Feline Distemper is a severe and potentially fatal disease, so it is important to treat your cat as soon as possible. Even though some cats have a strong immune system that can fight off the virus by itself, most cats that do not receive treatment will not survive the disease. Currently, there is not a cure for Feline Distemper, so addressing the symptoms and preventing other illnesses is the most important thing you can do.
Shedding is the period of time in which a virus is excreted after successful reproduction in a host, and is able to be transmitted to other animals. Cats often begin to shed the Distemper virus before any clinical signs are visible, during incubation, and up to six weeks after recovery. For this reason, cats should be quarantined for up to six weeks if they are displaying any unusual symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, or blood in the stool to protect other animals. For more information on the signs and symptoms, visit our Distemper in Cats page.
Treatment at Home
If you choose to treat your cat’s symptoms at home, there are several therapies that you can try, including fluid therapy, medications, and a change in diet. It is important to address the clinical signs right away as the disease can be life-threatening. Always consult your veterinarian before beginning any treatment at home.
Cats are at risk of dehydration due to severe vomiting and diarrhea. At home, make sure to offer your cat lots of water. If your cat will not drink water on his or her own, you can administer fluids subcutaneously (space under the skin). Subcutaneous fluids may be given as often as needed, but make sure that you do not over-hydrate your cat. Your vet will give you instructions on how much fluid to administer and how frequently, along with the supplies you need like needles and tubing.
Anti-nausea medications are used to help stop vomiting and to encourage cats to eat their food normally. Most anti-nausea medicines require a prescription, however you can try supplements and digestive enzymes to help your cat’s stomach. Do not use Pepto-Bismol, as it has asprin-related ingredients that could be toxic to your cat.
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Antibiotics can be used to treat secondary infections such as discharge from the eyes and nose or pneumonia. Antibiotics must be obtained from your vet, however you can administer the treatment at home. Make sure that you administer the full dosage of medication, even if your cat appears to be fully recovered before the pills are finished.
If your cat is vomiting and experiencing an upset stomach, try to give your cat bland food such as wet cat food. Wet cat food has a higher water content which can help with dehydration, and is also easier on the digestive system.
Treatment at the Vet
If you choose to have your cat treated for Distemper at the veterinarian, there are several therapies that your vet may use to treat your cat’s symptoms. These include administering fluids to treat severe vomiting and diarrhea, vitamin injections to replenish any deficiencies, and other medications to treat secondary illness that may occur as a result of the disease.
Common symptoms of Feline Distemper include vomiting and diarrhea, both of which can lead to severe dehydration. Fluid therapy is administered in order to replace the fluids and electrolytes that have been lost, and is commonly done though a vein with an IV. The vet will give your cat a mild sedative and shave the area around the vein being used for injection. A catheter will be inserted with a needle and attached to a drip with a bag of fluid.
B Vitamin Injections
Vitamin B12 is important to a cat’s immune system, nervous system, and digestive tract. Cats obtain B12 through their diet, however a cat with Distemper may not be eating and therefore not absorbing enough of the vitamin. B-vitamin injections are often administered to cats to stimulate their appetite and to aid in the vitamin deficiency. A vitamin B12 shot, also known as Cobalamin, is injected into the pocket between a cat’s skin and muscle.
Anti-nausea medications such as maropitant or metoclopramide can help cease vomiting and bring back a cat’s appetite. Cats with other secondary infections like pneumonia, will be administered antibiotics to treat the secondary illnesses.
Prevention is always the best practice! Feline Distemper cannot be cured, and is therefore so important to vaccinate against the disease. Talk to your veterinarian about vaccinating your cat, make sure your home or animal shelter is clean and disease-free, and read our blog with more great prevention tips!
What is the Feline Distemper Vaccine?
The Feline Distemper vaccine is an extremely effective prevention method with antibodies that can protect a cat from contracting the virus. The vaccine is applied by injection under the skin that introduces a small amount of an infectious organism into the cat’s immune system. This allows the cat’s immune system to identify the virus and to respond quickly should the body ever come into contact with it again.
The feline Distemper vaccine can be administered to a kitten as young as 6 weeks old, and is often administered again with boosters every 2-3 weeks until they are 16 weeks old. After a cat reaches adulthood, the cat is then given the vaccine at regular intervals during their adult life, varying on the health and age of the cat.
Pregnant cats should be considered for vaccination, as the vaccine can offer some protection to the kittens by generating maternal antibodies. In most cases, the benefits of vaccinating a queen (un-spayed female cat) outweight the risks of vaccination.
