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What is Distemper?

For cats infected with distemper, prompt treatment and intense supportive care can mean the difference between life and death. If left untreated, there is a 90 percent chance that infected cats will die. Owners who think that their cats are displaying signs of distemper should keep the animal away from other cats and consult with a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Distemper in cats, also called feline panleukopenia (FPV), is a virus that is highly contagious and potentially life-threatening. The disease affects the blood cells in the intestinal tract, bone marrow, and stem cells. It also causes anemia and other viral and bacterial illnesses. Previously one of the most common causes of death in cats, distemper is now rare due to the effectiveness of vaccines. Kittens, pregnant cats, and cats with immune disorders are most likely to be infected with distemper.

Distemper Average Cost

From 407 quotes ranging from $500 - $2,000

Average Cost

$1,100

Symptoms of Distemper in Cats

Cats that have been infected with distemper are likely to display one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (sometimes with blood)
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Discharge from eyes
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Anemia
  • Refusal to eat
  • Hiding
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of coordination
  • Difficulty walking
  • Depression 
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Causes of Distemper in Cats

Distemper is caused by contact with infected salvia, nasal discharge, blood, urine, feces, or fleas that have bitten an infected cat. It can be spread from contact with contaminated dishes, bedding, or equipment, and humans can pass it from one cat to another if hands aren’t washed thoroughly after petting an infected cat. The virus can also be carried on shoes and clothing, increasing the chance that it can spread to indoor cats. Kittens can contract the virus in-utero or from the breast milk of an infected mother.

The virus is resistant to disinfectants and can survive for years on contaminated surfaces. Distemper is commonly found where there are many cats in a small area like kennels, pet stores, and feral cat colonies. Similar to the human flu virus, distemper strains vary from year to year. Some years it is more contagious than others, and has varying survival rates. It is also more likely to spread during the warmer months of the year. The virus does not pass between cats and dogs and cannot infect humans. 

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Diagnosis of Distemper in Cats

Distemper symptoms resemble the symptoms of several other diseases and may be mistaken for poisoning or ingestion of a foreign object. In order to help prevent misdiagnosis, a veterinarian will need a thorough medical history and details regarding any recent activities that may have caused exposure to the disease. A physical exam will be performed and lab tests including complete blood count (CBC), biochemistry profile, and urinalysis will be ordered. A fecal sample is often tested, but there is a possibility that it may come up false-positive if the cat has been vaccinated within 5-12 days prior to testing.

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Treatment of Distemper in Cats

There is no medication available that will cure distemper. Treatment is focused on addressing the symptoms and keeping the infected cat as comfortable as possible. 

Immediate Veterinary Care

Depending on the condition of the cat, it may need to remain at a veterinary hospital overnight for observation and administration of I.V. fluids. The disease causes a compromised immune system, so the vet will likely prescribe antibiotics to reduce the chance of opportunistic infections.

Home Care

Once the cat has been examined by the vet and released, it must be quarantined from other cats in order to avoid the spread of the disease. Dehydration, reduced electrolytes, and malnutrition must be addressed promptly. Syringe-feeding the cat water, raw goat’s milk, or fermented fish broth is often recommended. 

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Recovery of Distemper in Cats

Kittens that are born with distemper or contract it prior to eight weeks of age generally have a poor prognosis. In adult cats, symptoms are mild and may go unnoticed. When the immune system is strong and proper treatment is provided, there is a very good chance for full recovery. If a cat survives the first five days, prognosis is very good. Once a cat has recovered, it becomes immune and cannot contract or spread the disease again. 

Recovering cats must be provided a quiet, warm place to rest. The food, water, and litter box should be kept close by so that the cat doesn’t need to exert itself to meet its basic needs. Children and other animals should be kept away from the cat to avoid over-stimulation. Depression is one of the primary symptoms of distemper, so owners should be sure to provide recovering cats with plenty of affection and physical contact. With proper care, cats typically recover and return to normal within two weeks.

Owners should be careful to thoroughly wash hands and remember that the disease is easily spread and remains on surfaces for long periods of time. Surfaces should be scrubbed down with bleach, and all of the cat’s belongings including food dishes, bedding, toys, and litter box should be thrown away and replaced. If there are other cats in the home, they should be carefully observed for symptoms and owners should consult with their vet regarding vaccination.

