The fear of the infamous and deadly Feline Parvovirus is no stranger to furparents of cats or kittens. Which is why one of the main advices potential cat owners would hear is to have their feline furkid tested and vaccinated against this disease. Another advice would also be to quarantine the affected cat in isolation for the fear of cross infection.
But first, what is this virus and why should you as a cat owner be wary of it?
What Is Feline Parvovirus (FPV)?
The parvovirus is a single-stranded DNA virus. The various strands are species specific which means that cat, dog and human parvoviruses are different from each other. Cat or Feline Parvovirus is also known as panleukopenia, feline distemper, or feline infectious enteritis (FIE).
Once a cat (aka a host) is infected, this virus would infect rapidly dividing cells such as the ones in your gut, bone marrow, eyes, as well as in a growing foetus and its neonatal nerves. Essentially, it stops the body of the living host from renewing, defending and growing itself.
How It Happens
Infected cats can expul the virus via their fleas, urine, stool and nasal secretions which makes cross infection highly possible in susceptible cats. Even though an infected cat would only tend to shed the virus for 1-2 days, the FPV virus lives and thrives in contaminated environments.
It can even withstand heat, cold and most disinfectants except bleach, increasing the risk of cats who come in contact with the space the infected cat was once in. If the infected cat did not get isolated, it may then allow more cats to be infected via direct or surface contact.
Thankfully, cross-infections between humans, cats and dogs can’t happen due to the different strains of the parvo virus.
Signs And Symptoms
Like all illnesses and health concerns, it’s always best to nip it at its bud.
However, not all cats infected with FPV would exhibit any signs and symptoms. The signs of FPV can vary and may be similar to other illnesses such as Salmonella or Campylobacter infection, pancreatitis, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infection, or feline leukemia virus (FeLV) infection. Some may even show signs that resemble poisoning or having swallowed a foreign object.
The lack of obvious signs is what contributes to the fear of the infected cat dying without any apparent warning.
But if you’re cautious, some signs you could look out for would be:
- Excreting watery diarrhoea with or without blood present
- Sitting hunched over their bowls out of hunger and thirst without the ability to eat or drink
- Vomiting, bringing up froth or being wet around the lips
- Exhibiting variable body temperature that’s usually raised in the early stages and drops low later on
Infected pregnant female cats may miscarry or give birth to kittens with feline cerebellar ataxia. As the virus causes severe damage to the cerebellum, the kittens coordination involving nerves, muscles and bones to produce movement would be affected thus resulting in severe tremors.
Should your cat/kitten be exhibiting any of these signs or appears unwell, it’s always best to get them checked by their vet.
How Is It Diagnosed
Feline panleukopenia or parvo may be suspected based on:
- A reported history of contact with an infected cat
- Lack/absence of vaccination
- Visible signs of the illness
- A blood test that shows severely reduced levels of all white blood cell types
The diagnosis is confirmed when the feline parvovirus is found in the cat’s stool. However, a false positive may occur if the cat was vaccinated for FPV 5-12 days prior to the test.
Controlling The Spread
Hopefully by this point you’ll get that this virus is not one to be joked around with. It’s possibly the epitome of “vaccinate, don’t hate” for furkids.
Controlling the spread of FPV relies on both vaccination and good management practices.
As a vaccine-preventable disease, the first line of defense for your furkid would be a vaccine to prepare its body to produce antibodies to fight off the virus when required. It can be administered to any cat/kitten above the ages of 8 weeks old.
The second line of defense would be to properly isolate the infected cat and prevent cross-contamination. Any materials used on or for the infected cat must not be shared with other cats. This includes bedding, cages, food and water dishes as well as the hands or clothing of their handlers.
That being said, cats that survive an infection or a mild case of FPV do eventually develop immunity that may likely protect them from future infections.
How To Manage It
Unfortunately, there exists no cure for this virus.
It’s managed via supportive treatment that usually consists of providing hydration, nutrients and preventing secondary infection along. The medications and fluids given are to support the cat until its own body and immune system is able to fight off the virus.
Older cats may have a greater chance of survival if adequate treatment is provided early. The chances of recovery also greatly improves if the cat survives for 5 days. However, for kittens less than 8 weeks old, their prognosis and recovery from FPV is poor. Unfortunately, most of the time, young infected cats do not recover.
Saving and adopting stray cats is a noble effort. But if you have other cats at home, it’s always best to send your rescued cat first to the vet to get them tested and diagnosed for any pre-exitsting conditions or health issues. Do this first before introducing them to any other cat that you have.
TLDR; Vaccinate and isolate before it’s too late.
Being a vaccine-preventable disease it’s important to make it a priority to get your new kitten/cat vaccinated against it and other diseases at your vet.