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Veterinarians report rise in infectious, deadly disease among cats and kittens

Feline distemper virus, also known as panleukopenia, is preventable with vaccination.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Local veterinarians and shelters are seeing a resurgence of a contagious and potentially deadly disease among cats and kittens. The disease is called feline distemper virus or feline panleukopenia.

"That is not a problem that’s been unique to Oregon or Portland even, this is a problem we are seeing nationwide," said Dr. Stephen Kochis, chief medical officer with the Oregon Humane Society.

Symptoms includes vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, a fever and a lack of appetite. If left untreated, it can be fatal. 

"The population that is most at risk is cats that are unvaccinated," said Dr. Kochis.

He believes the pandemic may have contributed to the spike in cases.

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"Veterinary services have been very limited, so people have not had great access to wellness care or preventative care, and that provides a great opportunity for this virus to  getting spread," he said. 

There is no cure for panleukopenia, but intensive medical treatment with fluids and sometimes antibiotics can help cats recover. Cats can potentially become re-infected, which is why Dr. Kochis recommends pet owners get their cats vaccinated to protect them after the recovery. He added that often, the infection does create immunity from future infection.

Dr. Kochis said the risk of transmission is very low for cats who have been appropriately vaccinated.

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