Panleukopenia (also known as “feline distemper”) is a viral infection in cats that is highly contagious and often fatal. Similar to canine distemper (both illnesses are caused by a particular kind of virus called a parvovirus), the virus causes a breakdown of the intestinal wall’s lining in its host, resulting in diarrhea, dehydration, and severe malnutrition. The disease is named for its effect of lowering the number of white blood cells (leukocytes) present in a cat’s bloodstream, which lowers its immune system and leaves it vulnerable to secondary infection.

Panleukopenia is transmittable primarily through infected animals’ bodily fluids, but it is an extremely hardy virus and can therefore survive for long periods of time on hard surfaces or bedding that have come in contact with the sick animal, not to mention on the shoes, clothing, and skin of the sick animal’s handlers. In addition to the highly contagious nature of the disease and the difficulty in preventing its spread to other animals, it is also extremely difficult to treat without constant attention from medical professionals. For these reasons, an animal stricken with panleukopenia is best handled through quarantined hospitalization, which can be extremely expensive.

But, while it’s easily spread and difficult to treat, panleukopenia can be prevented with nearly total effectiveness through a simple series of safe, widely used vaccines. A kitten should be vaccinated every 3-4 weeks until it reaches 16 weeks of age, then a one-year booster at the age of one, followed by a booster every three years for the rest of its life. This protocol has been proven to protect a cat with almost 100% effectiveness, which should give a pet owner peace of mind and should be a key step toward helping a cat lead a long, healthy life.

If you have any questions about panleukopenia, vaccines, or other health issues, please call Linwood Animal Clinic at 503-774-3363.


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