Panleukopenia is Serious Business


Last weekend, the kittens in my home were very unhappy to have to take a trip to the vet for an FVRCP vaccine.

Another volunteer and myself frequently take turns watching each other’s fosters, often times co-fostering to accommodate one another’s work/school/life schedules. The Cheese Litter and Stewart were essentially raised this way.

The shelter contacted my fellow volunteer and asked her to quarantine a litter of kittens suspected to have panleukopenia.

From PetFinder:

The panleukopenia virus attacks and destroys white blood cells, weakening the immune system and putting the cat at great risk of contracting secondary infections. Rapidly dividing cells in the gastrointestinal tract, lymphoid tissues, and cerebellum can also succumb to the virus. While some cats die suddenly without showing any signs of the disease, others suffer severe symptoms, including fever, fluctuating temperatures, depression, lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. Lethargy is a big warning sign, and infected cats often droop their heads over their water bowls, thirsty but unable to drink.

This disease is fast spreading, and infected surfaces can still hold the virus for up to a year. Quickly isolating kittens suspected of the disease in imperative for disease control in shelters; it has a 90% fatality rate for unvaccinated kittens.

Those who have cats are probably aware of the FVRCP vaccine, which is given as a series of shots in kittens, and annually or every three years to adult cats. This is the vaccination that protects your cat from panleukopenia. If you have an indoor only cat, your vet may not require the vaccination.

The quarantined kittens were kept in a separate room in her house from the rest of her cats, which also included Manhattan and Stewart. She would change out of the clothes used to interact with the suspected positive kittens and wash her hands before handling Manhattan or Stewart.

Unfortunately, the kittens tested positive, and the decision was made to euthanize. Even with aggressive treatment, the kittens had very low chances of survival. Spread of panleukopenia in shelters can wipe out most of the kitten population within 24-48 hours.

This is all second hand experience, so why am I blogging about it?

Manhattan and Stewart were brought to my home while my friend was on vacation, and so that she could properly clean the isolation room before any kittens could return to her home. However, she learned that hand washing and alcohol do not kill panleukopenia virus, meaning that Manhattan and Stewart were potentially exposed to the virus.


Moreover, they were now in my household, meaning my entire household had possibly been exposed to the virus.

Manhattan and Baby Girl had both been vaccinated a month prior, but still needed a booster. Our real concern were Cassie and Stewart, who had never received an FVRCP vaccine yet. I picked up the phone and called my vet to make sure that all of my personal pets were up to date on FVRCP (yay, they were), and rounded up all the kittens for FVRCP vaccinations.

After their vaccinations, we waited in an anxiety panic over the next few days that they hadn’t caught the virus.

It didn’t help our nerves that Stewart, who is very small for his age and wouldn’t have normally been big enough to receive the vaccination, began vomiting the day after his shot. It was a small relief that his vomiting stopped the next day, but he became severely dehydrated, nauseated, and wasn’t eating as much as he should. I gave him fluids daily, which gave me my own anxiety because putting a needle in such a small body makes me so nervous that I’ll poke something bad. We tried to collect a stool sample for the vet to analyze, but his poop was so liquid that there wasn’t enough for them to test.

Imagine how good we felt when he tested negative for panleukopenia. He isn’t out of the woods yet, but with fluids, fortiflora, kaolin, and an increased doseage of metronidazole, we’re hopeful that we’ll slowly get him back on track.


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