Re-emergence of feline panleukopenia in Australian cats

There have been two new outbreaks of feline panleukopenia (a cat virus not seen for years) reported in Melbourne and Sydney.

Feline panleucopenia is also known as feline enteritis, feline distemper or feline parvo virus. It is a highly contagious, often fatal virus that affects cats. Although the virus is closely related to the dog parvo virus, feline panleucopenia is not transmissible to dogs.

The virus is easily transmitted through contact with an infected cat’s bodily fluids (urine, saliva), faeces, fomites (bedding, food dishes, shoes and clothes of handlers etc.) and fleas. Like all Parvo viruses it is extremely resistant and can survive over a year in the environment.

The virus attacks the rapid dividing cells of
1)the bone marrow causing a low white cell count and hence increased risk in infection from normal body bacteria
2)lining of the gastrointestinal tract resulting in severe ulceration and sloughing

Clinical signs: develop suddenly and can include fever, lethargy, depression, loss of appetite, profuse watery (often bloody)diarrhoea, vomiting, anaemia, severe dehydration, septic shock and often death. If a cat is exposed during pregnancy the virus can cause still births, abortion and brain damage to off spring. The virus most commonly affects cats less than 6 months of age.

The outbreaks occurred in unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated cats, mostly in kittens less than 6 months, and especially in kittens 6 to 12 weeks old.

Diagnosis: is based on clinical signs, history of incomplete vaccination, faecal tests and blood tests.

Treatment – Feline panleukopenia requires aggressive treatment in hospital as this disease can kill cats in less than 24 hours. Treatment may involve whole blood transfusions, intravenous fluids to restore fluids and electrolytes, IV antibiotics, anti-nausea and anti-vomiting medication. Prognosis is guarded especially in kittens and many die despite intensive treatment.

The environment the cat came from will be contaminated for over a year so any new cats must be fully vaccinated before they are introduced. A 1:32 diluted solution of bleach should be used to try and decontaminate the environment( walls, floors, cages, litter boxes, food and water bowls etc.).

Vaccination is protective.
In shelters modified live vaccines can be safely administered from the age of four weeks, and are recommended to be administered in the face of an FPV outbreak every two to three weeks until 16 weeks of age. Kittens not in a shelter environment should be vaccinated from 6 to 8 weeks of age every three to four weeks until 16 weeks of age or older, as per the WSAVA vaccination guidelines Vaccination Guidelines 2015 Full Version.pdf