5 week old kittens – panleuk positive

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This topic contains 5 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Kittyzee 5 months, 3 weeks ago.

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    hi everyone,

    I’m new to the forum, but am desperate for advice. I’m going to try to recap the situation as best as possible.

    9 days ago I rescued a kitten from a shelter. He was eating well, but had diarrhea. Two days ago, he declined quickly, and so we brought him to the vet. He tested positive for panleuk (feline distemper). He had to be euthanized. I was devastated, shocked, and extremely scared. We have 7 other foster kittens in our care. Despite quarantining the ill kitten from the start, one litter of 5 have now all tested positive for panleuk as well. They are all between 12-14 ounces, and are approximately 5 weeks old. Three are not eating well, and the other two are. There is some diarrhea. They are still with their mom, who is continuing to take care of them. We have tried syringe feeding them, which they are extremely difficult about. They are all still very playful. We believe they’ve had symptoms for about 2-3 days, although they had a URI about 4-5 days ago, which is likely related.

    We have another kitten that is 7 weeks old. She was rescued at the same time as the other litter, and was very exposed to it. She tested negative today, so our vet decided to vaccinate her (she is 2.05 pounds). Despite testing negative, she has a fever of 104 and has little appetite. This all developed this morning, she had her last good feedings at around 12pm (it is now almost 7pm). She was given 20 ml fluids today as well, although some leaked out. We also started her on .25 of clavamox. I will try syringe feeding her soon, I just wanted her to catch up a bit on rest since she’s had a long day, and doesn’t have diarrhea and has been eating well to date.

    The final kitten likely had minimal exposure, but definitely some exposure, and is 3 weeks old. He is not showing any symptoms yet. His only contact was with the 7 week old.

    These are my questions:

    1. How common are false negatives? I know that they are possible during the inoculation period, but how likely is it when a cat is showing symptoms, to test negative? It could be possible she picked up the upper respiratory. Although I’m very certain she’s been exposed to panleuk, so the only way she could not get it is if she has some sort of immunity I’d imagine. Also, if she tested negative, does that mean she’s not shedding the virus, and therefore not contagious?

    2. That being said, is immunity possible in a cat this young?

    3. How long do symptoms last for. What are the milestones?

    4. This is our treatment thus far: Clavamox and fluids. We will continue to try syringe feeding formula as well, and will add Nutrical. What else can we do? We’re willing to explore all options.

    5. Do these kittens have any chance of survival? It’s so hard to find information, I know that panleuk is extremely deadly, but can it be overcome in kittens this young?

    We have been going crazy trying to disinfect our entire house, but it will take time. Everyone is isolated and no one is at risk of further exposure.

    Any advice or experience would be very appreciated. I am desperate here, and absolutely devastated – this feels like a nightmare. Also, if anyone has a vet in NJ that is experienced with very young kittens and/or panleuk, please let me know. We’ve visited several vets already but it’s a very complex situation and we’ve received a lot of conflicting information.




    I’m so sorry and saddened by your news.

    Panleukopenia is a viral disease of cats and is often called feline distemper. It is highly contagious and can be fatal, especially in young cats. It is one of the diseases for which cats are routinely vaccinated (the “P” in combination FVRCP vaccines).

    The virus can be spread by direct contact with infected cats but also indirectly by contact with items contaminated with the virus. The virus survives a long time in the environment, and is resistant to many disinfectants, so virtually all cats will be exposed to this virus at some point. Thankfully, vaccination greatly reduces the risk of disease.?

    Young kittens are most at risk, along with unvaccinated cats and cats with weakened immune systems.?There is no specific treatment for the virus, so treatment is aimed at managing the symptoms while cat’s immune system fights the virus. Hospitalization is usually required, and fluids (e.g. by intravenous drip) are generally necessary to combat dehydration.

    Antibiotics may be used to prevent or fight secondary bacterial infections, and medication to reduce vomiting may also be used. In severe cases, blood transfusions may be necessary.

    The infection usually takes 5-7 days to run its course; kittens under 5 months are usually the most severely affected, and unfortunately even with intensive treatment the outcome can be fatal.?

    I believe you are doing all you can for the kits. Keep working with the vet. and ask if they a means of disinfecting your house.




    I’m so sorry to hear that you are battling this dreaded disease with your kittens. I posted a link for you, but you may already know more about this disease than you ever wanted to. I can’t help you with advice as you are already doing as much as you possibly can. Supportive care for your kittens hopefully will save some. Bless you for being a fosterer.



    Hello again,

    I thought I’d update this thread now that it’s almost four weeks old, in case anyone was following it and curious of the outcome. I’ll be thorough so that it can maybe be used for reference for someone in the future.

    So, of our seven foster kittens exposed, here was what happened:

    Kitten that was 3 weeks old at the time that had minimal-to-no contact with the infected kitten: never contracted the virus. Has been fully healthy.

