Many cat owners only know the “cat epidemic” from hearsay and regular vaccinations at the vet. But every year thousands of cats die of the virus disease. Read the most important information about cat disease here.

What is cat disease?

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Experts speak of cat disease as “Feline Panleukopenia”. The other colloquial terms such as “cat distemper” and “cat plague” make it clear how dangerous the disease is. It is a highly contagious viral infection. The pathogen belongs to the group of parvoviruses and is also called “Feline Panleukopenia Virus”.

The name refers to the devastating effect the virus has on the immune system: it damages the lymphatic tissue in the bone marrow. This is where the white blood cells responsible for the immune system, the leukocytes, are produced. The cat’s defenses are so weakened that bacteria and other pathogens have an easy time of it.

Cat disease is closely related to parvovirus in dogs.

Cat Disease: Symptoms

The incubation period for cat disease is two to eight days. However, the possible symptoms are non-specific. In addition to the immune system, the virus attacks the digestive organs, which can lead to severe diarrhea. Clinical symptoms of cat disease include:

  • apathy
  • vomit
  • loss of appetite
  • (bloody) diarrhea
  • nasal discharge
  • inflamed eyes
  • high fever

Unfortunately, some infected animals show no symptoms at all and die of cat disease within a few hours. Experts speak of a peracute course that is caused by aggressive virus strains.

Adult animals often develop a mild form that is not life-threatening – but just as contagious.

Cat Disease: When to Go to the Vet?

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Anyone who has an unvaccinated cat at home that shows one or more of the symptoms mentioned should take it to the vet as soon as possible. Because every minute counts when it comes to cat disease. In addition, the symptoms could hide other dangerous diseases such as an infection with the feline coronavirus. The vet uses a blood count to determine, among other things, the number of leukocytes in the blood. In the case of cat disease, their number drops to below 4,000 leukocytes per microliter. Rapid tests for cat disease are also possible, but less reliable.

Cat Disease: Can It Be Spread to Humans?

The virus spreads through the feces, urine, or nasal secretions of sick cats in the area. Particularly tricky:

The parvovirus is one of the most resistant pathogens in the world.

It survives for months and does not die from drying out or frost. Many disinfectants cannot do anything against the pathogen. Chemicals such as sodium hypochlorite, formaldehyde, or glutaraldehyde are effective.

How do cats infect each other with cat disease?

Cats can get infected by using common bowls or litter boxes. Likewise, about traces of feces, urine, or other body secretions in the environment. Animals in facilities where several cats come together in large numbers are, therefore, particularly at risk. These include animal shelters, cat boarding houses, or veterinary practices. Indirect transmission is also possible:

Indoor cats can become infected by viruses stuck to their owners’ shoes.

Just one gram of feces contains enough viruses to infect thousands of cats. Very young cats in particular are at risk of contracting cat disease. Most affected animals are between three and five months young. Very old or weakened cats without vaccination are also among the risk groups. Unborn cats can get infected by an infected mother before birth. Theoretically, infection via fleas is also possible.

Is Cat Disease Contagious to Humans?

There is a closely related virus – parvovirus B19 – which causes rubella in humans. However, parvoviruses from cats and dogs cannot cause disease in humans. We can therefore give the all-clear:

Cat disease is not dangerous to humans and there is no risk of infection.

Is Cat Disease Dangerous to Other Animals?

In addition to feline animals such as lions and lynxes, small bears such as raccoons and minks can also contract cat disease. The virus’s genetic information is 99 percent identical to the related parvovirus that affects dogs.

Some experts call parvovirus in dogs “canine cat disease”, even though they are two different pathogens. Some experts suspect that newer virus types have lost their host loyalty. Caution is therefore advised: in rare cases, the virus could pass from dogs to cats and vice versa.

Is Cat Disease Always Fatal?

No – adult cats who become infected have a good chance of surviving the disease with quick action. A look at history shows how dangerous cat disease is:

In March 1977, scientists targeted cats on Marion Island in South Africa with cat disease. The local population was out of control and threatened the local fauna. In the beginning, the researchers counted over 3,600 cats, five years later there were only 615.

The younger or weaker the animal at the time of infection, the more deadly the virus is. Cat disease leads to a large loss of fluids and checkmates the immune system.

Affected animals die of dehydration or additional infections.

If an initial blood test shows fewer than 1,500 leukocytes per microliter of blood, this indicates an unfavorable prognosis.

With a peracute course, the mortality rate is almost 100 percent, with an acute course it is 25 to 90 percent. Kittens infected before or shortly after birth often suffers from permanent brain damage in the form of cerebellar ataxia or blindness.

Cat disease therapy

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The fact that cat disease is often fatal is due to the fact that the largest risk groups – kittens, debilitated, and older cats – have little to counter it. If the veterinarian recognizes the disease early and initiates immediate treatment, this increases the chances of survival.

Therapy options include restorative infusions and drugs that help the body fight the virus. Antibiotics protect the velvet paw from bacteria that could attack the weakened immune system.

Vaccination: prevent cat disease

The best prophylaxis against cat disease is vaccination, which protects against parvovirus. Young cats receive the first vaccination at eight weeks of age and the second at twelve weeks. A one-year refresher is then required to complete the basic immunization.

For cats without great infection pressure, a booster every three years is sufficient after the primary vaccination.

Annual vaccination can still be useful for animal shelter cats or outdoor animals in areas with many conspecifics.

If cat disease has occurred in a household, only fully vaccinated animals should move in. Although the feline disease may be less of a threat to adult cats, getting your vaccination booster is highly recommended. Vaccination not only protects the health of your own velvet paw but also helps to contain the dangerous virus.