Do cats get parvo?

Parvovirus, commonly known as parvo is a highly contagious viral disease that affects dogs. However, your kitty can get a feline form of the virus too. In cats, this infection that is also called panleukopenia, feline distemper or FPV was referred to as the “cat plague” during the earlier times when preventive vaccines where not yet discovered. This infection has severe effects on the cat’s three major systems – the gastro intestinal system, the nervous system and the blood and lymphatic system. The infection can easily wipe out not only domestic cat populations but also species of big cats. There is no treatment for feline parvovirus. Additionally, the causative virus is resistant to most disinfectants. Veterinary care is focused on minimizing the effects on the affected body systems.

A cat can be infected by taking in the virus through the eyes, the nose or the mouth. A cat can directly or indirectly contact the panleukopenia virus. Direct transmission of the virus occurs when a cat gets in direct contact with an infected cat. A sick cat would shed the virus through its body secretions. The feces, urine, saliva and nasal discharge would contaminate the food and water on the feeding bowls. The feeding bowls, the beddings, cage, toys, litter pans and all the other things used by the sick cat will be contaminated. Shed virus will be present in the environment as well. Cats would indirectly get the virus by coming in contact with the contaminated objects. People and parasites can also spread the virus. Cats that became infected while pregnant can transmit the virus to the unborn kittens.

The panleukopenia virus will attack the cat’s white blood cells causing significant decrease in its numbers. The destruction of the white blood cells is rapid. In severe cases of panleukopenia, white blood cells can be barely found in blood samples examined after the 4th day of infection. The rapidly reproducing cells in the intestines of the cat, the rapidly producing cells in the cerebellum (a part of the brain) and the retina of the eyes are attacked as well. Symptoms of infection include high fever, vomiting and severe diarrhea. The diarrhea of the cat would have a very foul smell and can be bloody. Infected cats would be lethargic and have no appetite. Symptoms would come suddenly. Kittens and adult cats that are already suffering from a different healthy concern would be severely affected. These affected cats can die even before the owners can take the pet to the vet’s. The severity of the effects of this virus would depend on several factors. The age and the state of health of the cat are important factors. Mature and healthy cats can easily fight off the infection as compared to kittens and ailing cats that have weaker immune systems. Cats that have parasitic infections and other kinds of viral and bacterial infections would be severely infected. A pregnant cat that is affected with panleukopenia can abort or have mummified fetuses. If the litter managed to survive the infection, kittens would have difficulty keeping their balance. Kittens would have exaggerated and abnormal movements like turning and favoring one side when walking.

Just like any other viral infections, feline parvo has no treatment. A vet would base the diagnosis on the clinical symptoms the cat is showing and on the result of a total white blood cell count. Supportive care will be given to the affected cat to minimize the effects of the symptoms. IV fluids will be given to prevent dehydration. Medications that will stop vomiting and diarrhea are given as well. Cats that managed to survive the first five days of infection would generally survive although it would take several weeks before the cat will recover completely.

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