Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard
Snow Leopard cub (7 mos old) - Cape May County Zoo

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Don't let it's "small" size fool you!

While most dog owners have heard of “parvo” and know it can be deadly, cat owners may not be aware of a related virus that affects their pets similarly.  
This is also known as “feline distemper.” 
The disease in cats is referred to as panleukopenia - which means ALL (pan) white blood cells (leuk) are low or suppressed (penia) - leaving them vulnerable to secondary infections.  It is in the parvo virus family(the name comes from the Latin word for small - parvus) , which includes other types that infect humans, rats, chickens and other animals. These are generally species specific. 

Clinical signs shown by cats are similar to what dog owners see - vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy. This is often a rapidly progressing disease and can kill quickly.  The animals become dehydrated and septic if veterinary intervention is delayed. However, as with the canine form, even WITH prompt supportive care, this disease can be fatal. 
We really don’t see this disease to any great degree any longer because it is part of our routine vaccinations. I have seen a few cases of it over the years - some fatal, some survived. This is a key component of all  core feline vaccines - the FVRCP vaccine that we give to kittens as a series and adult cats, either annually or bi or tri annually (depending on the vaccine and your veterinarian’s protocol).  
Those at highest risk are kittens who are between a decline in mom’s protective antibodies and full vaccinal immunity. In every kitten this low point is different, hence our reason for having you come in with your kitten every 3-4 weeks for the first few months of life. 
Diagnosis is based on history and clinical signs as well as bloodwork (especially the complete blood count where we’d see the low white cell count) and a canine parvo SNAP test (even though not licensed for this use). The test HAS absolutely worked for me and other vets I know of - it is a test that detects virus antigen in the feces (since the viruses are “family” there is cross reaction).
The other problem is that this virus is VERY hardy - it takes a lot to kill it in the enviornment. Infected cats need to be in an isolation area and anyone working with them needs to thoroughly disinfect before working with any other cats. A bleach solution is the best way to ensure areas are properly cleaned. 
Treatment consists of hospitilization and supportive care (IV fluids and antibiotics).
It is absolutely preventable!  There is concern that in some areas, a minor resurgence could be coming due to people NOT having cats vaccinated and increases in stray or feral cat populations (much of this being economically driven and cats tend to get the short end of THAT straw over a family dog). 

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