Pet Health
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Distemper Vaccine for Cats: What Cat Owners Need To Know

Everything cat owners need to know about the distemper vaccine including why its important, cost and side effects,

You may have heard of distemper in dogs, but did you know that your kitty could be diagnosed with the virus, too? Distemper is a highly contagious virus that affects kittens, ferals, and indoor cats alike. It causes vomiting, dehydration, weight loss and even anemia. And, like many viral diseases, distemper can either be mild or fatal. Fortunately, some vaccines can help prevent the onset of the disease in your pet. And, in this article, we’re going to talk about it. 

We’re covering what feline distemper is, and how your cat might catch it - even if they stay indoors. Then, we’ll be talking about the symptoms of distemper and what you should do if you think your cat might be infected. Finally, we’re discussing why cats should be vaccinated against distemper, and where you can find one for yours. 

What is Distemper?

Distemper in dogs and cats should never be confused. Though they have the same name, they are caused by two totally different viruses. Feline distemper is also commonly referred to as feline panleukopenia. It is an illness that causes immune-system damage and often leads to high fever, vomiting, central nervous system disturbances, and even seizures. Before routine vaccination programs, it was often fatal for cats. 

Something to keep in mind when understanding feline distemper is that the virus is incredibly contagious.

Your cat can catch this illness by being around another cat while they’re in the infected stage, or even through a bite received from an insect that bit an infected cat. 

What are the Symptoms of Feline Distemper?

Also known as panleukopenia, feline distemper can lead to a wide range of serious symptoms. This is because the virus specifically targets rapidly-dividing cells in the body, including the bone marrow. Some common symptoms that might point to a cat infected with feline distemper include:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Distended, sensitive abdomen
  • Bruising of the skin or gums
  • Fever

A pregnant cat infected with feline distemper carries a risk of passing the virus on to her unborn kittens. Should this occur, abortion or severe damage to the brains of the kittens is imminent. 

What to Do if You Think Your Cat Has Distemper

If you think your cat may have distemper, it’s important to make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. The earlier a diagnosis is made, the better your cat’s prognosis.

You must keep your infected cat away from any other cats until they are well. It is also important to put them in isolation so that they do not infect other animals or humans. Wash your hands after handling any cat sick with distemper. 

How is Feline Distemper Treated?

There is no set treatment protocol for cats diagnosed with feline distemper. Instead, most veterinarians focus on managing symptoms while your cat’s body fights the virus. Intravenous fluids, for instance, are helpful for cats dealing with severe dehydration, while antibiotics might be prescribed for one battling a secondary infection. 

What is the Distemper Vaccine?

The distemper vaccine is included in a combination vaccine responsible for protecting your cat against several different viruses. For cats, the distemper vaccine is also referred to as the FVRCP vaccine. It is a combination vaccine that helps protect cats from distemper, calicivirus, and feline rhinotracheitis. This is the only true protection your cat has against feline distemper (and other viruses).

The distemper vaccine works by stimulating your cat's immune system to help it recognize these diseases and build antibodies against them; this leads to protection from exposure in the future. The more times an animal is exposed to a disease via vaccination (or natural exposure), the better they're able to fight off infection should they encounter it later on down the road!

Which Cats Should be Vaccinated Against Distemper?

All cats should be vaccinated against distemper. The FVRCP vaccine is considered a core, and every cat should receive this protection as a kitten. Cats that spend a lot of time outdoors are more likely to encounter wild animals carrying the disease, so they need to get their shots on time. Indoor and feral cats also need vaccines because they're at risk of contracting the virus from other infected animals (including other pets) or from direct contact with contaminated surfaces.

How Many Distemper Vaccines Does a Cat Need?

If you have a kitten, it is always a good idea to have them vaccinated as soon as possible, which is as early as 6 weeks old. Kittens will then receive approximately three booster shots within a year of their initial vaccination. 

Adult cats should be vaccinated once every three years since they are not susceptible to infection in the same way that kittens are. 

Where to Get Your Cat Vaccinated Against Distemper

If you don't know where to get your cat vaccinated, here are some options:

  • Your veterinarian.
  • Pet stores. Most pet stores carry distemper vaccines for cats, but you might want to call ahead and make sure they have it in stock before going out of your way. 
  • Pet vaccination clinics. Some veterinary hospitals provide vaccinations at low-cost vaccination clinics throughout the year so that customers can receive them without having to pay full price for one visit with their regular vet—and without having to wait in long lines at busier times of the year.

How Much Does the Feline Distemper Vaccine Cost?

The cost of the Feline Distemper vaccine varies depending on the brand and type of vaccine. It typically ranges between $20-$50 per dose.

Are there Any Side Effects to Distemper Vaccination?

As with most vaccines, the side effects of the distemper vaccination are minimal. They may include:

  • Lethargy (sleepiness)
  • Reduced appetite
  • Irritability or aggression

Any symptoms your cat does experience should fade within about 72 hours as your cat’s immune system returns to normal. 

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Feline distemper is not a virus worth ignoring. It can easily be prevented by vaccination in most cats, which can save you – and your kitty – a lot of pain and heartache. To learn more about saving money on your cat’s veterinary care, read about our Fursure card, which allows you to earn money toward your cat’s healthcare on every purchase you make. 

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