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Distemper Average Cost

From 407 quotes ranging from $500 - $2,000

Average Cost

$1,100

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Distemper Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

dog-name-icon

Martin

dog-breed-icon

dsh

dog-age-icon

1 Year

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea

My sister adopted a year old cat from a cat shelter a week ago today. He seems to eat (canned food) ok, but isn't really drinking very much. He has diarrhea for a week now. We originally thought it was just the stress of a new environment, but it isn't letting up. He looks as if he has lost weight also.

Aug. 25, 2018

Martin's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Without examining Martin I cannot say what the specific cause of the symptoms are, you should visit a Veterinarian for an examination to be on the safe side if there is no improvement; diarrhoea and weight loss may be attributable to many different conditions which may include infections, parasites, foreign objects, poisoning, stress, dietary changes among other conditions. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 26, 2018

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Dash and Pikachu

dog-breed-icon

Persian

dog-age-icon

9 Weeks

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Mild severity

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2 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea

I adopted 2 Persian kittens 8 weeks old. They are brothers after 2 days we visited a vet as both are having diarrhea. They were not vaccinated yet. And both are positive with parvo. They are both given supplements and vitamins for support. After 2 days from vet visit Pikachu died. He is not eating and drinking as the other one is always playing and no sign of distemper except same wet stool. Dash is still alive eating and drinking and playing but my worries is that he still got a diarrhea. I'm afraid he might also die... What should I do? 😭😭😭

Aug. 25, 2018

Dash and Pikachu's Owner


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recommendation-ribbon

3320 Recommendations

There is no specific treatment for feline distemper apart from supportive and symptomatic care which includes maintaining hydration, antibiotics (in case of secondary infection), vitamin B injections etc… I cannot give a prognosis for Dash, but continue with any treatment given from your Veterinarian and follow up with them if Dash doesn’t improve. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 26, 2018

Exactly 3 weeks now after Dash was diagnosed with Distemper! Praise God he is well now no more diarrhoea and eating and playing like a normal kitty... he is now on his way to gaining weight. He did not took any antibiotic just a lot of vitamin B supplement and electrolyte drink lots of TLC and petting... I stopped electrolyte drink after a week and now he drinks a lot of water the poop is normal as well and eating dry and wet food!!! Praise God for the healing ^_^

Sept. 5, 2018

Christine D.


As of now he is a little lethargic but once he ate and drinks he becomes playful. But still, I am concern about diarrhea. I put the vitamins in his soup with rice and fish. He likes it. Praise God for his appetite even though his having diarrhea... 😌

Aug. 26, 2018

Dash and Pikachu's Owner

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Dash

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Persian

dog-age-icon

9 Weeks

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Wet Stool Dark Greyish Green Color

I adopted 2 kittens both 8 weeks old from a friend. They don't have vaccines yet and both have distemper as per the vet who checked them. They gave me vitamins and supplement for the kitties as they can't get the vaccine now because of fever. After 5 days girl kitty died... But the male kitty is not showing any symptoms of distemper except loose bowel. He is playfully eating and drinking water. Pls. Answer me is he going to die also? 😭😭😭

Aug. 25, 2018

Dash's Owner

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recommendation-ribbon

3320 Recommendations

There is no specific treatment for feline distemper apart from supportive and symptomatic care which includes maintaining hydration, antibiotics (in case of secondary infection), vitamin B injections etc… I cannot give a prognosis for Dash, but continue with any treatment given from your Veterinarian and follow up with them if Dash doesn’t improve. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 26, 2018

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Mouse

dog-breed-icon

Maine Coon

dog-age-icon

10 Weeks

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Vomiting
Not Eating Or Drinking

A few days ago we ran out of kitten food so I gave the kittens some adult cat food instead. Yesterday I saw Mouse throw up some yellow fluid. At first I didn't think it was serious, that she might be having a bad reaction to the food. Now, this morning she wouldn't get up to eat. She wouldn't even eat the canned food my sister gave her. She did walk around a bit unsteady at first but then at a regular pace even jumped onto the table in the greenhouse. She is more or less separated from the other kittens. They are outdoor kittens. I considered taking her to the vet but they are closed now until Monday, plus neither me or my sister can afford the vet right now. I do not know for sure if she has distemper or not. We had a stray cat show up a week ago skin and bones but then died Monday morning near where the kittens usually eat. Mostly I thought it was worms but now with Mouse sick I am thinking otherwise. What should I do?

