The panleukopenia virus is
passed from cat to cat by direct contact. Infection occurs when contact is made with the
blood, urine, fecal material, nasal secretions, and even fleas of infected cats. In most
cases, recovered cats do not transmit the infection.
A healthy cat can also become infected without coming in direct contact with an infected cat. Bedding, cages, food dishes, and the hands or clothing of handlers may harbor and transmit the virus.
The panleukopenia virus is very stable. It is resistant to many chemicals and may remain infectious at room temperature for as long as one year. Short of raising a cat in total isolation, it is nearly impossible to prevent exposure.
Panleukopenia is a complex disease. It can vary in severity from very mild to extreme. The many signs are not always typical and many owners may even believe that their cat has been poisoned or has swallowed a foreign object. Because of this fact, treatment may be delayed or neglected.
The incubation period from infection until clinical signs develop is typically 3 to 5 days, seldom longer than a week.How can you tell if a cat has panleukopenia?
If a pregnant queen is infected with panleukopenia, the brain of her unborn kittens may be affected. The part of the brain which becomes damaged is the part that controls balance, so that from about 2 weeks of age, when kittens first become really mobile, they can be seen to have a wobbly gait. At weaning they have difficulty feeding because their heads bob up and down.
There are some variations, but
typically cats experience:
very deep depression or listlessness which may progress to collapse
vomiting and diarrhea are frequent: the diarrhea may be watery and bloody
hair coat quickly becomes dull and rough
skin loses it elasticity due to dehydration
Often cats with panleukopenia have other infections because their immune system is compromised. Fever will fluctuate during the illness and abruptly fall to subnormal levels shortly before death. Other signs in later stages may be diarrhea, anemia, and persistent vomiting.
Panleukopenia is so prevalent and the signs so varied that any sick cat should be taken to a veterinarian for a definite diagnosis.
If you want to know if panleukopenia is present in your premises but none of your cats are presently sick, test them for antibodies against the virus. The levels of antibodies (ie. their antibody titres) are much higher than they would be from just having been vaccinated, so testing healthy in-contact cats can reveal the presence of panleukopenia in the environment.
Can an infected cat be treated?
As for most viral diseases, there is no specific treatment that kills the virus. However, the secondary infections that usually occur are treated with antibiotics. Dehydration and shock are life-threatening components of panleukopenia; intravenous fluid therapy and intense nursing is critical to control them. Drugs are also given to control vomiting and diarrhea. Some cats do not recover from this disease, but many will if aggressive supportive therapy is given.
The veterinarian will attempt to combat
extreme dehydration, provide nutrients, and prevent secondary infection with antibiotics.
If the cat survives for 48 hours, its chances for recovery are much better. Pregnant
females that contract the disease, even in its mildest form, may give birth to kittens
with severe brain damage.
Strict isolation is essential. The area where the cat is kept should be warm, free of drafts and very clean. Plenty of "tender loving care" is very important. Cats may lose the will to live; so frequent petting, hand feeding, the cautious use of heating pads, and good nursing care by the owner is essential.
The prognosis for kittens less than 8 weeks old is poor. Older cats have greater chance of survival if adequate treatment is provided early in the course of the disease.
Other cats that may have been in close association with the infected animal should be carefully examined.
Do panleukopenia carrier
No, the virus passes very quickly through the cat, most cats only shed it for just a couple of days.
Are there any long-term consequences for
No. Once the virus runs its course, the lining of the stomach and intestines recovers quickly without scarring. In addition, the bone marrow produces new white blood cells to replace those that were lost. The cat recovers completely.
Reprinted from Cornell Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University