There's nothing scarier for a pet parent than when your cat is sick, this is especially true if they contract a life-threatening illness such as parvo. Our Santa Cruz County vets share facts about parvovirus and how you can keep your cat safe.
What Is Parvo in Cats?
Parvo in cats is also referred to as feline distemper and feline panleukopenia. Feline parvovirus attacks the cells in your cat's intestines, which causes diarrhea, vomiting, and difficulty eating and drinking. It also attacks the bone marrow, causing shortages of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
This condition is the most common and severe in kittens that are 3 to 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 begins to fade.
Parvo is widespread in most environments and nearly every cat will be exposed to it during their life. Apart from young kittens, sick or unvaccinated cats are most likely to contract this disease.
How Parvovirus Attacks Your Cat's Body
Parvo is considered a disease of the stomach and small intestines. It is here that the virus begins destroying the cat'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.
Why Young Cats Are Susceptible to Parvo
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.
Vets urge pet parents to begin vaccinating their kittens against Parvo starting at 6 weeks of age when the kitten begins to wean and the antibodies from the mother are no longer available to protect them.
It isn't until the young cat has received all 3 vaccinations that they will be protected against the disease. It is during the gap between weaning and full vaccination that kittens are most likely to catch Parvo.
Symptoms of Parvo
It is essential to understand that once your kitten begins showing symptoms they are already very ill. Here are the symptoms you need to look out for.
- Bloody diarrhea
- Watery nasal discharge
- Fever in the early stage followed by low body temperature
- Lethargy and depression
- Inability to eat
- Weight loss
- Vomiting or frothing at the mouth
Not only are kittens super fragile, but this disease can also progress very quickly and lead to death if not caught right away. If you see the slightest sign of any of these symptoms contact your nearest emergency vet immediately.
Treatment for Parvovirus in Cats & Kittens
There is no cure for Parvo in kittens, however, your vet will offer supportive treatments to address symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. It is essential that your kitten gets adequate hydration and nutrition in order to recover from Parvovirus. Sadly, kittens have a high mortality rate after contracting this disease.
Since secondary infections are common in kittens with Parvo (due to their weakened immune systems) your vet will be sure to monitor your kitten's ongoing condition and may prescribe antibiotics to help combat any bacterial infections that may begin to develop.
If your four-legged friend is being treated by a veterinarian and survives the first four days after symptoms appear, there is a good chance that your kitten will recover from the disease.
Preventing Parvovirus in Cats
Never allow your kitten to spend time around cats that have not been fully vaccinated against Parvovirus. Talk to your vet about how best to protect your new four-legged family member.
Be sure to follow your vet's advice and have your kitten vaccinated against Parvo, rabies and other potentially serious conditions based on a kitten vaccination schedule for your area.
The prognosis for Cats With Parvo
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. Overall, up to 90 percent of cats who get parvo and are not treated will die.
We strongly urge every pet owner to get their kittens and cats vaccinated and follow up with booster shots for the entirety of their cat's life. Preventive measures always outweigh the cost and worry associated with treatment once your cat is already deathly ill. Save them from the discomfort and high mortality rates associated with parvovirus.
Learn More About Cat Vaccinations