Every year we see a cat disease that is very serious, usually fatal, and always preventable. These cases are in cats that have not been vaccinated or not properly vaccinated at a young age.
Feline Panleukopenia is a life-threatening viral disease of cats. The disease may also be known as distemper in cats, and it is caused by a parvovirus (but not the same parvovirus as in dogs). Many people have heard of this disease only because it is in the core vaccine recommendations for cats.
The panleukopenia virus is very common and can live everywhere. It can last for a year indoors at room temperature and survives freezing and many common disinfectants. The infection is highly contagious among unvaccinated cats, especially in kittens and young adults, and virtually every cat will be exposed to this virus at some point in life. It can be carried and shed in feces, vomit, urine, saliva, and mucus of an infected cat. You may unknowingly be carrying the virus on yourself when you come home to your cat or when your cat meets a new friend. Indoor-only cats are still at risk!
The virus enters the cat through the mouth or nose and, if the cat is not vaccinated against it, eventually leads to life-threatening disease of the intestine and bone marrow. Chances of survival without aggressive treatment and hospitalization are low because of severe dehydration and secondary bacterial infections.
The good news is that the panleukopenia vaccine for cats is very effective and provides long-lasting protection. The vaccine should be given at 12 weeks old and again at 14-15 weeks, then every three years afterward.
Vaccinating your cat against the core viruses, including panleukopenia, is always the right thing to do.