In the past, feline panleukopenia was a leading cause of death in cats. Today, due in large part to the wide availability of effective vaccines, it is an uncommon disease. Feline panleukopenia is also called feline distemper or feline parvo and is a highly contagious viral infection. The virus does not, however, affect humans.
Infected cats shed the virus in their urine, stool, and nasal secretions. Infection occurs when susceptible cats come in contact with these secretions, or even the fleas from infected cats. An infected cat tends to shed the virus for 1-2 days, but the virus can survive for up to a year in the environment, so cats may become infected without ever coming into direct contact with an infected cat. Bedding, cages, food dishes, and the hands or clothing of people who handle the infected cat may harbor the virus and transmit it to other cats.
This virus affects the rapidly dividing blood cells in the body. Cells in the intestinal tract, bone marrow, and in the stem cells of the developing fetus are especially susceptible. Because the blood cells are under attack, anemic conditions often follow, and it can open the body to infections from other illnesses. Common symptoms include:
Anemia (due to lowered red blood cells)
Rough hair coat
Complete loss of interest in food
Hanging head over water bowl or food dish but does not drink or eat