Feline infectious peritonitis is an aggressive and highly infectious disease caused by the feline parvo virus (also known as feline panleukopenia virus or FPV), the disease is often referred to as panleukopenia virus because it causes a low white blood cell count (or panleukopenia).
How is panleukopenia spread?
Cats who are infected with FPV can shed the virus for more than six weeks following infection and it is spread by the faecal-oral route or following contamination of the environment. Pregnant queens can spread to unborn kittens where it interferes with the development of the brain. These infected kittens are often born with a condition called cerebella hypoplasia which causes a lack of co-ordination.
Which cats are vulnerable to infectious enteritis?
Any cat without sufficient immunity is susceptible to FPV however kittens are most commonly infected before their vaccination course provides protection. Adult cats who have not been vaccinated (or who’s vaccine course has lapsed) are also at risk.
What are the clinical signs of the disease?
FPV is a severe gastrointestinal virus causing bloody vomiting and diarrhoea as well as damage to the lining of the intestine. The virus is also able to travel in the blood stream to the bone marrow and lymph glands. When the virus replicates in these areas it causes destruction of white blood cells. Infected cats generally have a high fever, depression and reduced appetite and sadly, some will die before showing signs of gastroenteritis.
How is infectious enteritis diagnosed?
If your vet suspects FPV, they will likely recommend blood or faecal tests to look for specific markers of the virus. Your Vet may also be pointed towards a diagnosis of FPV if a cat has a very low white blood cell count. Sadly, due to the aggressive nature of the disease, some cases of FPV are diagnosed postmortem when the cat has already passed away.
How is infectious enteritis treated?
Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment available for FPV so it is extremely important that any suspected cases are isolated. Affected cats quickly die from dehydration and secondary infection, so aggressive supportive treatment with intravenous fluids, antibiotics and anti-nausea medication is vital. Interferon is a medication with both anti-viral and immune stimulating effects, therefore, may be recommended for treatment of some FPV cases. Sadly, even with aggressive therapy, a large proportion of affected cats will die from the disease.
How can infectious enteritis be controlled?
As with all viruses, prevention is better than cure. A highly effective vaccine is available for FPV, and all cats and kittens should be vaccinated, including cats who stay indoors. Controlling the spread of disease relies on both vaccination and good management with a focus on hygiene particularly in multi-cat households and breeding homes.
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