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Diagnosing Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper) in Cats

Source: PetWave, Updated on October 10, 2016
Panleukopenia (Distemper or Parvovirus) Guide:


Feline panleukopenia, also known as feline infectious enteritis or feline parvoviral disease, is not especially easy to diagnose. However, in most cases, information from physical examination, history, clinical signs and routine in-clinic blood tests can be used to arrive at a presumptive diagnosis.

How Feline Panleukopenia is Diagnosed

The feline parvovirus has a particular affinity for attacking a cat’s white blood cells (leukocytes), which are essential components of the immune system. As a result, blood samples from infected cats frequently show a greatly reduced number of circulating white blood cells – especially in young or unvaccinated cats. This condition, called “leukopenia,” gives this illness its name. Affected cats also commonly are anemic, which means that they have a low circulating red blood cell count as well. Kittens with severe gastrointestinal symptoms, together with a low white and red blood cell count, are probably infected with the feline parvovirus.

Diagnostic laboratory tests for feline parvoviral infection do exist. They include immunofluorescent antibody testing (IFA), polymerase chain reaction tests (PCR), serologic examination (specific blood tests) and virus isolation. However, these tests are time- and labor-intensive and are not commonly used or readily available.

The in-clinic fecal test used to diagnose parvoviral infection in dogs can also be used to detect the presence of feline parvovirus in an infected cat’s fecal sample.

Special Notes

Once clinical signs of feline parvoviral infection develop in cats, the chance of a complete recovery is not good. Immediate and intense supportive care, preferably started very early in the course of the disease, may enhance the animal’s quality of life and increase its relatively slim chances of recovery.

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