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Treating Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper) in Cats

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


Feline panleukopenia is a serious, highly contagious parvoviral infection of cats. There is no cure for FPL - that is, there is no way to effectively eliminate the virus from circulation once a cat is infected. However, supportive and management protocols are available to increase affected cats’ chances of survival and improve the quality of their lives.

Treatment Options

The primary effects of feline panleukopenia - vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, depression and dangerous secondary bacterial infections - will quickly become life-threatening if not treated swiftly and aggressively. Treatment for cats with parvoviral infections is similar to that for dogs with parvoviral infections and must be done on an inpatient basis early in the course of the disease. Because this virus is extremely contagious, affected cats should be strictly isolated from other cats if at all possible. Caretakers of infected cats should take extra precautions to remove and replace shoes and clothing and thoroughly clean their hands and arms before coming into contact with non-infected animals.

Intensive supportive care, including intravenous fluid therapy, is necessary to re-hydrate infected cats and manage shock and electrolyte abnormalities. There are no specific antiviral drugs currently available to treat feline panleukopenia. Therapy centers on managing the symptoms of the disease to make the cat as comfortable as possible. The virus is particularly lethal in unvaccinated young kittens. Older cats with stronger immune systems have a better prognosis, but even their chances of survival are not promising.

Broad-spectrum antibiotics are often given intravenously to combat secondary bacterial infections, but only after the cat’s hydration status is normalized so that it is able to handle the effects of medication. Expectorants or other cough suppressants can be used to help manage the bronchitis and pneumonia that frequently accompany this illness. Anti-emetics, such as metoclopramide and others, can be given intravenously or orally to help soothe the adverse effects of nausea and vomiting. If the cat has become dangerously anemic (a significant reduction in the number of circulating red blood cells), whole blood transfusions may be available, but usually only at specialized clinics, referral centers or veterinary teaching hospitals. If the cat is unable or unwilling to eat for an extended period of time, additional nutritional support and appetite stimulants can be used. Anti-seizure medications may be administered if necessary, and of course appropriate pain management is essential to the cat’s comfort.

Successful treatment of feline panleukopenia generally takes at least one week, but it can take weeks or even months for the cat to regain its health.


Unfortunately, kittens that develop feline panleukopenia have a guarded prognosis. Older cats have a better chance of surviving the disease. If a cat survives feline parvoviral infection, it normally will have no permanent adverse side effects and will acquire life-long immunity to the disease. However, it will continue to shed the virus in bodily secretions for several weeks.

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