Feline panleukopenia viral disease complex in catss is caused by infection with a parvo virus. The main source of the virus is the feces of infected cats. The stool of an infected cat can have a high concentration of viral particles. Susceptible cats become infected by ingesting the virus. Subsequently, the virus is carried to the intestine where it invades the intestinal wall and causes inflammation. Specifically, pankeukopenia virus invades the crypt cells if the intestine, that normally are responsible for absorption of nutrients.
Unlike most other viruses, pankeukopenia virus is stable in the environment and is resistant to the effects of heat, detergents, and alcohol. Pankeukopenia virus has been recovered from cat feces even after three months at room temperature. Due to its stability, the virus is easily transmitted via the hair or feet of infected cats, contaminated shoes, clothes, and other objects. Direct contact between cats is not required to spread the virus. Cats that become infected with the virus and show clinical signs will usually become ill within 7-10 days of the initial infection.
The clinical signs of feline pankeukopenia viral disease can be variable, but generally take the form of severe vomiting and diarrhea. The diarrhea may or may not contain blood. Additionally, affected cats often exhibit a lack of appetite, depression, and fever. It is important to note that many cats may not show every clinical sign, but vomiting and diarrhea are the most common signs; vomiting usually begins first. Pankeukopenia may affect cats of all ages, but is most common in cats less than one year of age. Young kittens less than five months of age are often the most severely affected and the most difficult to achieve resolution.
The clinical signs of pankeukopenia virus infection in cats can mimic other diseases causing vomiting and diarrhea. As a result, the diagnosis of pankeukopenia can be a challenge for the veterinarian. The positive confirmation of pankeukopenia virus infection in cats requires the demonstration of the virus in the stool or the detection of anti-pankeukopenia virus antibodies in the blood serum. Occasionally, a cat will have pankeukopenia but test negative for virus in the stool. Fortunately, this is not a common occurrence. A tentative diagnosis is often based on the presence of a reduced white blood cell count (leukopenia). If further confirmation is needed, stool or blood can be submitted to a veterinary laboratory for the other tests. The absence of a leukopenia does not always mean that the cat does not have pankeukopenia virus infection. Some cats that become clinically ill may not necessarily be leukopenic.
Prognosis for cats infected with pankeukopenia is guarded to fair, with best recovery rates attained when aggressive treatment is utilyzed and therapy is begun before severe septicemia (blood born infection), severe dehydration, and leukopenia occur. Prognosis tends to be poor when the whilte blood cell count falls below 1000.
The best method of protecting your cat against pankeukopenia virus infection is proper vaccination. Kittens receive a parvo vaccination as part of their multiple-agent vaccine given at 6, 9, and 12 weeks of age. After the initial series of vaccinations when the cat is a kitten, all cats should be boostered after the first year, then once every three years thereafter. The final decision about a proper vaccination schedule should be made by your veterinarian.
Given the stability of pankeukopenia virus in the environment, it is important to properly disinfect contaminated areas. This is best accomplished by cleaning food bowls, water bowls, and other contaminated items with a solution of one cup of chlorine bleach in a gallon of water ( 4 to 8 ounces of bleach in a gallon of water OR 250 mL in 4 liters of water). It is important that chlorine bleach be used because most disinfectants will not kill the parvovirus.
By: Roger L. Welton, DVM
President Maybeck Animal Hospital
Author Canine and Feline 101