immediate, in-house detection of the
virus in just a few minutes, confirming the diagnosis.
What to do
There are no medications that kill the
virus. Treatment consists of aggressive supportive care with intravenous
fluids, antibiotics, anti-nausea drugs,
and nutritional sustenance. Severely
affected kittens or cats might require
plasma or blood transfusions.
The prognosis for recovery is
guarded. Mortality rates are high, and
most kittens younger than 8 weeks
old don’t make it. Older kittens, if
they survive the first 48 hours of
hospitalization, may pull through.
Kittens who contract the virus in
utero, if they survive, may be born
with a brain disorder called cere-
bellar hypoplasia. The cerebellum is
responsible for balance and coordi-
nation. Because these kittens have
an underdeveloped cerebellum, they
go through life a little clumsy and
ungraceful but are otherwise fine.
Due to the contagious nature of
the disease, hospitalized cats should
be strictly isolated from other cats.
Cats who recover from panleukopenia are believed to be immune from
the disease for the rest of their lives.
Don’t let it happen
The best way to treat any problem
is to prevent it in the first place.
Fortunately, vaccination offers safe
and effective protection.
Initially, kittens receive immunity
from the antibodies in their mother’s
milk. This immunity only lasts a few
weeks, however. As the kittens’ antibody levels drop, they become vulnerable to infection. To best protect
kittens, they should be vaccinated
against the virus. The initial vaccine is
given between 6 and 8 weeks of age,
then every two to four weeks thereafter until about 16 weeks of age.
Panleukopenia can be a major
cause of mortality in cats in shelters
and rescue homes. With rare excep-
tions, all felines in a cattery or shelter
more than 6 weeks of age should
be vaccinated, regardless of physical
condition and pregnancy status.
The parvovirus that causes pan-
leukopenia in cats is highly resistant
to some disinfectants and may sur-
vive in the environment for several
months. This has significant implica-
tions in shelters and catteries trying
to limit the spread of the disease.
Disinfectants containing sodium
hypochlorite (bleach) have been
shown to be effective in killing the
virus in the environment.
Dr. Arnold Plotnick is the
founder of Manhattan
Cat Specialists, a feline-
exclusive veterinary prac-
tice on Manhattan’s upper
west side. He is also an
author of The Original Cat Fancy Cat Bible.
Dr. Plotnick is a frequent contributor to
feline publications and websites, including
his own blog, Cat Man Do. He lives in New
York City with his cats, Mittens and Glitter.
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