Definition of Feline Panleukopenia
Feline panleukopenia, also known as FPL, feline infectious enteritis, feline parvo, or feline distemper, is an acute, severe and highly contagious disease primarily of kittens and unvaccinated older cats. FPL affects all body tissues containing rapidly dividing cells, especially those in the digestive tract. It is caused by the feline parvovirus and is characterized by the acute onset of vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, depression, and commonly death.
While Feline panleukopenia is also referred to as feline distemper & feline parvo, the causative organisms are not related to the same viruses that cause distemper in dogs or parvo in dogs. Furthermore, Feline panleukopenia does not affect dogs.
Causes of Feline Panleukopenia
The virus that causes feline panleukopenia is quite similar to the canine parvovirus that is responsible for severe gastrointestinal disease in dogs. The feline parvovirus can infect all cats, both domestic and wild, as well as raccoons, ferrets and mink, which often act as reservoirs for the viral organisms. The virus is shed in the bodily excretions of affected animals for up to 6 weeks following infection and has a particular affinity for feline feces. Feline parvovirus is very resistant to most disinfectants and can survive in the environment for months to years. Cats become infected by direct exposure to infected feces, salivary secretions or viral particles on inanimate objects (shoes, food and water dishes, towels, clothing, etc.). The virus can also be transmitted in utero from infected queens to their unborn offspring or to newborns during grooming.
Prevention of Feline Panleukopenia
Vaccination is highly effective for preventing feline panleukopenia. Both modified live and inactivated viral vaccines are available, but the modified live (attenuated) vaccines seem to be more effective and produce more rapid immunologic protection. Both types of vaccines can be given either intranasally (by being squirted into the cat’s nasal cavities) or by the more familiar intramuscular injection. Pregnant cats and kittens younger than 6 weeks should not be vaccinated with the modified live product due to potentially adverse developmental consequences. Current vaccine protocols call for vaccinating kittens at or after 8 weeks of age, then at 12 and 16 weeks, with a booster one year later. Although that booster may provide lifelong protection, most authorities recommend revaccinating every 3 years.
The feline parvovirus is extremely hardy and can live in soil, cracks between tiles, carpets and furniture for months to years. The most effective way to eliminate it in the environment is through thorough disinfection with a dilute solution of 1:32 bleach to water.
The feline parvovirus targets white blood cells, which is the source of its name (white blood cells are also known as leukocytes; panleukopenia refers to an abnormally low number of circulating white blood cells). Feline panleukopenia is largely preventable by appropriate routine vaccinations. Fortunately, the feline parvovirus does not infect dogs or people.