemper will be shown by the cat 7 to 10 days after infection. Symptoms would vary but commonly high fever and inappetance are the first to appear. The depressed cat would vomit and have diarrhea. These conditions can rapidly result to dehydration given that infected cats would have no appetite. A vet’s prompt attention is very necessary.

Feline distemper is also called Panleukopenia because once the virus has gained entry to the cat’s body it will rush to the bone marrow and suppress the production of the white blood cells which are very necessary to fight infection. The cat suspected to have distemper will have blood tests to rule out other diseases. Stool will be tested to confirm the presence of the virus. Distemper is a viral disease thus the treatment involved will be focused in minimizing the effects of the virus and keeping the cat alive until the immune system can recover from the attack of the virus to fight the infection. Fluid therapy will control dehydration. Antibiotics are also given for secondary viral infections. Cats that received immediate treatment can totally recover from the infection and gain immunity from this life threatening infectious disease.