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Symptoms of Parvovirus in Cats

Cats can be affected by various illnesses and conditions. Some, like parvo, can be deadly for kittens or senior cats.  Here, our Argyle vets discuss the effects of parvovirus in cats including the symptoms and treatment options and the expected prognosis after infection.

What is cat parvovirus?

When a cat has parvovirus (feline distemper or feline panleukopenia), the illness attacks the cells of their intestines. This can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, and difficulty eating and drinking. It also attacks the bone marrow, resulting in a shortage of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

This condition is most severe among kittens aged three to five months. Kittens are protected at birth by antibodies found in their mother's milk, but this protection fades by the time they reach 4-12 weeks old. 

Because parvovirus is so common, all cats are expected to contract it at least once in their life. Aside from young kittens, sick or unvaccinated cats are more likely to contract the disease.

How Parvovirus Attacks Your Cat's Body

Parvo is a disease of the stomach and small intestines. 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.

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.

Cat Parvovirus: Symptoms

It is important to know that if your cat has parvovirus and begins to show symptoms, they are already very ill. Here are the signs you need to look out for.

  • Watery nasal discharge
  • Fever in the early stage 
  • Low body temperature
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy and depression
  • Inability to eat
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting or frothing at the mouth
  • Dehydration

This disease can progress very quickly and in fragile kittens, it may lead to death if not caught right away. If you see the slightest sign of any of these symptoms contact your nearest emergency vet.

Treating Parvovirus in Cats

While there is no cure for Parvo in kittens, your veterinarian will recommend supportive treatments to alleviate symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. It is critical to ensure that your kitten receives adequate hydration and nutrition to aid in their recovery from Parvovirus. Unfortunately, kittens have a significantly higher mortality rate after contracting this disease.

Secondary infections are common in Parvo kittens (due to their weakened immune systems), so your vet will keep an eye on your kitten's condition and may prescribe antibiotics to help combat any bacterial infections that may develop.

If your four-legged friend receives veterinary care and survives the first four days after symptoms appear, your kitten is likely to 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 cat.

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.

What is the outlook for cats with parvovirus?

Feline parvovirus used to be the leading cause of death in cats. This is no longer the case, thanks to preventive vaccinations. However, if your cat contracts parvovirus, his chances of survival are slim.

Adult cats with parvo have a higher chance of survival than kittens. Cats that receive veterinary care for parvovirus have a higher chance of survival than those who do not. Overall, up to 90% of cats that contract parvovirus and are not treated will die.

We strongly advise all pet owners to vaccinate their kittens and cats and follow up with booster shots for the rest of their cat's life. Preventive measures always outweigh the cost and anxiety associated with treating your cat after it is already terminally ill.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your cat or kitten showing the signs of parvovirus? If so, contact our Argyle vets or your nearest 24-hour emergency vet to get them care right away.

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Contact (940) 464-3231