Re-emergence of feline panleukopenia in Australian cats

January 2017

There have been two new outbreaks of feline panleukopenia in Melbourne and Sydney. In November 2016 twelve unvaccinated kittens found near Deakin in Melbourne were distributed to different carers through a private shelter. Clinical signs in affected cats were fever, lethargy, anorexia then vomiting and diarrhoea.

Several were tested with in-house faecal antigen canine parvovirus (CPV) tests that were positive.

Sequencing of isolates at Professor Vanessa Barrs’ laboratory at the University of Sydney has confirmed that disease was caused by a strain of feline panleukopenia virus (FPV) almost identical to that detected in an FPV outbreak in shelter-housed cats in Mildura and Melbourne in 2015.

Feline panleukopenia has now struck in Sydney resulting in severe morbidity and deaths of shelter-housed and owned cats in Sydney. Like the Melbourne outbreaks disease occurred in unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated cats, mostly in kittens less than 6 months, and especially in kittens 6 to 12 weeks old. Clinical signs were similar to the Melbourne outbreak. In addition blood tests identified severe leukopenia due to neutropenia and lymphopenia in a number of cats. DNA sequencing confirmed the outbreak is also due to FPV.

Feline panleukopenia has re-emerged in Australia, with several large outbreaks recorded since 2014 in Melbourne and Mildura. This is the first time an outbreak of FPV has been confirmed in Sydney for many years. 

The DNA sequences of the FPV strains detected in Australia indicate that current FPV vaccines are protective. FPV vaccines also confer cross-protection against CPV2a-c variants.

In shelters modified live vaccines can be safely administered from the age of four weeks, and are recommended to be administered in the face of an FPV outbreak every two to three weeks until 16 weeks of age. Kittens not in a shelter environment should be vaccinated from 6 to 8 weeks of age every three to four weeks until 16 weeks of age or older, as per the WSAVA vaccination guidelines.