DEAR DR. FOX: My 9-year-old vaccinated cat died this morning from feline panleukopenia (FPV), also know as feline distemper.
Two weeks ago, he was around a 4-month-old kitten who also contracted this disease and passed away. This kitten, unknowingly to me, had not received the entire three-part vaccine series and had been exposed in a foster home.
My cat did not show any signs of illness until yesterday, when he started to vomit and became very lethargic. I took him to an emergency vet. He did not believe it was distemper due to the fact my cat has always been fully vaccinated, but he ran the test anyway. It came back positive. According to the vet, because my cat was older and was starting treatment right away, he had an excellent chance to recover. Instead, my cat continued to decline rapidly and died this morning.
What are the chances of a fully vaccinated cat acquiring feline panleukopenia? I also have a 7-month-old kitten in my home who has received the entire series of shots and shows no sign of illness. Is she also at risk? Can I have her tested to make sure she doesn't have it? Since this virus lingers for a long time, will it ever be safe to bring another cat into my home? I already bleached or destroyed everything that the other kitten had been in contact with -- even some of my clothes.
I am heartbroken at the loss of my precious Sylvester, who, up until this happened, had been a healthy, vibrant cat. -- D.C., St. Louis
DEAR D.C.: I am so sorry for you and your cat having to experience this tragedy.
First, it is essential that any new, adopted, fostered or shelter cat coming into a home where are other cats has full blood tests for contagious feline viral diseases and is vaccinated and quarantined for three to four weeks prior to being exposed to the other cats.
Your experience shows that vaccinations are not a 100 percent guarantee of protection because, for various reasons, not enough protective antibodies may be produced by the cat's immune system in response to the antigens in the vaccine.
The younger cat in your home was evidently protected, and the hygienic cleanup you have undertaken should make the environment safe for you to consider adopting another cat or kitten, ideally in one to two months as a precaution, and with the above provisos being followed.
DEAR DR. FOX: This is probably a ridiculous question, and I suspect my wife and I are guilty of anthropomorphizing a bit, but we go round and round about this question. We have a 20-month-old beautiful male tuxedo cat, Sparky. He couldn't be sweeter and more lovable; he seems very happy and is inquisitive and active. He's an indoor cat with plenty of toys. I'm retired, so he gets a lot of attention. But I'm usually gone for part of every day, and my wife and I are sometimes gone for a whole day on the weekends, doing whatever. Whenever we're gone, we always wonder if he's lonely, and have talked from time to time about getting a kitten "for Sparky." We live in a two-story house, so it's not like there's not enough room for two cats. But we wonder if he is, in fact, lonely; if another cat would be a good thing; if we're thinking about it for ourselves; etc. He's the king of the castle, of course, so we also wonder if he'd be jealous. Do they care? If we went ahead with it, would a male or female be better? -- V.W., Stevensville, Maryland
DEAR V.W.: It is good to anthropomorphize to some degree in our caring for animals because they share basic emotions with us that can often be satisfied in similar ways. My book "Cat Body, Cat Mind" should help you make up your mind to get another young cat -- healthy, quarantined prior to bringing home, and tested for feline immunodeficiency disease, feline distemper and internal and external parasites. Two cats living together are generally healthier and happier than those who live alone.
It is advisable to follow the steps posted on my website, DrFoxVet.net, on how to introduce a new cat successfully into your home.
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