Eight Symptoms Of Feline Distemper And What To Do

Feline distemper is a viral disease that causes a high fever, vomiting, and lethargy. Distemper attacks blood cells and can be fatal if it isn’t treated. It’s important to learn to recognize the most common symptoms of distemper so your cat can receive supportive care if they develop this disease.

Eight Symptoms Of Feline Distemper And What To Do

Feline distemper is a virus that affects the blood cells of infected animals. It is sometimes referred to as feline parvovirus or feline panleukopenia virus. You will probably come across the abbreviation FPV as well. This virus is extremely contagious and can result in death, but it is possible to treat an infected animal.

What Is Feline Distemper?

Distemper is a viral disease that kills white and red blood cells. As the disease progresses, it will target blood cells produced in the intestines and bone marrow and result in more serious symptoms.

The low white blood cell count associated with this viral disease makes infected animals more likely to develop infections and other health issues since their immune system won’t be able to protect them.

You can protect your cat by following a vaccination schedule against distemper, but this disease still exists in shelters and animals can be exposed to it due to infected wildlife. Feline distemper is different from canine distemper. It can spread between cats and animals such as raccoons or minks.

The virus is extremely difficult to get rid of once it is present in an environment. This is why shelters typically use bleach to clean surfaces that were in contact with fluids from animals.

Distemper can be transmitted via oral contact. Animals can be infected if they are in contact with the feces, urine, saliva, or vomit of an infected cat or wildlife.

This disease can also spread through fleas and contaminated objects such as bedding or water dishes. It is possible for a human to spread the virus by petting a cat after touching an infected animal.

The incubation period typically lasts between three and ten days. There is a high mortality rate among kittens, pregnant cats, older cats, and cats with a weak immune system.

A cat’s chances of survival are improved by having access to supportive care. An infected animal can be protected from complications by taking antibiotics, and a vet can use fluids and supplements to help a cat fight this viral disease.

If a cat shows signs of fever and other symptoms, it is best to isolate them to prevent contamination. It’s possible for a healthy adult cat to catch this disease and have mild symptoms, which is why it’s safer to isolate any cat that shows signs of illness.

Symptoms Of Feline Distemper

These are the symptoms you will most commonly see in cats who have contracted distemper

Discharge And Sneezing

An infected cat will sneeze more than usual. You might also notice discharge from the nose and eyes.

Note that these symptoms can also indicate that your cat is suffering from viral respiratory disease or allergies.


Cats who are infected with distemper typically develop a high fever. A cat is considered as having a fever if their temperature exceeds 102.5 ºF. Distemper can cause a high fever of 104 ºF or more.

A fever that exceeds 106 ºF can cause organ damage. It’s important to see a vet and seek supportive care if you notice that your cat is running a fever.


Vomiting and loss of appetite are other symptoms associated with distemper. Your cat might also refuse to drink.

Keep in mind that vomit and other fluids are contagious and could contaminate another cat. If you have more than one cat, bleach the area where they vomited and isolate them until you pinpoint the cause of the vomiting.


Cats often become lethargic whenever they experience a health issue. Your pet might show signs of weakness and depression.

A sick cat will often hide under beds or in other areas where they can be left alone. If a cat contracts distemper, they will typically experience headaches and tiredness due to the decreasing blood cell count. They might sleep more than usual and avoid interactions with humans and other animals.

Your cat might hiss to indicate that they wish to be left alone. Lethargy, depression, and hiding are common behaviors among animals who don’t feel well.

You should schedule an appointment with your vet if you notice these symptoms since they indicate that your pet is feeling unwell, but keep in mind that a wide range of health issues will cause your cat to exhibit these symptoms.


Distemper can cause fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. Your cat will also probably refuse to eat and drink. This means they will probably develop dehydration quickly.

A dehydrated cat will usually become lethargic and weak. You might notice panting, a higher heart rate, and dry mouth.

