Distemper in Cats – 10 Symptoms You Can’t Ignore

As a fur parent, it is your sole obligation to ensure that your cat remains in its healthiest shape. Not only should you provide it with sanitized housing, proper nutrition, and socialization, but you also have to keep track of your pet’s vaccination schedule. If you fail in this department, there’s a chance that your pussycat may contract a very deadly disease known as distemper in cats.

distemper in cats

What Exactly Is Feline Distemper?

It is a parvovirus also known by the name of feline panleukopenia.

The virus targets the blood cells in your cat’s intestinal tract, stem cells, lymph nodes, and bone marrow. Feline distemper is so deadly that it can also result in dehydration and secondary bacterial infections.

Some of the symptoms that distemper in cats manifest are similar to those of canine parvovirus. However, the severity of infection is more serious among cats and the survival rate is very slim.

This virus used to be one of the common causes of feline deaths. Thanks to science, a feline distemper vaccine has been developed.

With your indulgence, we invite you to read on so you’d be aware of the symptoms of this deadly and very contagious feline virus.

10 Symptoms of Feline Distemper

If your cat is infected, the first few signs you may see could be the same as with the other health issues like poisoning. This is where vigilance comes in, a simple sign like lethargy should not be taken with a grain of salt.

If the disease is diagnosed early on and the treatment is done while the feline distemper is at the early stage, your cat’s immune system can be beefed-up with supplements, and hopefully, it can fight off the virus. This is why it is important not to ignore the symptoms because, for all you know, your pet is already manifesting the signs of a contagious viral infection. Let us now look at the symptoms…

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1. High Fever

The normal temp of a healthy two to three-week-old kitten is between 97 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In the fourth week, the body temperature will rise to 99 to 101 degrees Fahrenheit. In adulthood, a healthy temperature ranges from 101 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

But, if you try to get its body temperature and it records 104 degrees and higher, then your cat has a fever which is one of the early symptoms of cat distemper.

2. Loss of Appetite

Another early sign of distemper in cats is the loss of interest in food and water. Even if your pussycat appears to be hungry, you’d notice that she/he will just go near the food and water bowls but not actually touch or eat anything at all.

In some cases, cats may eat but in much less quantity. In time, they will totally lose interest in eating and drinking.

3. Lethargic Behavior and Depression

On average, cats sleep sixteen hours a day. Even if your feline pet sleeps that long, a change in the sleeping pattern should signal a medical condition. If your pet is infected with the distemper virus, initially, it will appear weak and overly tired. Thus, it will sleep longer than its normal sleep pattern.

Apart from that, you will also notice a decline in its activity level. For example, your feline pet will suddenly find it difficult to jump on things that used to be an easy task. It could also sit in a hunched position because of pain.

4. Change in Vocalization

One of the earliest signs of feline distemper can be recognized through meowing. It is either your pussycat talks lesser or meows more than usual. Thus, do not ignore those ‘ unusual talking behaviors’.

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Do you hear it meows excessively? Does it groan, howl, hiss, or screech excessively? Does it continue to vocalize at nighttime? Is there an increase in the volume of your cat’s meowing?

These excessive vocalizations among cats are symptoms of medical problems. These are the ways your cat knows how to vocalize and let you know of its discomfort and pain.

Along with the usual early symptoms of distemper in cats that we listed above, upper respiratory infections are also common because they are weak enough to battle the feline distemper virus. Kittens are more badly affected. If left untreated, in a matter of a few days, cats will start to display additional symptoms that are more severe like the following…

Distemper in Cats

5. Nasal Discharge

As mentioned earlier, this disease attacks the bone marrow. The major function of white blood cells is to battle infections. The problem is that the virus suppresses the production of white blood cells in the bone marrow. This is why an infected cat easily catches bacterial infections during the advanced stage of the disease.

The symptoms of distemper in cats that you should not ignore are having a hard time breathing, runny nose, and excessive sneezing. These symptoms are due to secondary bacterial infection/s as a result of suppressed white blood cell production.

6. Anemia

Since the bone marrow is greatly affected by feline distemper, it does not only reduce the number of white blood cells but the red blood cells, as well. The bone marrow is the one that produces the red blood cells, the function of these cells is to transport oxygen to various parts of your cat’s system.

Since the distemper virus reduces the number of red blood cells, anemia can set in.

7. Vomiting and Diarrhea

After the virus attacked the bone marrow, its next agenda is the intestinal cells.

The virus causes ulceration in the intestinal area. This is why an infected cat may soon begin to vomit. If your cat is infected with the virus and it is not touching its food, what you will see is that it will vomit a clear liquid.  And, If your cat is also not taking any fluids at all, you will hear episodes of dry heaving.

