Thursday, August 8, 2013


Right away, you may start wondering "What is panleukopenia?" so I will tell you.  It is a disease that is also known as feline distemper, feline infectious enteritis, feline ataxia, or FPV.  It is not really related to canine distemper, even though it has the same name.  Instead, feline distemper is more like what's called "parvo" in dogs, because it is caused by a parvovirus.


Remember when our little blind kitten Seth died last Saturday?  We didn't really know why he died, but now we think he had distemper.  We think this because on Tuesday Buttercup got really sick, and sadly, she had to be put to sleep yesterday at the Humane Society.  But first, before they put her to sleep, Dr. Regan did a test on her, and it was positive for panleukopenia.  Seth had the same symptoms before he died, so that's why we think he had the same disease.

Most people's cats don't get distemper because the cats get vaccinations, and the vaccine protects them.  But feral cats or kittens who are too young to be vaccinated might get it because it's very contagious.  The main way a cat gets distemper is by being in contact with pee or poop or puke from a cat who is infected.

Once the virus gets inside you, it attacks the lining of your intestines, and that's why you lose your appetite and start vomiting and having diarrhea.  Also, the virus gets in your bone marrow and makes the white blood cell count really low.  Which is how the disease got its name, because panleukopenia means "all-white shortage."  Pretty soon, the infected kitty dies of dehydration or a bacterial infection.


Aunt Tania tried to figure out which of the three kittens brought the panleuk virus to the shelter.  They all came from different litters and arrived at different times.  Chief and Seth both got sick about the same time, but Chief got better right away, after Mom gave him the fluids and antibiotics.  Seth never got better at all.  He just went on getting sicker until he died.

Anyway, Aunt Tania thinks Chief was the guilty kitten who had the virus.  We're not sure why he didn't get sicker, but it might be because (1) he still had some immunity from his mama, or (2) he has a natural immunity, or (3) he just had a really mild case of it, or (4) he still hasn't got really sick.  So Aunt Tania told Mom to watch Chief very, very closely for the next day or two, because if he is going to be sick, this is when it will happen.  And if we can catch it at the start, Aunt Tania might be able to save him, because sometimes she has saved kittens in the past.

Here are some other interesting facts I learned while doing my in-depth research for this blog entry.  When kittens are nursing, they get some immunity to disease from their mothers' milk.  This keeps them fairly safe until they are about 11 weeks old.  Their own immune systems aren't totally working until kittens are about 16 weeks old, so if they are exposed to the distemper virus between ages 11 weeks and 16 weeks, at least three-fourths of them will die.  As they get older and bigger, their bodies can deal with the dehydration better, so more of them can survive.  Any cat who is exposed to panleukopenia and lives through it will be immune to it for the rest of his life.

This is what the panleukopenia virus looks like.
Image credit:  Viperdb

The feline distemper virus has been around for a long time.  Wild cats such as lions and tigers can get it too.  And so can raccoons and mink.  In the 1970s, the virus somehow jumped over and started attacking dogs, which is when the canine parvovirus or "parvo" got started.  Puppies that haven't had all their vaccinations yet are the most likely to die of parvo, just like kittens are the most likely to die of panleuk.

So anyway, the lesson of all this is that you should get your kittens and puppies vaccinated as soon as they are old enough, and you should get booster shots if they need them.  And meanwhile, we are keeping a sharp eye on little Chief and hoping really hard that he doesn't get sick.

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