Feline panleukopaenia virus: aetiology and prognosis | Vets & Clinics

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Feline panleukopaenia virus: aetiology and prognosis

Feline panleukopaenia is a disease produced by a highly environmentally resistant feline parvovirus. It is a DNA virus, with a special affinity for infecting rapidly dividing cells such as the intestinal epithelium, bone marrow or lymphoid tissues. Feline panleukopaenia virus is very contagious, partly because of its strong environmental resistance; it can survive outside a host for up to 1 year.

Veterinary medicine and care


The virus is spread orally. Once inside the cat’s body, the virus replicates in the lymph nodes, then it enters the viraemic phase and invades the bloodstream.

If panleukopaenia occurs during pregnancy or affects a newborn kitten, the virus can destroy cells in the cerebellum causing irreversible brain damage.

Feline panleukopaenia usually occurs in unvaccinated cats under 1 year old. The number of infections increases seasonally in late summer and autumn.

Clinical signs

The main signs of panleukopaenia are vomiting, severe dehydration, fever of up to 40 °C, depression, anorexia and diarrhoea which may be associated with melena and jaundice.

If damage has occurred in the cerebellum due to an early infection, the cat will have ataxia, exaggerated movements and abnormal postures. As the neurological damage is due to an isolated event rather than a neurodegenerative process, it does not progress over time.


There is no curative treatment for panleukopaenia, but it is of vital importance to introduce symptomatic and supportive treatment tailored to the animal’s condition. Early, aggressive treatment is recommended.

Severe dehydration occurs due to vomiting, diarrhoea and fever, so fluid therapy plays a very important role. Ringer’s lactate solution with KCl may be given, including intravenously, depending on the degree of dehydration.

The intake of solids and fluids must be restricted until any vomiting has completely discontinued. Once there are signs of clinical improvement, fluids and a soft diet should be reintroduced gradually. 

Antiemetics such as metoclopramide may be very helpful in controlling vomiting.

As the virus is highly contagious and found in the animal’s faeces and vomit, it is essential to isolate infected cats from other animals and implement thorough hygiene measures.

The feline panleukopaenia vaccines on the market are very effective in preventing the disease and annual vaccinations are recommended.

Attenuated vaccines are contraindicated for pregnant cats, as they could damage cerebellum cells and cause irreversible neurological damage with significant sequelae.


Cats that recover from feline panleukopaenia acquire lifelong immunity. The prognosis depends on each cat’s condition at the time of diagnosis in the vet’s clinic.

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