Causative Agent:Feline panleukopenia is caused by a member of the parvovirus family and is closely related to the virus which causes canine parvo enteritis. This virus can infect all species of cats as well as raccoons and mink.
Clinical Signs:This infection may appear to come on very suddenly. Signs which may be noted include fever, weakness, depression, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, shock, and sudden death. The cat also experiences a severe drop in white blood cells of all types; panleukopenia is the medical term for this problem. As the disease progresses, the animal may become severely dehydrated, lose weight, suffer damage to other organ systems, and eventually die. Kittens are very susceptible and experience a very high mortality (death) rate. When the virus infects a pregnant female (queen), the unborn fetuses are affected as well. These kittens are often born with coordination problems and blindness. Some adults that are infected show no significant problems and seem to recover rapidly. Animals that survive 7 days beyond the initial infection generally have a good chance of survival.
Disease Transmission:This virus can be spread by direct contact between infected and non-infected animals. It can also be transmitted on objects such as bowls, hands, clothing, shoes, and toys. Because FPV is a very stable virus in the environment, most cats will encounter the disease sometime during their lifetime. Most adult cats are able to fight the infection subclinically (without showing any outward signs of disease). Kittens 3 to 5 months of age are the most likely to have severe clinical symptoms.
Diagnosis:The diagnosis of FPV is usually assumed based on clinical signs and the presence of a low white blood cell count. Serologic testing and viral isolation are available if an exact diagnosis is required. Post-mortem (necropsy) findings can also provide an exact diagnosis.
Treatment:Treatment consists of supportive care. Fluid therapy is of critical importance and is generally given intravenously (in the vein) or subcutaneously (under the skin). Oral food and water should not be provided for the first few days. Antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections, anti-emetics to help control vomiting, stomach/intestine protectants (Kaopectate, vitamin B), and sometimes blood transfusions may all be used in the supportive treatment of feline panleukopenia. Once the cat has started to improve, a semi-liquid, bland diet is gradually reintroduced until the regular diet can be fed as before.
Prevention:A consistent vaccination program is essential for the prevention of feline panleukopenia. Kittens should be started on a vaccination program at 6 weeks of age and receive continued boosters (see page A905). FPV is very resistant to most disinfectants and has been shown to survive in the environment for up to a year under the right circumstances. Bleach (6% sodium hypochlorite) left in contact with FPV for 10 minutes will kill the virus.