Feline parvovirus also known as feline panleukopaenia or feline infectious enteritis is a very serious, frequently fatal disease. It causes severe bloody vomiting and diarrhoea, as well as a very low white blood cell count (panleukopaenia) which makes the cat more susceptible to other infections as well.
It is highly contagious and can survive in the environment for a very long time (up to 1 year). The virus is transmitted in the faeces but as it survives so well in the environment can be carried on items such as toys, clothing, grooming equipment, food bowls, floors and hands.
Kittens are the most at risk of dying from this disease as they become very dehydrated very quickly. Infected cats must be treated in complete isolation to avoid spreading the virus to other animals. They need aggressive fluid therapy, antibiotics and supportive medication to reduce the severity of vomiting. Even with the best care, the mortality rate, particularly for kittens, is very high.
Very young kittens (less than 4 weeks old) who are infected with the virus may not develop the severe gastrointestinal signs but the virus can affect the developing brain, leading to a condition known as cerebellar hypoplasia. This causes problems with co-ordination. This condition can also develop in the developing kittens if the pregnant female is infected.
Fortunately the vaccination against this disease is very effective. All cats, even those living indoors, should be vaccinated. The initial vaccine course is usually 2 vaccinations 3-4 weeks apart, followed by a booster at 1 year. The immunity from this first booster vaccination will last at least 3 years but currently no vaccine in the UK has a license beyond this so 3-yearly vaccination against this particular disease is recommended. See vaccinations page for more information.