What Are the Symptoms of Distemper in Cats?

By Constance Lang

Formally known as feline panleukopenia (FPV), feline distemper is a life-threatening virus that attacks a cat's white blood cells. Highly contagious and hardy, distemper can live for years in a contaminated environment. An infected cat spreads distemper through direct contact, as well as sharing contaminated bedding, litter boxes and food and water dishes. People who have unknowingly handled a distemper-infected cat can pass the virus through their hands or clothes. Symptoms of distemper appear between two and 10 days after infection. Any cat can catch distemper, however, kittens between two and six months old, pregnant cats and cats with compromised immune systems are at greatest risk of contracting the disease. A cat who survives a bout of distemper develops immunity to later infection to the virus.

Diarrhea

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Frequent stools or loose stools are a symptom of feline distemper. Blood may also be present within the stools. Diarrhea may lead to dehydration, which can lead to death of a cat that has feline distemper.

Vomiting

Cat lying down

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Heaving before emesis and vomiting up digested food and bile is a symptom of feline distemper. Vomiting may lead to dehydration. If a cat suffers from feline distemper, blood may be present in the vomit.

Low White Blood Cell Count

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Cats can acquire anemia due to the loss of blood in stools. The white blood cells may decrease in number and a once active cat may no longer wish to play and may suffer from fatigue and listlessness.

Seizures

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Feline seizures usually last up to five minutes and can be identified by sudden and frequent mood changes, convulsions and/or loss of bodily functions. The cat's eyes may dilate, breathing may be altered and the severity of the seizures may vary.

Appetite Suppression

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A cat that has feline distemper may refuse to eat for days. She can quickly become malnourished and lose muscle mass, energy and may seem depressed.

Fever

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A fever of 104 to 107 degrees is a symptom of feline distemper. Often, the fever will drop rapidly before death.

Self Biting

Some cats experience bouts of self biting with feline distemper. The cat may bite at her tail and hindquarters to the point of causing self inflicted wounds.