    Kitten that was 7 weeks old at the time that was bedmates with the litter of 5 week old kittens that were panleuk positive: Also never contracted the virus. Once they tested positive, she was immediately removed from them. We bottle raised her, she never nursed from their mom so there was no reason to keep her with them. It’s so strange because EXACTLY the time the others tested positive, she had a high fever of 104.5 and no appetite. Our vet rushed to vaccinate her, and the following day she was throwing up and had diarrhea, and couldn’t walk at all. We thought she was going to fade, but a day later she fully recovered and has been fully healthy since. She just had her booster vaccine a few days ago, and had no reaction this time. It’s possible the vaccine was her saving grace, it’s really hard to know/understand, as I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that she came in contact with the virus.

    Litter of 5 kittens that were five weeks old at the time and tested POSITIVE for panleuk: All survived, and none show ANY symptoms anymore – they have all been extremely playful and have gained a significant amount of weight. We credit this to a few things:
    1. Their mom doted on them the entire time. Feeding them constantly, cuddling with them, cleaning them, etc.
    2. They were given clavamox very early on, helped to fight off secondary infections.
    3. MOST DEFINITELY THE SAVIOR: The strain they came in contact with MUST have been weaker. These guys got sick, but never to the extent I’ve read about. Their symptoms were: Some diarrhea (not in all), some lethargy, two had URIS (including one with a SEVERE eye infection – top and bottom lids fused and extremely swollen) and for whatever reason, they had NO weight gain for two weeks, despite us giving them supplemental feedings of very high calorie Hill’s Urgent food and fluids. They never lost their appetite, were still playful (although not as playful as before), and never vomited. They had diarrhea, but it was maybe once a day, and not constant. I almost wonder if we didn’t intervene at all if they could have pulled through, although I doubt it. We did fluids once a day for about a week, and force feedings three times a day for about a week and a half. They continued to nurse during this time as well, so didn’t want to overdo anything and mess with that. Also important to note: The shelter patient zero came from had experienced a small outbreak, which of course they only told us about AFTER we called in a panic to tell them the kitten we pulled had it. I saw just the other day a post of theirs looking to place a kitten (only two months old) that had also survived it from the exact same time period, meaning it was the same strain we experienced, so clearly the survival rate with this strain was higher than typical.

    4. Also important: They came in minimal contact with the virus to begin with. Obviously they ALL still contracted it, but likely just encountering very very little of it made a difference. To be clear: They NEVER met patient zero. He was isolated and quarantined. The transmission had to have been from some of his feces or urine getting on the floor, and then getting on our shoes and tracking through the house. They were on opposite ends of the house, which is very large, so it still shocks me that this one litter got it and no one else did, especially when the 7 week old was loose in the house at that time (not anymore until she’s had her full series of vaccinations). The problem with panleuk is that without knowing you’re dealing with it, you likely aren’t naturally cleaning well enough to get rid of it. We always bleached his blankets and bottles, but when we cleaned the floor – with a bleach solution, mind you – we didn’t let it sit for ten minutes, which is what it takes to kill the virus, it’s disgustingly hardy.

    So anyways, we had an INCREDIBLY lucky outcome. Even the kitten with the severe eye infection, whose eye seemed like it was about to rupture despite us trying to treat it, is almost completely back to normal. We are so extremely fortunate, we care about these kittens so much and hated to see them suffer.

    I’m very very superstitious (just last week I was talking to someone about how we’re so lucky to not have encountered ringworm this season, and just two days ago a litter of five plus mom that have literally been completely isolated with one of our fosters for TWO MONTHS came down with it – we know with complete certainty this came from the vet), so I don’t want to get completely comfortable yet. We’ve heard conflicting info from vets- one saying once they’re on the upswing they’re okay, another saying they can likely relapse, so it’s possible the saga continues. For now, they’re completely back to normal, and growing as they should. We will retest them for panleuk in a couple of weeks to see if they are still shedding the virus, and we’re going to hold off on vaccinating/spaying for a while as well. For now I’m hopeful that we somehow made it through.

    Sorry for the long post, I just thought it was an interesting story, and hopefully gives hope to someone in the future.

    Thank you to Kittyzee and Pussigato for your replies, I never responded because I was so completely overwhelmed with stress and the task ahead, but I did read your responses and took away new info from each.

    If anyone finds this in the future and has questions, please feel free to reach out to me. I’ve learned a lot about panleuk through this experience both firsthand and from vets and research, even though my particular experience was atypical.



    I often wondered how you were getting along and I’m so happy for you and the kits, Tina. It’s good to have this information for others to read. 😀



    Wow Tina! I don’t know where to begin. There is nothing like experience as a teacher, is there? This is a very valuable post, and I thank you for taking the time to post it. I am happy to hear that your kittens all survived this nasty disease. It does give hope to read that not all of the kittens/cats that are affected will die. Who knows just exactly what factors came into play in this story, but you were so thorough and knowledgeable about what you did and I’m sure your diligence in caring for these kittens is what brought them through it. Force feeding is not fun, but is so necessary at times to keep kittens from getting lethargic and dying.

    Thanks again for letting us know the outcome. Stop in anytime and come to the cafe and hang out with the rest of us cat lovers!

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