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Also called retching, dry heaving sounds like a slight cough or gagging.

Aside from vomiting, an infected cat will go through severe bouts of diarrhea and bloody stools.

8. Dehydration

A progressing distemper in cats results in dehydration. If your cat is not taking any solid food, is not drinking and continuously vomits, and suffers from diarrhea, dehydration sets in.

One of the classic signs of dehydration in cats is skin tenting. To know if your feline pet is already severely dehydrated, take a pinch of its skin over its shoulder and then gently pull-up, if the skin slowly goes back in place, your cat is already dehydrated.

9. Pain

You will notice that your infected feline pet will show signs of abdominal pain. This is because distemper in cats causes inflammation in the small intestine.

To soothe the pain, you’ll notice that it licks or bites its abdominal area. If you are a keen observer, you will not mistake it for grooming.

In fact, since your cat is too weak to groom itself, its coat becomes dull, rough, and matted for long-haired cat breeds.

10. Jaundice

Dehydration attacks not just the cells and muscles but the organs, as well. Liver malfunction is one of the effects of dehydration, thus, distemper in cats causes the yellowing of the skin.

Transmission of Distemper in Cats

Cats can shed the distemper virus in different ways. The secretions can be passed on through their urine, feces, nasal secretions, and even fleas.

They get infected once they come in contact with those secretions. It can be through contaminated water, bowls, shoes, and clothing of a handler for an infected cat, to name a few. At the same time, assuming that your cat did not come into contact with infected secretions, it is still possible for it to be infected with feline distemper because the virus can survive in an infected environment for one year.

Unfortunately, the virus that causes distemper in cats is difficult to eliminate and is known to resist many types of commercially available disinfectants. For this reason, we advise you not to allow an unvaccinated cat to enter an area where there was a case of infection.

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What Is the Feline Distemper Incubation Period?

Once a cat gets in contact with the secretions, the incubation period from the time of infection up to the manifestations of clinical symptoms is usually between three to five days.

Diagnosis of Distemper in Cats

It can be challenging to conclude that your cat is infected because many of the symptoms can be mistaken for poisoning or other kinds of medical conditions. To avoid misdiagnosis, a vet will conduct thorough exams and history of travel (e.g. pet hotel).

Blood tests, stool tests, and urinalysis are some of the tests that need to be performed to come up with a conclusive diagnosis.

Which Are Prone to Getting Distemper in Cats?

While all cats, regardless of age are susceptible, but the young kittens, the sickly, and the unvaccinated cats are more prone to get infected with feline distemper.

Various places like pet hotels, grooming salons, pet shops, and those cats that are housed together are also good places for transmission of the virus.

How Long Do Cats Live With Distemper?

For as long as an infected cat has a strong immune system, there is a small chance of survival. Plus, if you were able to identify the symptoms early on and the treatment is initiated instantly, then your cat has a better chance. The cat’s age is also a factor.

It is believed that kittens which able to survive the virus for the first five days can survive the infection. For adult cats, 90% is the mortality rate for feline distemper.

Can Distemper in Cats be Cured?

At the moment, there is still no medicine that can kill the virus. The vet can only provide the treatments for the symptoms. For example, the treatment primarily focuses on giving nutrients, correcting the issue of dehydration, and giving antibiotics for secondary infections.

But, to target, the distemper virus itself is still not yet possible.

How Can You Protect Your Pet From Distemper in Cats?

Those lucky ones that were able to survive feline distemper develop immunity from the virus for the rest of their lives.

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Kittens are also temporarily immune for about twelve weeks of age because of the antibodies found in their mother’s milk.

As early as 6th to 8th weeks of age, kittens should be vaccinated against FVRCP (Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia).

The vaccine is proven effective in preventing feline distemper. The vaccines encourage the cat’s body to develop antibodies. In case the cat comes in contact with the virus, its body will battle the infection because of the antibodies produced by the vaccine.

The immunity produced by the vaccine is strong but its effectiveness weakens with time. Therefore, the booster shots are recommended every one to three years.

Are There Side Effects?

The modern vaccines for distemper in cats are generally safe and the side effects are uncommon. But, not all cats have the same response to vaccines, some may show signs of lethargy for a day or two.

Severe allergic reactions are like anaphylactic shock are rare. In case, you see adverse reactions, we recommend that you contact the vet immediately.



To Sum Up…

For you to give your feline pet outstanding care, do not take for granted the feline vaccination program. There are bacterial and viral infections ready to attack and take the life of your beloved pet, one of those is the distemper in cats. A life-threatening and contagious disease that attacks the lymph nodes, bone marrow, and intestinal tracts. That said, have your cat vaccinated so you can take advantage of the joy of having a sweet cat in your home.

There are 10 symptoms of distempers in cats in this post.

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