Common cat diseases

How to Tell if a Cat Has Distemper

Max. D Gray
By Max. D Gray. Updated: June 5, 2018
How to Tell if a Cat Has Distemper

Distemper in cats is a viral disease caused by feline parvovirus virus, also known as Panleukopenia. This is a serious condition that can significantly endanger the health of your pet, so that in the presence of early symptoms it is best to immediately consult a veterinarian. But how to tell if a cat has distemper? In we explain the main symptoms of the disease and what treatment is usually applied if your animal suffers from this condition.

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  1. What is feline distemper?
  2. What are the symptoms of feline distemper
  3. What to do if I think my cat has distemper?
  4. Treating feline distemper
  5. How to prevent distemper

What is feline distemper?

Feline distemper, medically known as panleukopenia, is a contagious viral disease that affects the nervous and digestive systems as well as the cat's bone marrow, severely endangering their health and possibly leading to death.

This disease is spread through direct contact with the virus that may be present in another cat, the cat's mother, in the outside environment or through infected fluids such as the water that our animal drinks.

Feline distemper is a disease that can be prevented if we follow the cat's immunization schedule, especially if it is completely domestic pet. However, for animals found in pet shelters or those who leave the house and roam freely and have contact with other cats it may be harder to prevent.

What are the symptoms of feline distemper

The symptoms of feline distemper presented in early stages may be confused with other conditions, such as poisoning or infection. However, it is good to be aware of these as these signals alone are sufficiently alarming for you to take your cat to the vet, so you should not wait for further symptoms to develop.

During the first days of infection your cat may present the following symptoms:

  • Considerable diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite
  • Indifference and sadness
  • Runny nose
  • Dehydration

If the virus continues to develop then your animal could manifest:

  • Seizures
  • Attacks itself by biting its tail or other parts of its body. Both symptoms occur at a critical stage of the disease.
How to Tell if a Cat Has Distemper - What are the symptoms of feline distemper

What to do if I think my cat has distemper?

It is important to understand that if our cat has any symptoms of illness, such severe diarrhoea, fever or vomiting that do not decrease after 24 hours, we must take it immediately to a vet for a check up.

Distemper is not a virus that goes away by itself; on the contrary, it is a virus that can kill your pet quickly, so if you suspect your cat has distemper should take it as soon as possible to the vet.

Treating feline distemper

Feline distemper is very common in younger cats of up to to five months and in those who have not been vaccinated against panleukopenia, in sick cats and those in direct contact with other cats that can be infected, making it very common in animal shelters or stray cats.

There is no proper treatment for feline distemper and no medication can eliminate the virus. However care in focused on reducing symptoms, hydrating the animal and helping in its recovery, assistance which can save its life. Once 5 days have elapsed since contracting the disease the chances of survival increase. It is essential to visit a specialist to receive relevant recommendations and medicines to try to fight the virus.

How to prevent distemper

The best way to prevent feline distemper is to have the animal vaccinated against panleukopenia, which is amongst the mandatory vaccines in many countries and present in the immunization schedule recommended to ensure your cat's health.

If you have several cats and one of them has contracted the virus, it is important to isolate it in a nice atmosphere but away from other animals so to avoid further infections. Consult your veterinarian about the most appropriate measures to be implemented to prevent your other cats contracting distemper.

How to Tell if a Cat Has Distemper - How to prevent distemper

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What did you think of this article?
I am not sure if my found stray cat had a distemper shot. Is it ok to get possibly another shot anyway?
OneHowTo Editor

Your veterinarian will be able to set up a vaccination schedule. If they think they have had the distemper vaccine, they will wait until enough time has elapsed until they will need a booster.
I am looking for something more, more example, when can you tell for sure if a kitten has this disease? How long after possible exposure will symptoms appear and how soon will the blood cell count be abnormal? We had a kitten that died suddenly and the vet said possible distemper, The littermate was tested and has normal blood count, so the vet said that it's definitely not distemper. Can it be that the littermate is going to come down with distemper and the vet is wrong?
OneHowTo Editor
Hi Effie,

The symptoms are present in the article, so these are what you need to look out for. You did the right thing by taking the kitten to the vet and a blood test is the best way for them to know if they have distemper. You should keep an eye out for possible developing symptoms, but the best thing you can do you have already done. Look after the kitten and be wary, but don't assume they have it, especially if the blood test says otherwise. If there is a reason not to trust your vet, you can take them to another for a second opinion.
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How to Tell if a Cat Has Distemper