Wednesday, September 2, 2009 11:27 AM

Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper) Vaccination

As long as I can remember, panleukopenia has been dubbed, "feline distemper". I really don't know why, as it's cause is parvovirus, not a morbillivirus like canine distemper. The symptoms are not remotely the same, either, as panleukopenia, or feline infectious enteritis, is an intestinal infection and canine distemper is an upper respiratory disease. Another of life's little mysteries, I guess.

This disease is widespread, and outdoor cats will most likely be exposed to it by their first birthday. The symptoms are fever, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal swelling. Healthy cats will most likely not exhibit serious symptoms, but the few that do are usually very young kittens either with immature immune systems or they were infected in utero. These animals usually die within a few days. If they recover, they will most likely exhibit signs of poor coordination and muscle tremors. When I first started working for a veterinarian, one of my co-workers adopted a kitten ill with the disease, and, though it recovered through much TLC, it obviously had neurological damage. In fact, I think my co-worker named the kitten "Tipsy".

Veterinarians have been vaccinating cats against this disease for decades. Tests have shown that, unlike some other vaccines discussed here, efficacy is quite good. In fact, immunity is known to last for approximately seven years, so most vets don't revaccinate any more often than every three years. There are two types of injectable vaccines: modified live, and inactivated (killed). Since modified live can actually cause the disease in susceptible kittens and those younger than four weeks, the inactivated form seems the reasonable choice.

Should you have your cat revcaccinated every three years, as many vets recommend? Look at the facts. Again, this is usually a disease of very young cats, and immune response is actually very good, lasting several years. Even if you let your cats outdoors, the risk of infection seems quite low. As usual, this shot is generally given bundled with other vaccines, raising the risk of negative reactions. At the risk of repeating myself (as if), if you keep your cats indoors, infection won't be a problem. Period.

Tomorrow, I'll wind up this discussion with a post about the mother of all diseases and its vaccine protocol: rabies.
Chat later!

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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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