Unveiling Feline Parvovirus: A Silent Threat to Cats

Feline Parvovirus (FPV) which can also be known as Panleukopenia, or feline distemper is a highly contagious disease which is one of the leading causes of death in cats.

Thanks to the effectiveness of vaccines, this disease is not as common as it used to be, however, due to the large feral cat community and the breeding of these unvaccinated cats- outbreaks of FPV are rising.

The majority of infections are subclinical, with 75% of unvaccinated cats having demonstrable antibody titres by 1-year of age. Clinical disease mainly affects kittens aged 3–5 months and mortality is high (50–90%). Adults may develop a mild disease indistinguishable from other causes of diarrhoea.

Sudden death and fading in kittens usually occurs between 4-weeks and 12-months of age.

Clinical signs

The most common clinical signs are fever, depression, anorexia, vomiting and dehydration. Diarrhoea may develop later in the course of the disease. The intestinal loops may feel thickened on abdominal palpation and the cat may show signs of discomfort. Secondary bacterial infections may occur. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances ensue, with death occurring within 3–5 days. Cats may become hypothermic terminally and develop disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). Cats that survive longer than 5 days should recover slowly over the next few weeks.

Cerebellar hypoplasia is a common sequela of FPV infection in kittens born to a queen infected late in gestation. It presents as incoordination, ataxia, hypermetria and intention tremors; these signs disappear when the kitten is at rest. Affected kittens can adjust to these neurological problems and live relatively normal lives. However, infection in the forebrain can lead to seizures and behavioural abnormalities. Discrete grey foci with darkened margins, folding or streaking may be observed on the retinas. There is no treatment for these cases.


There is currently no treatment available that is specific to FPV infection and since the disease is highly contagious it is imperative that any suspected cases are nursed in isolation. Protective clothing must be worn and hands washed thoroughly after handling any cat or kitten suspected of having the disease. Where possible, one or two people who do not handle any other cats should be assigned as nurses.

Affected cats often die from dehydration and massive secondary infection, so aggressive support with intravenous fluids and broad spectrum antibiotics are crucial, but even with this, a high proportion of affected cats may die. Anti-emetic drugs may be useful to help stop vomiting, and feeding the cat small meals as soon as the vomiting has resolved is also important. Good veterinary and nursing care is essential to help cats, especially young kittens, recover from the disease.

Interferons are chemicals made in the body that can exert an antiviral effect. Recombinant feline interferon omega (or human interferon products) might be of some help in the treatment of severe cases.

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