Study: Which shelter cats are likely to survive panleukopenia?

Sick kittenFeline panleukopenia virus (FPV) is a serious disease with a high mortality rate. A recent study published in the July 2018 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association took a look at factors associated with survival and non-survival in shelter cats.

Researchers analyzed records of 177 cats hospitalized and treated for FPV at an Italian animal shelter during 2010-2013. The cats in the study had received standardized treatment and were monitored until they recovered or died.

The factors associated with survival were:

  • For each 1.8°F increase in rectal temperature at time of admission to the hospital, the risk of death decreased by 32 percent
  • Amoxicillin–clavulanic acid, antiparasitics, and maropitant (but not interferon-ω) therapy
  • For every 1-kg increase in body weight, the chance of death decreased by 41 percent

Factors associated with non-survival were:

  • Low body weight at time of admission to hospital
  • Rectal temperature below I00.2°F at hospital admission
  • Lower (vs higher) leukocyte count on days 3,4, and 7 of hospitalization, but not at admission
  • Signs of lethargy at hospital admission; 91 percent of these cats died during hospitalization

Glucose infusion was also associated with non-survival, but this was probably due to the use of the infusion in sicker cats rather than the infusion itself.

Other findings included that only two of the cats had been vaccinated, and they were kittens who had not yet received a full series of immunizations. Additionally, no association with outcome was identified for:

  • Heart rate
  • Respiratory rate
  • Dehydration
  • Anorexia
  • Vomiting alone
  • Diarrhea alone
  • Vomiting and diarrhea together
  • Evaluated CBC, serum biochemical, or blood gas variables recorded at admission
  • Platelet counts nor proportions with thrombocytopenia

The efficacy of different therapies is probably of great interest to animal shelters. The study authors reported:

With regard to treatments provided during hospitalization, the present study showed that treatment with amoxicillin–clavulanic acid was associated with an increased likelihood of survival for cats with FPV infection….  It is worth noting that the other antimicrobials administered to cats in the present study (ie, ampicillin, cefazolin, ceftriaxone, and metronidazole) were not as beneficial, and their narrower spectrum of activity relative to amoxicillin–clavulanic acid could explain this limited success.


In the present study, antiparasitic treatment was associated with an increased chance of survival. Previous studies have shown that intestinal parasitism is common in shelter cats, particularly those younger than 6 months, and diarrhea may or not be a result. Moreover, shelters are potentially stressful environments owing to high group density, and stress may increase susceptibility to infections….


Maropitant had been administered to cats in the present study to prevent vomiting and dehydration caused by FPV infection, and this treatment was associated with survival. On the other hand, administration of metoclopramide had no such association.

Porporato, F., Horzinek, M. C., Hofmann-Lehmann, R., Ferri, F., Gerardi, G., Contiero, B., Zini, E. (2018). Survival estimates and outcome predictors for shelter cats with feline panleukopenia virus infection. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 253(2), 188-195. doi:10.2460/javma.253.2.188