Feline distemper, also called feline panleukopenia, is a serious, life-threatening cat disease caused by the parvovirus. As a pet owner, it is important to the health of your kitty to guard against this disease by making sure she receives the distemper vaccination series.
Feline distemper is a very contagious viral disease. A cat with feline distemper sheds the virus through secretions such as feces, saliva and urine. According to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, the virus is extremely stable, so it can survive in extreme environments and remain on surfaces for months to years. Also, it is resistant to most disinfectants and is therefore found everywhere. Because of this, your pet has a high chance of exposure. The only method of prevention is the distemper vaccine.
The feline distemper vaccine is one of the core veterinarian-recommended immunizations for feline pets. Because it is a very effective vaccine, the incidence of the disease has dramatically decreased. The vaccination series begins when a kitten is around 9 weeks old, then one or two more doses are given two to four weeks apart, depending on the veterinarian. Yearly boosters are also recommended as the cat ages. This vaccine is highly successful and usually only causes mild to moderate reactions.
Mild to Moderate Reactions
A cat who has received the distemper vaccine may show soreness, tenderness or swelling at the injection site for a couple of days. She may be sleepy or less energetic than normal, or she might develop a slight fever. Your veterinarian may provide medication to bring it down if necessary. She may also lose her appetite or have lame joints, but all these reactions should only last a few days. The vaccine can also be given in a nasal spray form, and cats who receive the vaccine this way may sneeze or have nasal discharge.
In very rare occasions, a cat who received the feline distemper vaccine may develop a severe allergic reaction, which will occur within a few minutes to hours after injection. Call your vet immediately if your cat shows signs such as breathing difficulty due to fluid build-up in the lungs, swollen or itchy face, diarrhea, vomiting or collapse.
A distemper vaccine may be given as a modified live virus or a killed virus vaccine. In very rare incidences, the killed virus vaccine has been associated with the development of an aggressive form of cancer called vaccination-associated fibrosarcoma, which is a tumor that grows within the tissue at the injection site. There is limited research about this possible association, and correlation between the cancer and vaccinations is still not fully understood.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Sarah Quinlan has experience writing for various websites on science, biology, veterinary science, health and medicine. For over seven years she has worked as a scientist in various biological fields where she has written and contributed to multiple manuscripts that have been published in scientific journals. Quinlan holds a bachelor's degree in zoology and a master's degree in forensic biology/chemistry.