Your cat’s eyes might look sunken and their skin elasticity will be reduced. Pale gums are another common sign of dehydration.

Dehydration can cause weakness, depression, and cause your cat to hide. Make sure your pet has access to fresh water and keep them away from the sun.

However, drinking water won’t be enough to restore your cat’s fluid balance if they are suffering from a high fever. You should take your cat to a vet so they can receive fluid replacement therapy.

Weight Loss

You will notice that your cat is losing weight as distemper progresses. A sick cat will lose weight quickly if they refuse to eat and keep vomiting.


Diarrhea is another common symptom of distemper. The infection spreads to the intestines and bone marrow after a few days and results in diarrhea. You might notice blood in the stool.

There are many other causes behind changes in bowel movements in cats. If diarrhea is the only symptom you observe, there are probably no causes for concerns unless the symptom persists.

Distemper typically causes a very sudden onset of diarrhea, and you will probably see other symptoms before your cat experiences any changes in their bowel movements.

You should take your cat to see a vet if diarrhea is combined with other symptoms. Remember that fluids are highly contagious if a cat has distemper. Use bleach when cleaning after your cat, and use separate litter boxes if you have more than one cat.

Loss Of Balance

As distemper progresses, it can affect the nerves and brain. Your cat might have a hard time walking and lose their balance.

If a loss of balance and coordination is the first symptom you notice, your cat is probably suffering from another health problem. If your cat suffers from distemper, you will probably notice a fever, vomiting, and lethargy before your pet shows symptoms like a loss of balance.

Other Symptoms

Distemper weakens a cat’s immune system by attacking the animal’s red and white blood cells. An infected animal is likely to develop infections and other health issues due to their low white blood cell count. Additional symptoms might appear if an animal develops other health conditions as a result of a weakened immune system.

What To Do If Your Cat Is Experiencing Symptoms Of Feline Distemper?

You should take your cat to a vet to get a proper diagnosis. Your vet will ask some questions to determine if your pet could have been in contact with an infected animal. A cat who was recently adopted from a shelter or who has been in contact with wildlife is more at risk for developing distemper.

Your vet will typically perform some blood work and a urinalysis to diagnose your cat. Blood work will reveal a low blood cell count that is characteristic of distemper.

A cat who has contracted distemper will need to be hospitalized so they can receive supportive care. The vet will be able to restore the animal’s fluid levels with an IV, prevent further infections with antibiotics, and might use a feeding tube if your cat isn’t eating.

Keep in mind that the distemper virus can survive for up to a year if a surface was in contact with fluids from a sick animal. Use bleach to clean your home if your cat contracts this viral disease.

Even though there is a high mortality rate for distemper, a cat has chances of surviving if they receive supportive care. It’s important to get a proper diagnosis and start providing supportive care as early as possible.

Preventing Feline Distemper

Kittens should receive a shot against distemper when they are six weeks of age. They can then receive booster shots every three to four weeks until they are 16-weeks old.

If an older cat is getting vaccinated for the first time, they should receive two doses two to three weeks apart. Your cat will then receive a booster shot one year after the initial vaccine, and additional shots every three years. Keeping up with this vaccination schedule is the easiest way to prevent distemper.

If you work in a shelter or have more than one cat, there are a few steps you can take to prevent viral diseases from spreading. New animals should be quarantined for a while and bedding, toys, and dishes shouldn’t be shared.

Cleaning with bleach and using hand sanitizer is the best way to keep viruses from spreading in shelters. You can also prevent viral diseases by using disposable litter pans and avoiding overcrowding. If you are adopting a cat from a shelter, make sure employees and volunteers follow these rules.

Feline distemper is a potentially serious viral disease. However, a cat has a chance of surviving if the disease is diagnosed early and if they receive supportive care. It’s important to know how to recognize the signs of this disease and see a vet as quickly as possible if you notice these symptoms.

Speak Your Mind