Can Cats Get Parvo?

Whether you are a new pet parent or an experienced owner, you have likely heard of the fatal infection known as parvovirus.

This type of virus can impact both the canine and feline friends in our life, leading to a complicated gastrointestinal infection with life-threatening symptoms.

Not only can cats fall victim to their own strain of parvo, but they can also quickly succumb to the virus if they do not receive proper vet care in a timely manner.

In this article we will discuss the details of parvovirus in cats, and help you better understand how this disease impacts the feline friends in our life.

Can Cats Get Parvo

Can Cats Get Parvo From Dogs? Is It The Same Virus?

Both cats and dogs can become infected with a deadly infection known as parvovirus.

Though they can each fall victim to a strain of this GI illness, there are species specific qualities of each individual strain.

Canine and feline parvo are entirely different conditions, as there are distinct genetic differences that separate the two.

The feline strain of parvovirus is known as panleukopenia, and it can only be spread from cat to cat.

Whenever you hear the phrase ‘cat parvo’, it is referencing the condition known as feline panleukopenia.

What Is Parvovirus In Cats?

Cat parvo, or panleukopenia, is a contagious illness that is derived from the feline parvovirus.

Panleukopenia invades the cells that are rapidly dividing throughout the body, attacking cells found anywhere from the gut to the bone marrow.

The damage to the cells in the gut leads to severe GI symptoms, causing rapid dehydration if medical care is not offered immediately.

Panleukopenia also causes a significant drop in white blood cells, all of which play a key role in fighting foreign invaders.

This makes an infected cat vulnerable to developing secondary infections, as their immune system can no longer protect them against infectious agents they encounter.

Without proper veterinary care, panleukopenia will progress into fatal systemic infection.

How Do Cats Get Parvo?

Cats can become infected with feline parvo when they come in contact with infected bodily secretions.

Parvo viruses are incredibly durable and resilient, allowing them to persist in an environment for months to years until it is properly disinfected.

Because of this, cats can be exposed to the infectious illness in an array of settings that cats often frequent.

Cats can be infected with panleukopenia when they come in direct contact with infected stool, vomit, or even saliva.

Direct contact with contaminated surfaces can also be a mode of transmission for the illness, ranging from contaminated food bowls to bedding.

If any form of bodily secretion has been left behind, a susceptible cat can catch the disease through direct contact.

Once the cat has come in contact with the virus, the incubation period is typically anywhere from 5 to 14 days (onset of when symptoms develop).

Are Some Cats More At Risk?

Just like any other disease in the animal world, some furry friends are more at risk of catching feline parvo than others.

Panleukopenia most often infects kittens under the age of 6 months, cats with a suppressed immune system, and those who have not received a series of protective vaccinations.

In addition to the risks mentioned above, there are other situations in which a cat is more susceptible to becoming infected with panleukopenia.

Some of these at risk cats include:

  • Cats in a shelter or rescue setting
  • Cats housed in an area with a large amount of cats
  • Cats that are indoor and outdoor
  • Cats that live in outdoor colonies
  • Cats that are pregnant
  • Cats that come in contact with unvaccinated cats
  • Cats with chronic health conditions

Not all cats in these situations will fall victim to feline panleukopenia, but they are certainly more susceptible.

If your cat is among any of the high risk groups above, we suggest speaking with your vet about a panleukopenia prevention plan.

What Happens When A Cat Gets Parvo?

Many pet parents are aware of the fact that parvo can be a fatal condition in cats and dogs, but they may not know exactly why.

The feline parvovirus is most known for causing severe GI upset in cats, but an array of health complications are also occurring behind the scenes.

The term panleukopenia refers to a drastic drop in white blood cells within the body.

Each type of white blood cell has a specific role in immune support, causing severe susceptibility to foreign invaders as these levels drop.

Not only is the cat more susceptible to secondary infections, but they will sustain severe cell damage in multiple areas throughout the body.

The most impacted cells are those lining the intestines, causing significant destruction of the GI tract.

Along with damage to the cells in the intestines, those in the lymph nodes and bone marrow will soon be targeted as well.

Once the cat’s bone marrow has been impacted by feline parvovirus, this will threaten their normal red blood cell production.

Many cats will develop severe anemia as a result, putting even more stress on their already compromised body.

If a cat happens to be pregnant when they are infected with panleukopenia, their growing fetuses will often be at risk.

Some kittens will be aborted due to the damage from the virus, while other kittens may be born with cerebellar damage (Cerebellar Hypoplasia).

