How to Tell if Your Cat Has Parvovirus Symptoms

If you are a cat owner, you may feel responsible when your cat gets sick. This can feel especially overwhelming if your cat contracts parvovirus or another life-threatening disease. It may help to have the facts about this condition. In this post, our Sharpsburg veterinarians discuss parvovirus, options for treatment, how it can be prevented, and more.

What is cat parvovirus?

Parvo in cats is a viral disease. Also known as feline panleukopenia or feline distemper, parvovirus mostly attacks the cells in your cat's intestines. This can lead to difficulty eating and drinking, vomiting, and diarrhea. Additionally, the disease also attacks the bone marrow, reducing the number of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. 

This condition is most severe among kittens between the ages of three and five months. While antibodies in their mother's milk offer some initial protection to kittens, this protection starts to fade as they grow and reach 4 to 12 weeks old. 

Parvovirus is prevalent in most environments, and nearly every cat will be exposed to it during their life. However, young kittens, and cats that are sick or unvaccinated are most susceptible to this disease. 

How Parvovirus Attacks Your Cat's Body 

This serious virus affects a cat's stomach and small intestine. It attacks healthy cells, causing destruction of the gut barrier and preventing your cat's body from absorbing vital nutrients. In kittens, parvovirus may also target bone marrow and lymphopoietic tissues, which are important parts of the immune system. Additionally, the virus can also cause heart damage. 

Young Cats Are Vulnerable to Parovirus 

If a mother cat is fully vaccinated against parvovirus, her kittens will inherit antibodies that will protect them against the virus for the first few weeks of their lives. 

However, as the kittens start to wean, their immune systems weaken, and they'll become vulnerable to the disease. Your veterinarian will urge you to start vaccinating your kitten against parvo once they reach six weeks of age. At this stage, your kitten will be weaning, and the antibodies will no longer be there to protect them. 

Your young cat won't be protected against parvovirus until they've received the series of three parvovirus vaccinations. During this gap between weaning and full vaccination, your kitten will be at risk of contracting parvo. 

Symptoms of Parvovirus in Cats 

It's important to understand that once your cat starts to show symptoms, they are already severely ill. Here are signs that your cat may have parvovirus: 

  • Weakness
  • Inability to eat 
  • Fever (early stages)
  • Low body temperature
  • Watery nasal discharge 
  • Lethargy or depression 
  • Weight loss 
  • Dehydration 
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Vomiting or frothing at the mouth 

Not only are kittens super fragile, but this disease can also progress very quickly and lead to death if not caught right away. If you see the slightest sign of any of these symptoms, contact your nearest emergency vet.

Treatment for Parvovirus in Cats & Kittens

Although there is no known cure for parvo in kittens, veterinarians can provide supportive treatments to alleviate symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. It is crucial to ensure that your kitten remains properly hydrated and receives adequate nutrition to encourage recovery from parvovirus.

Due to their weakened immune systems, kittens with parvo are susceptible to secondary infections. Therefore, your veterinarian will monitor your kitten's condition closely and may prescribe antibiotics to help combat any bacterial infections that may develop. If a veterinarian is treating your kitten and survives the first four days after symptoms appear, there is a good chance that they will recover from the disease.

Preventing Parvovirus in Cats

Never allow your kitten to spend time around cats that have not been fully vaccinated against parvovirus. Talk to your vet about how best to protect your cat. Be sure to follow your vet's advice and have your kitten vaccinated against Parvo, rabies, and other potentially serious conditions based on a kitten vaccination schedule for your area.

The Prognosis for Cats With Parvo

Feline parvo was once a primary cause of cat mortality. But thanks to the preventive vaccine, it is no longer a serious threat. However, if your cat gets infected with parvo, the chances of survival are low.

Adult cats have a better chance of surviving parvo than kittens. Cats that receive proper veterinary care for parvo have a better chance of survival than those who don't. If left untreated, up to 90 percent of cats with parvo will not survive.

We strongly recommend that all pet owners get their kittens and cats vaccinated and continue with booster shots throughout their pet's life. Taking preventive measures is always better than dealing with the cost and stress of treating a critically ill cat.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If you suspect your cat has contracted parvovirus, contact our Sharpsburg vets or your nearest emergency animal hospital as quickly as possible.