Cat Distemper Symptoms You Need to Know

sick cat

In the beginning, cat feline distemper symptoms can mimic other illnesses and may be hard to diagnose without a veterinarian's expertise. Distemper is also known as Feline Panleukopenia, and it can be a serious threat to the life of your cat. There is no cure for feline distemper. However, with early intervention and a good care plan, your cat can survive this disease.

Cat Distemper Signs: Early Stages

It is always best to diagnose any illness in its earliest stages. When treatment is begun early in the progression of the illness, your pet's immune system can be supported in many ways. This will help her immune system fight the disease while she is still strong. That is why it is important to observe your cat carefully for signs of distemper in your cat and behavioral changes.

The first symptoms are usually:

  • High fever
  • Loss of appetite. An infected cat is likely to stop taking both food and water.
  • The cat may take on a depressed appearance, moving little and sitting hunched over as if in pain.
  • The animal may be much quieter than usual or she may "talk" more than usual.

As the hours go by, your pet will begin to develop more cat distemper symptoms.

Feline Distemper Symptoms: Rapid Progression

Once your pet shows the initial symptoms of distemper, the rest of the symptoms can show up rapidly. In fact, the disease can run its entire course in less than five days. It is very important to discuss your concerns with your vet at the first signs of illness in your cat.

Here are further symptoms to watch for:

  • The cat may begin vomiting. If she has eaten no food, she may just vomit a clear liquid. If she is not drinking water, she may have the dry heaves. Many pet owners think that their cat has been poisoned during the initial stages of distemper.
  • The cat may develop severe diarrhea. In some cases, she may develop bloody stools.
  • Dehydration is another common result of progressing distemper. When your cat is unable to eat or drink and can't keep anything in her system, dehydration sets in.
  • Look carefully at the animal's eyes. Cats will often develop a haw in the inner corner of the eye when they are ill. This looks like a third eyelid.
  • The animal's coat will become dull and rough. On a long-haired breed, the hair may become matted. Your cat will stop grooming as she feels weaker.
  • There will be evidence of abdominal pain. Sometimes a cat will lick or bite at her abdomen in an effort to sooth the pain. It does not look like the grooming she does normally.
  • Some cats develop a yellow color to the skin around their ears as they become jaundiced due to liver malfunction.
  • A blood test will reveal fewer white blood cells than normal.
  • If the distemper is allowed to progress, the cat will suffer convulsions and eventual death.

Treating the Symptoms

Your vet will treat the symptoms and attempt to make your pet feel more comfortable. He/She will administer medication to lessen vomiting as well as a treatment for the diarrhea. This will bring an end to the cycle of dehydration.

If the cat is already dehydrated, your vet may give her fluids. These are typically given in the form of an I.V., and your pet may need to stay overnight at the veterinary clinic for observation.

The vet may also choose to administer antibiotics. This is because the cat's immune system has been compromised by the distemper and this makes it possible for secondary infections to take hold.

Incubation Period of Feline Panleukopenia

The earliest symptoms of distemper show up about ten days after your cat has been exposed to the disease.

How Do Cats Get Distemper?

Exposure can come through contact with other cats, or even a run in with an infected raccoon. Although humans and dogs cannot catch feline distemper, they can indirectly spread the disease if they do not properly wash any skin or clothing that came in contact with the sick cat. An indoor cat can get distemper as the virus can be brought into the home by other members of the household.


Distemper is a serious disease. Up to 90 percent of cats will die from distemper if left untreated. With early intervention and proper treatment, a mature cat can recover from feline distemper. Kittens have a lesser chance of surviving this disease.

If you suspect that your pet may have cat distemper symptoms, the best thing to do is take her to the vet for diagnosis as soon as possible.

Cat Distemper Symptoms You Need to Know