It is only fair that since we have gone into some detail explaining the symptoms, cures and preventions associated with major ailments in dogs, against which vaccines exist and are available, we should (must) do the same for cats which are pets in many, many households.
FELINE PANLEUKOPENIA (FPL), also called Feline Infections Enteritis.
Q: How serious and contagious is this feline disease? Is it caused by a virus?
A: FPL is an extremely infectious and, and globally widespread viral disease. The virus also attacks wild cats – whether those whose habitat is the savannahs or the jungle. Unvaccinated kittens are especially susceptible. The mortality rate is high. My own experience is that when a “wave” of FPL is coursing through Guyana and the Caribbean, we vets, exchanging reports, know very well that FPL is surging; and, of course, we advise our clients, who may have lapsed in the vaccination schedules to immediately bring their feline wards in for inoculation. Over recent years, vets have not experienced huge outbreaks of this disease – perhaps because of the efficiency of our vaccination programmes.
N.B. As an aside, I should mention that many people call FPL: “Feline Distemper”. FPL is in no way connected with the virus causing Canine Distemper.
Q: How is the disease transmitted?
A: (i) By actual contact with an infected cat or its excretion/secretions.
(ii) Exposure to contaminated food utensils and litter boxes, even through clothes and hands of Clinic and household personnel.
(iii) Via bites from fleas and other external parasites.
(iv) The disease can infect the kittens, even when they are still in their mother’s womb.
(v) To a lesser degree, this virus can be air borne.
Q: What are the symptoms?
A: (i) Often the virus is in the cat long before the symptoms begin to be exhibited.
(ii) Signs of illness appear 2-10 days after exposure/contamination.
(iii) The first sign tends to be inappetence (loss of appetite).
(iv) Fever (as high as 105°F/38°C).
(v) Listlessness.
(vi) Repeated vomiting (frothy, yellow – stained).
(vii) Thirst – but seems to be unable to drink even water.
(viii) Exhibition of pain (crying) even as the cat is at its food/water bowl. Usually, the expression of pain is exhibited if the abdomen of the cat is touched, however gentle.
(ix) Diarrhoea which may usually develop later (but sometimes even at the beginning of the disease). Sometimes there are bloody streaks in the soft/watery stool.
• Sometimes the onset of the FPL disease is so sudden that the caregiver does not even recognize that the cat/kitten is ill.
Q: Treatment?
A: This is one disease where it is better for you NOT to err on the side of caution. Most clients think that the cat/kitten has ingested poison – but actually the listlessness and vomiting is being caused by the FPL virus. Consult your vet immediately. The vet will introduce intensive care, namely:
(i) Fluid Replacement (drip) with B – Vitamins in the infusion.
(ii) Antibiotics (against secondary bacterial infection).
(iii) Therapy geared to improve the vitality and strength of the weakened cat/kitten. The vet might have to feed special concoctions with appropriate nutritive value, via a stomach tube.
• In spite of the vet’s therapeutic intervention, many cats will die.
• Kittens recovering from the FPL infections may have brain damage, which causes an incoordination of movement (wobbly gait).
• Cats recovering may be permanently/partially blind.
Q: How effective is the prevention
A: One aspect of the prevention is to keep the immediate environment as clear as possible. Please note that the FPL virus is hardy and robust and resistant to fluctuations in temperature. Also, it can exist for a long time in dried fecal matter in the outside environment and also (within the house) in carpets, chair cushions, floor cracks and crevices – for as long as one year.
I always suggest as a preventative undertaking that – once you have decided to own and care for your companion animals – you clean the cat’s immediate surrounding and feeding bowls and grooming equipment with 1:30 solution of household bleach (6% solution of hypochlorite), or a 4% formalin solution for about 10 minutes. During the cleaning, keep the cat in its cage. The simple sweet-smelling disinfectants are really not good at killing viruses in a kennel or cattery.
Also, keep your cats free from external parasites. Your vet will advise you what to use. The second option, by far the most viable option, is to vaccinate your cats/kittens. At a later date, we will discuss the Vaccination Schedule). Inactivated and modified – live virus vaccines, which vets use, have proven to be particularly good, and provide long-lasting immunity. The multi-purpose vaccine also covers other feline diseases as well.
N.B. • Prior to vaccination, you must tell your vet that your cat may possibly be in the early stages of pregnancy. He/she will palpate the cat and decide not to vaccinate because if the cat is found to be pregnant, the cat will highly likely abort the kittens soon after the vaccination. The cat could and should be vaccinated before she is bred.
• It has been reported to me that after vaccination against the FPL virus, the cat may exhibit partial blindness. The manufacturers of the feline vaccines have not included this warning in their accompanying leaflets; nor have I ever seen this condition in cats after vaccination.
Stay Safe.