What is Feline Panleukopaenia Virus (FPV)?
FPV is a parvovirus similar to canine parvovirus (CPV). It is highly contagious and is spread between infected cats via direct contact and enters the body via the mouth or nose. It can also live on infected surfaces, such as litter trays, food bowls and bedding, for a year or more and can tolerate freezing and some disinfectants. Most cats at some point in their life are exposed to this virus and an infected cat can spread disease for up to six weeks post infection.
How is it spread?
Cats that are infected can shed the virus from bodily secretions such as vomit and faeces. FPV has for many years been diagnosed infrequently by vets, presumably because of widespread vaccine use. However, studies have shown that the disease can also be caused by CPV, of which there has been a recent upsurge in Adelaide, and this may be contributing to an increase in the disease in cats.
What are the symptoms?
Over two to seven days after infection, the virus affects a cat’s lymph nodes, bone marrow and the intestine. In the bone marrow, the virus suppresses white blood cells (hence the name panleukopaenia which means “all-white cell shortage”) and weakens the immune system. The virus can cause a secondary bacterial infection in the intestines which can rapidly lead to death. Some cats can die suddenly without showing any symptoms, while others suffer severe symptoms, including, general depression, listlessness, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhoea, and dehydration. Skin loses its elasticity due to dehydration which is caused by vomiting and diarrhoea, and lethargy is a primary warning sign. Cats infected with FPV often droop their heads over their water bowls, unable to drink in spite of being thirsty.
The most susceptible to the virus are kittens aged three to five months, however it can affect cats of any age. Adult cats are generally more resistant, as a result of having been vaccinated or having developed immunity naturally through exposure to the virus in the environment. Kittens infected in their mothers’ wombs or up to two weeks after birth can sustain permanent nervous system damage, which leads to difficulty walking and maintaining balance.
How is it diagnosed?
Diagnosis generally involves identification of symptoms and a low white blood cell count. The virus is also detectable in the patient’s faeces. Treatment includes supportive therapy with intravenous fluids, antibiotics and sometimes blood transfusions. Isolation of infected animals is also necessary to avoid infection of other animals and the environment.
How can I protect my cat?
The best way to prevent the spread of FPV is through vaccination of cats.
Standard cat vaccinations include protection for this virus, and also show cross-protection against CPV. The vaccine is very effective: even cats whose vaccination is slightly overdue should still be protected. We recommend checking with your vet and updating your pet’s vaccination if required. If your cats are up-to-date with their health checks and vaccinations, then they are immune to this virus and are unlikely to get any symptoms even if exposed.
If an outbreak is suspected, disinfection of potentially contaminated areas with an approved veterinary disinfectant is essential for effective control, including food bowls, litter trays, cages and carriers, and other surfaces that an infected animal has come into contact with. All handlers of infected animals need to wash hands before and after the handling of every animal to help reduce the risk of spreading the disease.
What should I do if think my cat could be affected?
Call us immediately if your cat shows any sign of illness. Our Golden Grove Hospital is available 24/7 for after-hours emergencies. Ph: 8289 3722