Common Reactions to the Vaccine
As with any vaccine, there are risks and side effects that may occur. Mild reactions can include lethargy, decreased appetite, and localized swelling at the injection site. In rare cases, cats can have an allergic reaction to the vaccine and develop hives, swelling, and a fever. Severe allergic reactions may include difficulty breathing, weakness, and sudden collapse. If any of the side effects last longer than a day or two or if your cat has an allergic reaction, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Prevent the spread of the Distemper virus by thoroughly disinfecting your home or shelter. Respiratory secretions and airborne pathogens are not the only ways that Canine and Feline Distemper can be spread to other animals, so be sure to clean your hands and clothing in addition to other surfaces and materials that can harbor the disease.
Rinse floors and the surfaces you plan to sanitize with water. This is an important first step as some disinfectants deactivate when they come in contact with organic matter, as well as some soaps and detergents.
Scrub all hard surfaces with a bleach solution of 1 part bleach to 32 parts water. It is recommended to also bleach items that you plan on throwing away in order to prevent the spread of disease outside of your home. Let the bleach sit for at least 10 minutes, and then rinse thoroughly with water and let air dry. Do not allow pets back into the area until the surfaces are completely dry, as bleach can be toxic to animals. Trash and replace items such as litter pans, food and water bowls, toys, and cat scratchers.
Carpets should be cleaned with a bleach solution and a carpet steamer. Remember to scrub the bottom of the carpet steamer after using and dump the remaining bleach water down the toilet.
Feline Distemper (Panleukopenia) can survive for up to a year in the environment, especially in a dark, moist area. This means that cats can contract the virus without coming into direct contact with an infected cat. The virus is resistant to several disinfectants, however bleach has been shown to kill the pathogen. Soak and spray areas with a diluted bleach mixture ( 1 part bleach in 32 parts water).
In shelters, it is important to quarantine infected animals since the virus is easily transmitted through bodily fluids. Clean any areas that the infected animal has come in contact with using the diluted bleach mixture of 1 part bleach to 32 parts water. Wash bedding, blankets, towels, etc. with hot water and bleach if possible, and discard of any items that cannot be bleached.
Wash Your Hands
Regular hand washing is one of the most important disease prevention steps that you can take. Always wear gloves when when handling animal feces or unfamiliar animals, and always wash your hands afterwards to prevent the spread of disease.
Feline Distemper can be spread on clothing, so be sure to remove any clothing that came into contact with unfamiliar animals or animals that are infected, and put them directly into the washing machine. Take extra care to make sure that you keep soiled clothes and clean clothing separate from each other. Wash clothing, bedding, towels, and other fabrics in hot water with a good detergent and bleach. Severely soiled items should be trashed.
Determining Your Cat's Risk of Infection
Risk is increased if a shelter is crowded and if there are many cats kenneled together. Cat housing with porous surfaces are more likely to harbor the disease, and should be cleaned and disinfected regularly.
Additionally, animals that are not vaccinated for Feline Distemper are at a very high risk of contracting the virus if they come into contact with another infected animal.
Top 5 FAQ
Can Feline Distemper be cured?
Similar to the Canine Distemper virus, there is no cure. If you suspect that your cat has the virus, you should take them to the clinic for treatment. Your Vet may give them antibiotics to help with the symptoms your cat is experiencing, as well as B vitamin injections to help with thiamine deficiency. If your cats symptoms are more severe your Vet might recommend blood or plasma transfusions, feeding tubes and other advanced therapies.
Can the Feline Distemper virus be transmitted to humans?
Feline Distemper is not known to be contagious to humans. In contrast, rabies is contagious and can be contracted by humans from a cat if the cat is infected.
What are the symptoms for the Feline Distemper vaccination?
Some cats can experience side effects to the vaccine, below are the most common ones.
- Allergic reactions can include: pain, swelling at the site of the injection
- Systemic reactions can include: loss of appetite, fever, lethargy
- Anaphylactic reactions: difficulty breathing, diarrhea, vomiting or an itchy face
How contagious is Feline Distemper?
Feline Distemper is highly contagious and potentially fatal. Young kittens, cats with weakened immune systems and pregnant cats are most at risk. If you suspect your cat has distemper, contact your Vet as soon as possible.
Should my cat receive the Feline Distemper vaccine?
It’s highly recommended that your cat be given the Feline Distemper vaccine. It’s recommend that kittens receive their first booster between 6-8 weeks of age and 2 more boosters given every 3 weeks. One more vaccine at 1 year of age and then every 3 years after that.
Other Frequently Asked Questions
How do I prevent Feline Distemper?
Getting them vaccinated is the best way to prevent your cat from getting the virus. If your cat does start to show symptoms, contact your Vet for an appointment as soon as possible so it doesn’t turn fatal.