Vaccination is a critical tool for preventing feline panleukopenia. All cats four weeks of age and older entering a shelter environment should be vaccinated as soon as possible upon entry. The vaccine starts working immediately, and can provide immunity within hours to days. This can be lifesaving in environments where infectious disease exposure is common.
In adults, vaccinate once on entry and again in 2-3 weeks.
There is a small risk when pregnant queens are vaccinated that the vaccine may induce abortion or abnormalities in kittens. This risk must be balanced against the life-threatening risk of contracting panleukopenia.
Sanitation is the root of a healthy animal shelter environment and a key component in maintaining the health of the animals housed within. Proper sanitation involves thorough cleaning before appropriate disinfecting.
Note: Cleaning and disinfecting are not the same. Without proper cleaning and disinfecting, disease can quickly spread. Because panleukopenia is a non-enveloped virus, it is hardy and resists some commonly applied shelter disinfectants. It is therefore important to have a regular sanitation protocol that includes products and processes that kill this virus.
Regular handwashing is the single most important disease prevention tool in a shelter. Disposable latex gloves (changed between animals) and thorough handwashing when hands are soiled are key elements of hand sanitation.
The order of cleaning and care of animals should move from healthy kittens and mothers to healthy adult animals to unhealthy animals, ideally with dedicated staff handling any sick animals.
Follow a written sanitation protocol for regularly cleaning and disinfecting the entire facility, not just the kennel cages.
Understand the disinfectant you are using well!
Choose a disinfectant that has efficacy against panleukopenia for regular use in the shelter cat areas. There are several common choices, including bleach, potassium peroxymonosulfate, and accelerated hydrogen peroxide.
Unfortunately, many quaternary ammonium products commonly used in shelters are labeled as parvocidal, but multiple studies over the past several years have proven they are not reliably effective.
Whichever disinfectant is used, the manufacturer's instructions should be followed for dilution, application and required contact time in order for proper disinfection to occur.
Each area should have its own dedicated equipment and supplies to limit fomite transmission.
Launder clothing, bedding, towels, etc. in hot water, a good quality detergent and bleach. Severely soiled items should be discarded.
Placing animals into smaller groups in separate housing areas of the shelter based on species, health, age and other factors helps maintain optimum animal health during a shelter stay. Designate at least the following four housing areas: healthy hold, adoption, isolation and quarantine.
Kittens and mothers with litters should ideally be housed in a separate area
Do not mix kittens from one litter in with another
Quarantine exposed and in-contact animals for two weeks if possible
Treatment of Panleukopenia in the Shelter
Panleukopenia can have a high mortality rate despite early or aggressive therapy. However, some animals do survive, particularly adult cats. Because panleukopenia is a virus, there is no specific cure, so treatment consists of providing supportive care. This includes fluid therapy to correct dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities, antibiotics to fight off secondary bacterial infections, and control of the vomiting and diarrhea.
Decisions to attempt treatment in the shelter should be thought out carefully. Consideration should be given to the following:
Shelters are not hospitals and seldom have the resources to provide proper isolation and treatment.
It takes several days of intensive care therapy to treat, with overnight monitoring and care often required.
Sufficient recovery to reach adoptability may take two to three weeks or longer.
The ability of the virus to persist in the environment long-term endangers the lives of both current and future residents.
Recovered cats and kittens should still be isolated for at least 14 days post recovery from clinical signs because they may still continue to shed virus. Repeated laboratory testing for the presence of panleukopenia virus may also be helpful in documenting when a cat or kitten is no longer shedding virus that poses a risk to other animals.
If a strict isolation area managed by staff skilled in maintaining the integrity of an isolation protocol is not available, animals with panleukopenia virus should be removed from the facility for treatment or euthanasia to curtail their suffering and minimize disease spread.