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Cat Survives Feline Distemper

September 21, 2009

Bring a Sick Cat to Your Veterinarian Right Away

I met the nicest couple. But they were in big trouble. 12 “outside cats” had passed away in their back yard within the past week. Little skinny cat bodies lying lifeless all over the back yard. They brought me a tiny short-haired domestic black cat named “Negrita.”

Many People Assume a Neighbor Poisoned Their Cat

They spoke very little English, and I spoke even less Spanish. I managed to figure out that they believed the other cats were poisoned by the neighbor and Negrita was the remaining cat. She had started to twitch , vomit, and act lethargic just like the other cats had acted before they died. Negrita was extra special to this couple because she was the only cat who had walked into their house, curled up on a La-Z-Boy chair and moved in with them. They loved her very much.

I barely had the heart to tell them that I thought their cat had feline panleukopenia virus, otherwise known as

feline distemper virus.  It is about 99% deadly in unvaccinated cats (which Negrita was).  A white blood cell count showed Negrita has almost no cells in her blood, just like with pan (all) leuko (white blood cells) penia (gone, missing, really low),  There was a test, but the results take weeks and it costs hundreds of dollars.

“Feline Distemper is easily and inexpensively prevented with a “distemper” series of vaccines (“shots,” or, for the Brits in internet land, “jabs”).  Unvaccinated cats almost always die in spite of intensive care treatment in an animal hospital,” says Doc Truli.

10’s of Thousands of Cats Die from Distemper

You have to imagine that in the mid 1970’s, in a subtropical city like Miami, about 10,000 cats each summer were dying from feline distemper.  Just a catastrophic epidemic of suffering.  Researchers scrambled to find out what was happening.  They finally concluded that the panleukopenia virus was a mutated form of canine distemper virus that had jumped species and ravaged the unvaccinated cats.  Now that we have feline panleukopenia vaccines, the disease is 100% preventable, if the cats get the vaccine.

Negrita had never been vaccinated.  Never seen a vet.

I had to tell Negrita’s parents that she was going to die, like I say, unless we cash in on a miracle!  I never discount a miracle, I just do not want people paying over a thousand dollars for hospital care for a week or more and thinking they have a good shot of seeing Negrita home again.  I was crystal clear.  I never said, “she’s going to die.” But darned near close.

Through a Spanish-English translator, I felt they understood the gravity of the situation.  Yet they said, “No, treat her, try, please.”  So I did.  Intravenous fluids, nutritional support, mainly trying to keep her body going while time healed the virus, if at all possible.  I was secretly afraid that Negrita’s parents had not understood how small her chances for survival were because of the difficulty being sure if my intentions were translated correctly.

Intensive Care Treatment

The whole family came to visit Negrita every day…for hours.  Mommy and Pappi (pronounced “poppy”) and grown children and relatives of all shapes and sizes jammed into my small exam room where Negrita had her own set-up so she would not make other cats sick.  Mommy sat and sang to Negrita most afternoons.  Would you believe Negrita got better?  After the first 2 days, she got stronger and stronger.  Mommy had a look on her face like, “of course, silly doctor, you worry too much.”

I asked Pappi what Mommy had been singing.  “Cuban love songs,” he said in his gravelly Spanish accented English.  I’m convinced to this day that the Cuban love songs were the miracle that saved Negrita’s life!

PS (March 2010 update): Negrita came in for a check-up today.  She’s a normal, happy cat.  She even got a little bit fat!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Brendan permalink
    June 10, 2015 8:36 pm

    you’re amazing doctor. i would do anything to have a vet as good as you.

    make no mistake. you saved negrita.

    take care,

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