Aug. 25, 2018

Mouse's Owner


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recommendation-ribbon

3320 Recommendations

Some vomiting and loss of appetite may be attributable to a sudden dietary change which may affect some cats more than others; without examining Mouse I cannot say whether there is an infection or another cause. If you have concerns you should keep Mouse separate from the others and visit your Veterinarian to be on the safe side. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 26, 2018

I adopted 2 Persian kittens 8 weeks old. They are brothers after 2 days we visited a vet as both are having diarrhea. They were not vaccinated yet. And both are positive with parvo. They are both given supplements and vitamins for support. After 2 days from vet visit Pikachu died. He is not eating and drinking as the other one is always playing and no sign of distemper except same wet stool. Dash is still alive eating and drinking and playing but my worries is that he still got a diarrhea. I'm afraid he might also die... What should I do?

Aug. 25, 2018

Tin C.

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Pineapple

dog-breed-icon

Calico

dog-age-icon

3 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Tremors

I adopted a kitten from a farm over two weeks ago who has tremors without anyother symptoms. She is the runt of the litter but eats well and has gained weight. I also have 2 of her siblings that are not displaying any symptoms. Is it safe to say she most likely has a neurological disorder and not parvo?

Aug. 21, 2018

Pineapple's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

The runt of a litter is more likely to have congenital issues which may result in neurological issues due to abnormalities of the cerebellum or other neurological issues; however you should get her checked out by a Veterinarian to be on the safe side since I cannot give any diagnosis without an examination. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 22, 2018

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Wanwana adn Minchin

dog-breed-icon

Persian

dog-age-icon

8 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea
Fever
Vomiting
Decreased Appetite

I have two cats now who has Feline panleukopenia. It is day 8 of treatment and I cannot see a large visible improvement yet but every improvement is good for me no matter how small it is. Sometimes what they need is to see us fighting for them. I visited the vet and I will have a ffup nextwk. Me and ny boyfriend have been force feeding them to make sure that they get all the nutrients possible while recovering. Liquid recovery diet is a big help. My catd stopped grooming themselves athe minute they realized that they have a virus. They are very depressed and sometimes I make sure to hold them each and talk to them. Aroma diffuser is also encouraged for them to properly sleep. They have stopped sleeping eversince the treatment and now they have been sleeping all day to regain their strength. I saw them vommit and defecate blood and what i can advise, as early as you detected one of it, give them meds to avoid decreased platelets and rbc. My cats wbc was 2 but it went up to normal now because of vitamins and antibiotics.

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Simba

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Long haired tortie

dog-age-icon

5 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Depression
Not Eating

My kittens (4 of them) all have distemper. 1 passed, 2 have recovered and 1 is at hospital. My vet has given her poor prognosis just because of the nature of this virus I believe. But I refuse to believe she won’t recover. My ongoing experience is awful 😭 Please any words would help and/or financial help. Thank you.

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Ralphiejo

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Maine Coon m

dog-age-icon

9 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Won'T Eat And Lays Around

I just adopted a cat from the shelter, the paperwork said he was UTD on his shots. He sneezed a lot for the first 3 days. I have 3 other cats, 2 have been vaccinated for rabies and distemper. The other has not, he's 9 years old and has quit eating for 2 days now. Is it possible he may have contacted something from the shelter cat? I'm on ss don't have the money to help him. What can I do.

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Hope

dog-breed-icon

domestic short hair

dog-age-icon

6 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Weakness, Not Eating,Not Drinking

I have a cat that services distemper.she is a little bit wobbly now.but now she is showing signs of being sick again.she was vaccinated before the first time of getting it.how is this possible? I already spend $2000 to save her.i have no idea how I will afford more vet care if she gets sick again.

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Bunny and Precious

dog-breed-icon

Siamese

dog-age-icon

3 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea Minimal Sneezing

I just recently took in a kitten and already had a year old cat. My year old cat has helped me thru so much and can’t lose her the younger one my son has gotten so attached to but I think she has distemper I have her quarantined and vaccinated her myself but that is all I can afford. Please help any advice is greatly appreciated. I type this in tears because bunny my year old cat loved me thru a time when I felt loved by no one and actually contemplated suicide do to domestic violence. Please please any advice is helpful. Again I cannot afford a vet I am I single parent of 2 kids and 2 cats.

Distemper Average Cost

From 407 quotes ranging from $500 - $2,000

Average Cost

$1,100

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