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Parvovirus & Your Cat's Health

Parvovirus poses a serious risk to the health and longevity of your kitty, yet few cat parents know what it is, or how to protect their feline family member against this deadly disease. Our Greensboro vets share vital facts about parvovirus in cats.

What is parvovirus in cats?

Parvovirus, also known as feline panleukopenia virus (FPV), feline infectious enteritis (FIE) or feline distemper, is a highly contagious viral disease that can affect cats. Feline parvovirus attacks the cells in your cat's intestines, which causes diarrhea, vomiting, and difficulty eating and drinking. It can also attack your kitty's bone marrow, leading to a shortage of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

This condition is the most common and severe in kittens between 3 - 5 months old. At birth, kittens are protected because of the antibodies in their mother's milk, but by the time they reach 4 to 12 weeks, this protection gradually disappears. 

How does parvovirus affect my cat's health?

Parvo is considered a gastrointestinal disease mainly affecting the cat's stomach and small intestines. It is here that the virus begins destroying your kitty's gut barrier by attacking healthy cells and blocking the absorption of essential nutrients. In kittens, Parvo also attacks the bone marrow and lymphopoietic tissues which play essential roles in your cat's immune system, then the virus will often affect the heart.

How do cats get parvovirus?

Parvo is widespread in most environments and nearly every cat will be exposed to it during their life. As well as young kittens, sick or unvaccinated cats are most likely to contract this disease.

Cats can contract parvovirus through direct contact with an infected cat, contaminated objects, or exposure to infected bodily fluids. The virus spreads through oral and nasal routes as well as other secretions including urine and feces, making close contact, shared litter boxes, food bowls, or grooming tools potential sources of transmission.

Why are kittens more susceptible to parvovirus?

If the mother is fully vaccinated against Parvo her kittens will inherit antibodies that will protect them against the virus for the first few weeks of their lives. However, as the kittens begin to wean, their immune systems weaken and the young kittens become susceptible to the disease.

It is important to begin vaccinating your kitten against Parvo starting at 6 weeks of age when they begin to wean and the antibodies from their mother are no longer available to protect them.

It isn't until your young feline family member has received all 3 vaccinations that they will be protected against the disease. This is why it is during the gap between weaning and full vaccination that kittens are most likely to catch Parvo.

How can I tell if my cat has parvo?

Parvovirus attacks rapidly dividing cells in the body, particularly those found in the bone marrow, intestines, and immune system. The symptoms of cat parvovirus can vary in severity and may include:

  • Gastrointestinal distress including vomiting, diarrhea (often bloody), loss of appetite, and weight loss
  • Dehydration due to excessive vomiting and diarrhea
  • Lethargy, lack of energy, weakness, and reduced interest in their surroundings
  • Impaired immune system, making your cat susceptible to secondary infections
  • Fever
If your kitty is showing any of the symptoms listed above urgent veterinary care is required! Contact your veterinarian right away or call our 24/7 Greensboro emergency vets.

What is the treatment for cat parvovirus?

If you suspect your cat may have contracted parvovirus, it is crucial to consult a veterinarian immediately. The veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination, considering the symptoms and medical history. To confirm the diagnosis, blood tests and fecal examinations may be conducted.

Unfortunately, there is no specific antiviral treatment for parvovirus. Instead, supportive care is crucial in managing the symptoms and aiding your cat's recovery. Treatment may include intravenous fluids to combat dehydration, medications to help control vomiting, and antibiotics to prevent secondary infections. Close monitoring of your kitty's condition and isolation to prevent further spread of the virus are also essential.

Will my cat survive parvovirus?

Feline parvo used to be a leading cause of cat death. Thanks to the preventive vaccine, this is no longer the case. However, once your cat gets parvo, survival rates are grim.

Adult cats who get parvo have a better chance of surviving than kittens. Cats who receive veterinary care for their parvo have a better chance of surviving than those who do not. It is estimated that up to 90 percent of cats who get parvo and are not treated will die.

How can I prevent my cat from catching parvovirus?

As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent parvovirus in cats. Kittens should receive their initial vaccinations starting at around six to eight weeks of age, with booster shots given at regular intervals. Adult cats should also be kept up to date with their vaccinations to maintain immunity.

Practicing good hygiene is crucial in preventing the spread of parvovirus. Regularly disinfecting litter boxes, food bowls, and grooming tools can help reduce the risk. Quarantining infected cats and preventing contact with unvaccinated individuals is essential to contain the virus.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your cat or kitten is showing symptoms of parvovirus, contact our Greensboro vets right away, or phone your nearest emergency vet hospital. 

Beautiful grey and black tabby kitten on tile floor looking into camera. Parvovirus cat.

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