Feline Panleukopenia - Controlling the Virus

Feline Panleukopenia is a Parvo family virus, but it is tougher than Canine Parvo! This is the toughest virus we have to deal with. It survives a long time and orphaned kittens are particularly sensitive. It is also expensive to treat, hard to kill, and is emotionally tough as it kills high numbers of kittens when it attacks!

A fatal and highly contagious viral disease in cats, Panleukopenia has struck most rescues and humane groups at some point. Panleuk is commonly seen with increase kitten numbers late spring and early summer. It is extremely resistant and household disinfectants are ineffective against it. It survives for one year (at least) in room temperature and can be found after 13 months at just above freezing. We usually bring it in with an infected kitten where it spreads rapidly.

Ferrets also can get Panleukopenia, but develop only a mild disease. They are a potential spreader if rescuing them.


In the rescue, you need to be sure you are using the right disinfectant -- only a few will get the Panleukopenia virus. Try Trifectant® or Virkon - same product different name. Disinfectants should be easy to use and safe for hands. Alcohol sanitizers do not get Panleuk and bleach is not good enough to shut the virus down with an outbreak. Bleach won’t penetrate the fat or feces to kill virus, it just sterilizes the surface.


Vaccination has controlled the disease in the pet cat population, but breaks often happen in young cats not completing the vaccination series. Vaccines can shut down and prevent the virus from getting a foot hold in environments with large numbers of kittens.

There is a risk of vaccinating young, but it is minimal. Panleukopenia can affect the brain and cause kittens to fall over and stumble. The vaccine, being modified live, could potentially do the same, but is not seen with early vaccination. With the ability to shut the outbreak down, early vaccination is a risk worth taking!


Keep vaccine simple for the young kitten -- 3-Way vaccines started at 4 weeks - modified live injectable only. ML is the fastest and speed is important. Any kitten coming in over 4 weeks needs vaccine before they breathe the air where the other cats are. Most build immunity in 48 hours, booster immunization at 6 weeks and 8 weeks for kittens. Veterinarians will booster at 12 weeks and give FeLv if risk dictates.


Studies have shown there is up to 70% kitten loss with Panleuk - with treatment it is half that amount. Panleukopenia literally means severe low white blood cell counts! These cats catch everything that comes by and absorb bacteria out of the gut. Dehydration is a big issue and they need injectable fluids. Lots of fluids such as Saline and Dextrose 5% help keep energy up and an antibiotic (Tylan®). The antibiotic won't help the virus, but it will prevent secondary bacteria issues.

When the kitten is vomiting, pull their food for 24 hours and then put them back on water first, then followed by solid food when vomiting stops. Kaolin Pectin oral speeds recovery once vomiting stops -- 1 cc/5#. Use 4 times a day while giving fluids or food.


Virus is shed mostly in feces and urine, but any excretion can contain virus. Kittens will shed the virus for 6 weeks after recovery and it will take much time to get weight back on -- also about 6 weeks. Shedding of virus will complicate shutting a Panleukopenia outbreak down.

Panleukopenia can be controlled effectively and economically with correct disinfectant and early vaccination. Once you have Panleukopenia you need a good game plan to shut down the virus before many kitten lives are lost. Keep your head up -- disinfectants and vaccines are the key!

If you need help, call us at 1-800-786-4751.

-Dr. B
Don Bramlage, DVM, Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health

The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of a qualified veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.

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