This is a viral infection of cats. It has many names. The real technical name is also Feline Panleuko-penia.

However, because of a similarity with the agent that causes Parvovirus in dogs, the disease is called Feline Parvovirus. Other names for Feline ‘Distemper’ are Feline Infectious Enteritis or Feline Ataxia (uncoordinated gait). I am placing the word ‘Distemper’ in inverted comas, because this highly contagious viral disease of cats really has little to do with the Distemper we have described in dogs. I prefer to use the name Feline Panleukopenia (FPL).

FPL is a highly contagious disease, which infects and kills kittens and adult cats – not only those which have been domesticated like our house cats, but also wild cats. I remember once working in a zoo which had prided itself in the breeding of tigers, especially Siberian tigers. They got slack with their vaccination regimen. Well, when FPL hit that zoo, many of these valuable cats died within a relatively short space of time.

How is FPL spread?

(i) Direct contact with an infected cat and its excretions and secretions
(ii) Contact with FPL virus contaminated utensils (foodpans, litter boxes, etc)

(iii) Via the clothes or hands of personnel (including veterinarians or animal health assistants, pet groomers, etc) who might have handled an infectious cat.

(iv) The virus can also travel via the airborne route and infect a cat which breathes in the virus.

(v) It seems that external parasites (fleas, etc) can also transmit the disease.

This virus is extremely stable and can exist for years in cracks and crevices and furniture upholstery and carpets, etc. Also, don’t think that ordinary household disinfectants like Lysol Spray or Smell-o-Pine can kill it.


Early signs:

– Inappetence (loss of appetite)

– Apathy (listlessness)

– Fever (as high as 105°F)

– Vomiting (frothy yellow-coloured bile)

– The cat wants to drink, but can’t. (If the

cat actually takes in the fluid, it promptly

vomits it out).
NB:  In kittens, the run of the ailment could be so swift, that the animal dies without showing any pronounced symptoms at all.

Later signs:

– Diarrhoea (sometimes with blood)

– Incoordination of movement (wobbly, jerky gait)

NB: Cats which recover may be blind and, because of permanent brain damage, have a staggering gait. I should mention that due to general weakness in the cat caused by the FPL virus, other infectious agents (eg bacteria) could invade the animal’s body and hasten its final demise.


Supportive therapy is the name of the game, since there is no known drug to specifically combat this virus. I recommend lots of fluid replacement and forced feeding with a highly nutritious diet. In addition, I would in this case recommend antibiotics to fight off the secondary infections.

Speed is of essence here. Once the unvaccinated cat/kitten goes off its food, see your veterinarian – especially if the public is being alerted that an epidemic of FPL is taking place. It’s better to be safe than sorry.


(i) Vaccination! Vaccinate the mother cat before she is bred.

(ii) If felines in your house have died from FPL, then wait at least until six months have elapsed before acquiring a new kitten. Sanitize the premises and utensils as best as you can (use formalin preferably).

(iii) Ensure that your cat has no fleas or other external parasites (ask your vet for advice on how to keep your cat parasite free).

Have a pleasant week!