The cerebellum is responsible for regulating coordination and normal body movements, causing significant ataxia that is often lifelong.

The impact of these complications will become apparent as the days pass.

Cats and kittens will typically experience severe GI upset, dehydration, weakness, anemia, hypothermia, and ultimately death if medical care is not offered.

Symptoms Of Parvo In Cats & Kittens

Similar to parvovirus in our canine friends, the most common signs of panleukopenia involve severe forms of gastrointestinal upset.

Some of the typically symptoms you will see in cats with feline parvovirus include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Anorexia
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pale gums
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Change in body temperature, typically with an initial fever before it plummets
  • Eye or nasal discharge
  • Ataxia
  • Collapse
  • Sudden death

If you notice any of the above symptoms in your feline friend, we suggest having them seen by your veterinarian immediately.

Panleukopenia can cause a rapid decline in an infected cat, leaving little time to intervene before their condition is deadly.

Even if feline parvovirus is not the cause of your cat’s symptoms, they can be a sign of other forms of GI upset that require immediate medical attention.

Diagnosing Parvo In Cats

Most cases of feline parvovirus are diagnosed by examining a cat’s symptoms, their vaccination status, and their potential for exposure.

Once your veterinarian gathers a detailed history, they can perform diagnostic blood work to measure their white blood cell levels.

If your cat has a low WBC count or any evidence of WBC shift, they may then assume that your cat is infected with panleukopenia.

Your veterinarian may also suggest using an in house test that searches for the presence of canine parvovirus in their stool.

While the feline and canine strains of parvovirus are different, the test is sensitive enough to detect panleukopenia anywhere from 50%-80% of the time.

However, this is not always a reliable option, as some cats can test positive if they were vaccinated for panleukopenia within the last two weeks.

Can You Treat Parvo In Cats?

Parvovirus in cats can be treated with immediate and aggressive veterinary care.

There is no set cure for panleukopenia due to it being a viral disease, but supportive care to combat their symptoms is typically the best route.

The standard treatment plan for a cat or kitten with panleukopenia involves IV fluids to restore hydration, antiemetic medications to relieve nausea, and antibiotic therapy to prevent any secondary infections.

Your veterinarian can also offer other forms of supportive care based on your cat’s needs.

In addition to the primary treatment options listed above, there are other forms of supportive care that may be implemented.

Many young cats will require heat support, supplemental feedings, hypoglycemic monitoring, immunotherapy, and deworming medications if intestinal parasites are complicating their condition.

Your veterinarian will understand your cat’s case best, so we suggest following their guidance in determining the best treatment plan going forward.

Is Parvo Fatal In Cats?

Parvovirus in cats, or panleukopenia, is considered a fatal condition when cats or kittens do not receive medical care.

Mortality rates in untreated cats are as high as 90%, with this number decreasing to 50% when adequate treatment is sought immediately.

The sooner your feline friend receives veterinary care, the better their chance of survival.

Can Young Kittens Survive Parvo?

Young kittens can survive panleukopenia, but their prognosis is not as favorable if they are under 6 weeks of age.

Parvo positive kittens under 6 weeks of age require aggressive veterinary care to offer the best chance at prognosis, with many still succumbing to the condition even when veterinary care is offered.

The best way to offer these kittens a chance at recovery is by seeking medical care from the moment symptoms develop.

Can Cats Catch Parvo From Dogs?

Thankfully, both feline and canine parvovirus are species specific viruses that typically stick to their host of choice.

However, there is no way to rule out the possibility of cross-species transmission completely, so we always suggest keeping any unvaccinated cats away from parvo positive dogs.

The likelihood of a cat catching parvovirus from a dog is highly unlikely, but it is always best to be safe.

Can You Prevent Parvo In Cats?

Thankfully, panleukopenia can be prevented with the use of preventive vaccinations.

Panleukopenia is among the few diseases that are included in the standard core vaccination plan, and these vaccines have excellent success rates in protecting our feline friends.

Their first vaccine should typically be administered around 8 weeks of age, offering two boosters every 3-4 weeks following their first dose.

Once they have completed their first vaccination series, your veterinarian will often recommend yearly boosters until they suggest otherwise.

If you have any concerns about vaccine frequency as they get older, you can always discuss these issues with your veterinarian.

Final Thoughts

Parvovirus in cats is a life threatening infection that should always be on your radar.

Education on the disease is essential for offering your cat success, as well as implementing a core vaccination program for your feline friend going forward.

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