Feline Distemper Vaccine: What You Need to Know About Distemper Shots for Cats

Medical articles

Feline distemper is a highly contagious virus that can wreak havoc on your cat's health. It can cause vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and even death. But there is hope. With a simple vaccine, you can protect your cat from this deadly disease. 

What is Feline Distemper? 

Feline distemper vaccine is vital for protecting cats from feline distemper, also known as feline panleukopenia, a disease caused by an extremely contagious and potentially fatal virus called feline parvovirus (FPV). Feline parvovirus is different than canine parvovirus and only affects cats. Feline distemper is spread through any type of bodily fluid, including blood, feces, urine and respiratory droplets. It can even be spread between mother and kitten in utero, and by fleas.  Close confinement between cats and your clothes or shoes can all spread the disease. Litterboxes, food bowls, and bedding of infected cats also have the potential to infect healthy cats. The virus is also very hardy and can live in the environment for up to a year or more. 

Feline Distemper Signs & Symptoms: What to Watch Out For 

Don’t we all wish cats could talk and let us know when they’re feeling sick? Unfortunately, our feline friends can be quite mysterious when it comes to showing signs of illness. Keeping an eye on your cat’s well-being will help ensure you can provide the care they need. Distemper in cats takes a toll on their gastrointestinal, immune, and reproductive systems, causing symptoms like:

  • Lethargy/depression 

  • Poor appetite  

  • Diarrhea 

  • Vomiting 

  • Nasal discharge 

Severe cases of feline distemper may also show up with: 

  • Pale skin and gums 

  • Bruising 

  • Collapse 

Protecting Kittens and Pregnant Cats 

If you’ve got a young furry friend, keep an especially close eye on them. Cats under one year of age are the most likely to become severely sick if they catch this nasty virus.  Very young kittens may become sick and pass away so quickly that symptoms never become obvious. This can occur in as little as 12 hours.  

Pregnant adult cats that catch distemper may abort because the virus can cross the placenta and infect the developing kittens. The virus can damage the kittens' developing organs and tissues, leading to death before birth. 

In addition to abortions, pregnant cats that catch distemper may also give birth to kittens with birth defects. These birth defects can affect the kittens' neurological system, digestive system, and other organs. Some kittens may also be born with weakened immune systems, making them more susceptible to other infections. 

No cure currently exists for feline distemper. However, vaccines are available. These are extremely effective in preventing distemper infections in cats if used and boostered properly. It’s crucial to protect kittens and expectant mothers by following the proper distemper vaccine schedule for cats. 

Feline Distemper Vaccine 

Most distemper vaccines are combined with other vaccines in the same vial to allow for fewer injections. FVRCP is a common combination distemper shot for cats which includes feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia. FVRCP vaccines may also be called 3-in-1 vaccines or 3-way vaccines. 

Do Indoor Cats Need Distemper Shots? 

Feline distemper is a deadly virus that can strike your cat at any time, even if they're an indoor cat. That's why the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) considers the distemper vaccine a core vaccine for all cats

This virus is so contagious that it can hang around the environment for a long time and can be easily carried from one place to another, even on your shoes or clothing. That means that you could be bringing the disease into your house without even knowing it. 

Imagine this: you're coming home from work and your cat rushes to greet you at the door. You give them a scratch behind the ears and go on about your day. But what you don't know is that you're carrying the feline distemper virus on your shoes. 

Later, your cat starts to feel sick. They're lethargic, have a fever, and are vomiting. You take them to the vet, and they're diagnosed with feline distemper. This is a heartbreaking scenario, but it's one that can be easily avoided with the distemper vaccine. The vaccine is safe and effective, and it can protect your cat, indoor or outdoor, from this deadly virus.  

When Should My Cat Get the Feline Distemper Vaccine? 

AAFP’s recommendation is to begin vaccinating a kitten for distemper as early as six weeks of age, boostering the vaccine every three to four weeks until the kitten is sixteen weeks of age, then boostering again one year later.  

After that, an adult cat should be boostered for distemper every one to three years. If the kitten series of boosters is missed, the cat needs two distemper vaccines, three to four weeks apart, then another booster one year later. Continue boostering every one to three years for the rest of the cat’s life. It’s just part of the cost of owning a cat. 

If your cat lives both indoors and outdoors, it is essential to keep their vaccinations up to date since they are at a higher risk of exposure to the virus from local cats and other wildlife

Feline Distemper Vaccine Side Effects 

For the most part, distemper vaccines are very safe. Uncommon side effects of the vaccine include pain or swelling at the injection site. Rarely, mild or severe allergic reactions can occur with symptoms ranging from lethargy and soreness at the injection site to hives and facial swelling. Consult your veterinarian if you notice any unusual symptoms in your cat after receiving a vaccine. Cats may hide for one to two days if they are uncomfortable or stressed from the veterinary visit. 

Injection site sarcomas are a type of cancer than can occasionally occur with any vaccine. Current research is unclear as to whether one type of vaccine is safer than another. Some veterinarians will give vaccines in specific places on lower parts of the legs to aid in treatment should injection site sarcomas occur. It is important to note that more research is necessary to determine a definitive link between sarcomas and vaccination frequency. Nonetheless, working closely with your veterinarian to develop a personalized vaccination schedule can help minimize potential risks. 

Pet Insurance and Feline Distemper 

Cat insurance and optional pet wellness plans offer vital financial support for your pet’s healthcare needs, like those for feline distemper. Pet insurance provides coverage for unforeseen accidents and illnesses, giving you peace of mind during difficult times and ensuring your furry companion receives medical care without causing financial strain. 

Optional wellness plans focus on reimbursing routine care such as vaccinations, check-ups, and other preventative measures. These plans help you keep your pet’s vaccinations updated without breaking the bank. Investing in pet insurance and wellness plans is a good way to prioritize your pet’s well-being, giving them a happy, healthy, and loving life. 

A Healthy Future with Feline Distemper Vaccines  

Safeguarding your cat’s lifetime and well-being through the distemper vaccine is crucial. By staying up to date on their vaccinations, you’re helping them avoid the potentially fatal consequences of feline distemper. Understanding the signs and symptoms of feline distemper will help you detect any issues early on, giving you the ability to provide your furry family member with the best possible care. 

With a combination of pet insurance and optional wellness plans, you can financially prepare for not only unexpected accidents and illnesses but also routine procedures, like the distemper shot for cats.  Together, we can ensure a bright future for our feline friends, full of love, protection, and care.