A kitten is born and before it reaches its first birthday it dies unexpectedly. It was born healthy. It was protected from disease by its mother’s milk for the first 12 weeks of life, and then something went horribly wrong. It became infected by a feline parvovirus and developed feline panleukopenia.
Where did it come from? Unfortunately, the virus is in the environment everywhere. It is so common that nearly every cat will come across it in its lifetime. The only question is will their immune system be ready for it when it happens.
Kittens have poorly developed immune systems. When they are exposed to the feline parvovirus, they have no protection if they have not been vaccinated. They could get the virus from contact with an infected cat. They could also get infected from secretions left behind in the environment, like nasal secretions, vomit, urine, or feces. If they share bedding, cages, toys, or bowls with an infected cat, they could also get the virus. The virus can last in the environment for more than a year.
After the kitten has been exposed to the virus, the infection spreads rapidly. The kitten can be dead in days. Sometimes death occurs without any visible signs. At other times, there are signs present. The kitten may change from energetic to lethargic. It may be unable to drink water, even if lying right next to the bowl. The kitten will lose interest in eating and act depressed. It may have a fever, vomiting, diarrhea, or dehydration. Nine out of every ten kittens infected by the virus will die.
Sometimes owners see changes in their pet, and then they wait to see if the pet gets better or worse before taking them to the veterinarian. With feline panleukopenia, that would be a mistake. With only a 10% chance of survival, every minute counts.
When the kitten arrives at the clinic, the history and physical are important in making the diagnosis of feline panleukopenia. Also, a complete blood count will show a drastic drop in the number of white blood cells (panleukopenia). A fecal test may also be performed to detect parvovirus in the stool.
After diagnosis, the battle begins. The kitten will be placed in isolation to avoid infecting any other animals. Unfortunately, there is no medication to kill the virus. Even though the kitten’s immune system is weak, it will need to fight off the virus. The goal of your veterinarian is to try to support the kitten with fluids, nutrients, and medications to give the kitten’s immune system time to defeat the virus. Antibiotics are often given to treat any bacterial infections that occur. Only time will tell if the kitten will win the battle. If the kitten recovers, it will be immune for life.
The sad part about this whole story is that the suffering and death are totally preventable. There is no reason for a kitten to get sick with feline panleukopenia. There is a vaccine that can prevent the disease if it is given starting when the kitten is 6-8 weeks old and is repeated as the veterinarian recommends.
So, you have a choice to make. Are you going to watch your kitten or cat die a miserable death, or are you going to give them the protection they need to survive? Don’t wait until it’s too late. Make the choice to defend your kitten or cat today.