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Sadly, kittens are at highest risk for feline panleukopenia virus (FPV). Even kittens who are vaccinated, if they are under four months old, are at risk due to interference from maternal antibodies. 50 to 100%% of unvaccinated cats die even with treatment. Illness in recovering cats lasts 5- 7 days.
Usual course of disease: Fever, listlessness and lethargy develops into anorexia, with possible vomiting/diarrhea before septic shock, DIC (disseminated intravasal coagulopathy which causes excessive blood clotting, then excessive bleeding) and death in 24-48 hours.
An infected kitten may separate herself from the litter, and infected kittens may die quickly. FPV causes vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, inappetence and fever. If you notice any of these signs, report them to your foster coordinator or veterinarian immediately so they can begin diagnostics and supportive care.
Infection occurs when the virus is transmitted, primarily by body secretions including feces, vomit, urine, saliva, mucus and objects/clothing/hands contaminated with virus from feces, via the mouth or nose. PFV’s incubation period is typically less than 14 days, and cats may shed infectious virus for two to three days before clinical signs are observed. In addition to clinical signs of FPV, there are diagnostic tests that can be done by the animal shelter, rescue group or veterinarian.
There are no medications capable of killing the virus. Intensive care and treatment with medications and fluids are critical to support kittens until their body and immune system can fight off the virus. Without such supportive care, up to 90% of cats with FPV may die.
Maternally derived antibody (MDA), passed from the mom cat via colostrum in her milk, provides short-term protection to kittens who are too young (<4 weeks of age) to safely vaccinate. The amount of MDA and how long it lasts varies from one kitten to another. Thus, not all exposed kittens will become infected.
Because there’s no easy way to test for the presence of MDA, which can can cause a lack of response to vaccination, and the risk of exposure to FPV is increased in a shelter, all kittens 4 weeks of age and older should receive a modified live panleukopenia vaccine immediately upon shelter entry. If kittens are housed in the shelter, it’s recommended they be revaccinated every 2-3 weeks instead of every 3-4 weeks (as is recommended for kittens in a home with less exposure to other cats).
Because no vaccination is reliably protective until kittens are over 20 weeks of age, reducing kittens’ length of stay is important. That’s why fosters are extra special when it comes to fostering kittens under 8 weeks of age. Once kittens are 8 weeks of age, they can be returned to the shelter, spayed or neutered and adopted into their forever homes.
If kittens or cats in a shelter or foster home experience FPV, it’s critical to disinfect before bringing in other animals. FPV survives freezing and can last a year indoors at room temperature. 5% household bleach can be used to kill the virus on surfaces such as stainless steel or sealed floors. Before surfaces and items are disinfected with a bleach solution, organic material (feces, vomit, urine) must be removed Then surfaces can be wiped down with and items can be soaked in a fresh, precise dilution of 1 part bleach in 32 parts water or 1/2 cup per gallon for 10 minutes. Note: Undiluted bleach remains stable ~200 days; diluted bleach remains stable ~30 days if it’s stored in a light proof container. The disadvantage of bleach is that it’s inactivated by organic material. Bleach also offers limited penetration on porous surfaces.
For surfaces such as scratched plastic, unsealed concrete, wood and carpet, accelerated hydrogen peroxide (Accel/Rescue® in particular) has good detergent properties and better activity in the face of organic matter compared to bleach.