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Can Cats Get Parvo?

White Persian cat being examined by veterinarian
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Canine parvovirus is a common, highly contagious, and potentially deadly disease. It causes severe vomiting and diarrhea while attacking a dog’s immune system. It’s spread by contact with an infected animal, their feces, fluids (like urine or nasal secretions), or contaminated objects like a leash or bowl.

If left untreated, up to 90 percent of puppies infected with canine parvovirus will die. Death can occur as quickly as 2-3 days after infection due to dehydration and sepsis, a deadly blood infection [1]. Vaccination is key to preventing this disease.

With parvo being so serious for dogs, many people want to know: can cats get parvo, too?Read on to learn if and how this viral disease impacts our feline companions. 

Can Cats Catch Parvo?

Cats have their very own parvovirus. It’s called feline parvovirus or feline panleukopenia virus (FPV). The disease caused by FPV is known as feline panleukopenia or feline distemper. The feline parvovirus shares some similarities and symptoms of the canine parvovirus.

Both canine parvovirus and feline panleukopenia belong to the same family of viruses called Parvoviridae. Cats become infected with FPV in the same way dogs are infected with parvovirus – through direct contact with an infected cat, feces, or contaminated objects. Kittens under 5 months are at increased risk for contracting the virus and developing complications.

Can Cats Get Parvo From Dogs?

Many people share their homes with both cats and dogs. You might worry that your animals can infect one another. The good news is that the strains of canine parvovirus and feline panleukopenia are species specific. That means the viruses cannot pass between cats and dogs. So, FPV cannot infect dogs while canine parvovirus cannot infect cats.

Symptoms of Panleukopenia in Cats

Panleukopenia symptoms include problems such as vomiting and diarrhea (which is often bloody). This can lead to severe dehydration, which can be fatal if not quickly treated. Other symptoms in cats include lethargy, inappetence, depression, fever, and abdominal pain. Kittens and unvaccinated cats are more at risk of developing severe symptoms. 

Kittens can be infected with the feline parvovirus before birth (in utero). As a result, they may develop cerebellar hypoplasia. This is a condition where the part of the brain responsible for movement and coordination (the cerebellum), fails to develop fully and remains very small. This causes the kitten to wobble when they walk, also known as “wobbly cat syndrome.” This condition is not painful or otherwise harmful, but there is no treatment. Cats with cerebellar hypoplasia may be more prone to fall injuries and should not go outside.

Some adult cats may be infected with panleukopenia and develop no symptoms at all. These cats are not at risk of dying or complications and do not need any sort of medical intervention. They will clear the infection on their own. Many pet parents will never even know their cats were infected at all. 

Diagnosing and Treating Panleukopenia in Cats

Diagnosis of panleukopenia in cats is typically made from observing symptoms. Veterinarians may also check vaccine history and blood work. Since the virus attacks white blood cells, a blood test may reveal low white blood cell counts. 

Fecal tests for canine parvovirus can detect feline panleukopenia infection in cat feces. However, false positives are possible for several weeks after vaccination. In the absence of vaccine history, tests are a good option for confirming panleukopenia.

Treatment typically includes IV fluids and hospitalization to fight off dehydration. Broad spectrum antibiotics are also given to help fight any secondary bacterial infections. Medications like maropitant (Cerenia) or metoclopramide can reduce nausea and vomiting. Some cats may have a tube inserted into their stomach through their nose to allow tube-feeding. If vomiting is controlled but the cat won’t eat on their own, appetite stimulants might be considered. The most severe cases of panleukopenia may even need a blood transfusion.

Prognosis and Survival Rates

The prognosis for cats experiencing severe symptoms from a parvovirus infection depends on many factors. These includine how soon the cat was brought in for treatment, the cat’s age, their current white blood cell count, and if there are any other complications such as other concurrent infections.

Unfortunately, the mortality rate in kittens is high, with over half of infected cats passing away [2][3]. Timing is everything. Cats brought in for treatment sooner typically have better outcomes.

Preventing Panleukopenia in Cats

The good news is that panleukopenia is preventable with the core FVRCP vaccine for cats. This is a combination vaccine given as early as 6 weeks of age. It protects cats against feline panleukopenia (parvo), calicivirus, and feline viral rhinotracheitis. Kittens receive booster doses of the vaccine every 2-4 weeks until they’re at least 16 weeks old to be fully protected. Cats should receive the FVRCP vaccine every 3 years after the initial series [4]

Following your veterinarian’s recommended vaccine schedule will allow for protection from parvo throughout your cat’s life. Since the feline panleukopenia virus lives in the environment and on objects, both indoor and outdoor cats should be vaccinated.

In addition to vaccines, there are some lifestyle changes that may help protect cats. 

  • Avoid contact with cats who test positive for panleukopenia. 
  • Keep unvaccinated cats and kittens indoors to prevent exposure to potentially infected cats. Avoid sharing items between cats when one has an unknown vaccination status. 
  • Keep new cats separate from other cats in the household until a veterinarian has seen the new cat. 

If your cat shows any of symptoms contact your veterinarian immediately. Quick medical care is critical to help save their life. 

If diagnosed, follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for treatment. Make sure to properly disinfect the house since the virus can live on objects and in the environment for a long time.