Feline panleukopenia: Description, Causes and Risk Factors:
Feline panleukopenia is a highly contagious viral disease of cats characterized by its sudden onset, fever, loss of appetite, dehydration, depression, vomiting, decreased numbers of circulating white blood cells (leukopenia), and often a high mortality rate. Intrauterine (within the uterus) infection may result in abortions, stillbirths, early neonatal deaths, and cerebellar hypoplasia (underdevelopment of the cerebellum) manifested by incoordination (ataxia) in kittens beginning at two to three weeks of age. All members of the cat family (Felidae) are susceptible to infection with feline panleukopenia virus (FPV), as are raccoons, coatimundis, and ringtails, in the family Procyonidae.
Feline panleukopenia (FPL) is caused by a virus of the Parvovirus family, feline panleukopenia virus (FPLV). Feline panleukopenia virus is a very small and very stable virus classified in the parvovirus group. The genetic material of the virus is composed of a "single-stranded DNA." The virus is highly resistant to most disinfectants ether, chloroform, acid, alcohol, and heat (56 C or 132.8 F, for thirty minutes) but is susceptible to Clorox bleach. Replication (reproduction) of the virus in the host occurs in cells that are themselves actively reproducing.
The virus usually enters orally, with infection occurring primarily in the lymphoid tissues of the oropharynx (tonsillar area) and intestine. Within twenty-four hours of infection, virus is present in the blood, which distributes it throughout the body. Within two days of infection, nearly every body tissue contains significant amounts of virus. As circulating antibodies appear, the amount of virus present gradually decreases. Small quantities of virus may persist for up to one year in certain tissues, but the strong immune response of the host usually neutralizes the virus as it is shed, so that most persistently infected kittens are not infectious.
The most severely damaged tissues in the infected newborn cat are those undergoing rapid cell division, the thymus (lymph organ in the chest) and the cerebellum (rear of the brain). Cells of the small intestine, which have a slow turnover rate in neonates (newborns), are not damaged, although the virus is present within them. In older kittens, the development of the disease also depends on the reproductive activity of the various tissues within the body. Lymphoid tissues, bone marrow, and the surface cells of the intestine are the most severely affected.
The feline panleukopenia virus is passed from cat to cat by direct contact. The source of infection is most commonly fecal waste from infected cats, but the virus may be present in other body secretions. A healthy cat can also become infected without coming in direct contact with an infected cat. Bedding, cages, food dishes, and the hands or clothing of handlers that contact infected secretions may harbor and transmit the virus.
The incubation period from infection until clinical signs develop is typically three to five days, seldom longer than a week.
The first signs an owner might notice are: general depression, loss of appetite, high fever, lethargy,vomiting, dehydration, and hanging over the water dish. This course of the disease may be short andexplosive. Advanced cases, when discovered, may cause death within hours. Normally, the sicknessmay go on for three or four days after the first elevation of body temperature
Fever will fluctuate during the illness and abruptly fall to subnormal levels shortly before death. Othersigns in later stages may be diarrhea, anemia, and persistent vomiting
.FP is so prevalent and the signs so varied that any sick cat should be taken to a veterinarian for adefinite diagnoses.
A presumptive diagnosis of feline panleukopenia can be made by the veterinarian on the basis of the history, the clinical signs, and the presence of leukopenia. There are many diseases of cats that produce the same signs as panleukopenia, so tests may be done to rule out other similar diseases. Diagnosis begins with a complete history and a physical exam. Your veterinarian will be most likely do the following:
History - Your veterinarian will likely inquire about exposure to sick cats, recent shelter or kennel stays, and vaccination history.
- CBC/Chemistry Panel - These blood tests will evaluate various internal organ functions, including the heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, metabolism, and electrolyte balance. The CBC (complete blood count) is a measure the amount and different kinds of red and white blood cells are present in the body.
- Fecal Antigen Test - A fecal sample will be mixed a reagent specific for the virus and then introduced to a SNAP ELISA test. This test will indicate positive (usually within 10 minutes) if the virus is present in your cat's body. Keep in mind that false positives may occur due to recent exposure to the panleukopenia vaccine. False negativesare more common in this feline test than the dog version of the same test.
As for most viral diseases, there is no specific treatment for FPL. Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses, but are helpful in controlling the secondary bacterial infections that are common because of the lack of white cells and reduced immunity. Supportive therapy and good nursing significantly decrease mortality rates. In cases of enteritis, parenteral administration of a broad-spectrum antibiotic is recommended. Disinfectants containing sodium hypochlorite (bleach), peracetic acid, formaldehyde or sodium hydroxide are effective
Dehydration and shock are life-threatening components of FPL and intravenous fluid therapy and intense nursing care is critical. If the pet can be supported through the acute illness, prognosis for a full recovery is good.
Fortunately, many excellent vaccines are available to protect cats against panleukopenia. In unvaccinated populations, however, panleukopenia remains the most severe and destructive disease of cats
Strict isolation is essential. The area where the cat is kept should be warm, free of drafts, and very clean. Plenty of “tender loving care” is very important. Cats may lose the will to live; so frequent petting, hand feeding, the cautious use of heating pads, and good nursing care by the owner is essential.
NOTE: The above information is educational purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.
DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.
- Other cats that may have been in close association with the infected cat should also be carefully examined.