Even those with little medical knowledge know white blood cells play a large role in the body's natural defenses and immunities. This is why it can be devastating when a disease lowers the count of white blood cells. Unfortunately, feline panleukopenia in cats attacks these healthy white blood cells and lowers a cat's ability to fight infection and diseases.
Feline panleukopenia virus (FPLV) is a virus that belongs to the parvovirus family and is similar to the virus which causes parvovirus in dogs. Parvovirus in dogs is not contagious to cats, but much like other forms of parvovirus, FPLV is transmitted through the feces of a cat already infected with the disease. While this is more of a major issue for dogs, who are more prone to eating or coming into contact with feces than cats, it does happen. FPLV may also live in water or on clothing and may be additional sources of infection for cats.
A cat infected by FPLV will likely display general listlessness, signs of dehydration, vomiting and diarrhea. Affected cats may show signs of shock and might even collapse. Pet owners should bring their cat to a veterinary hospital right away if these signs develop.
By severely lowering the white blood cell count, FPLV makes cats extremely susceptible to other diseases and infections. Conditions that would not normally affect a cat may soon become life-threatening. Many do not realize the body is actually fighting off infections all the time, but in many cases white blood cells are enough to combat infections without medication. With the white blood cells lowered due to FPLV, the feline's defenses are down.
FPLV is a highly-resistant virus and is difficult to treat once it is present. The cat will likely need intensive care to ensure it is not afflicted by other infections while the condition runs its course.
Fortunately, there are cat vaccinations for FPLV, making its occurrence limited mainly to kittens and strays who do not receive proper medical care. The vaccine should be included in the kitten's booster shots that a veterinarian will give during the first few months of life. It is important the animal gets two booster shots during this time so the FPLV vaccine is not blocked by the kitten's natural antibodies passed on by its mother.