ISSN 2398-2950      

Feline morbillivirus (feline paramyxoviruses, distemper virus)


Synonym(s): FeMV, FeMV-GT1, FeMV-GT2, FmoPV, Feline paramyxovirus, FPaV, Canine distemper virus (CDV), Carnivore distemper virus




  • Family: Paramyxoviridae
  • Subfamily: Paramyxovirinae
  • Genus: Morbillivirus
Feline morbillivirus (FeMV) differs from canine distemper virus (CDV) which can infect large cats such as lions and tigers. However, CDV can also - albeit rarely - infect domestic cats. The term “distemper” has been used colloquially and in old fashioned publications to mean feline panleukopenia, rather than morbillivirus, infection.

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Clinical Effects



  • Domestic cats (unknown if infects large cats, but canine distemper virus does).
  • FeMV infects epithelial cells, mainly of the kidney, bladder, liver, and lymphoid tissues.
  • FeMV-GT2 is able to infect renal and pulmonary epithelial cells, primary cells from the cerebrum and cerebellum, as well as immune cells in the blood, especially CD4+ T cells, CD20+ B cells and monocytes.


  • RNA virus, replicates in cytoplasm of host cells.
  • Pathogenesis has not yet been elucidated.
  • Virus is shed in the urine, and possibly feces.
  • The ability to establish persistent infection, even in face of neutralizing antibodies, has been demonstrated.


  • Presumed to be mainly direct, but since the virus is relatively stable at environmental temperatures, indirect transmission is probably also possible.
  • Shed in urine: the risk from sharing litter trays is unknown.
  • Prevalence is higher in multicat environments.
  • Prevalence is higher in unneutered male cats.

Pathological effects

  • A statistically significant difference was observed between infection of FeMV and the presence of inflammatory changes in renal lesions, indicating a relationship between FeMV infection and feline renal diseases.
  • A long incubation period might explain the discrepancy between studies which found an association of FeMV with chronic kidney disease, and studies which did not.

Clinical signs

  • Incubation period is unknown but suspected to be long.
  • Clinical signs of initial (acute) infection are unknown.
  • FeMV is found in both sick and healthy cats.
  • FeMV is suspected to be involved in acute and chronic kidney disease and lower urinary tract disease.
  • FeMV was also found on post mortem of cats with cholangiohepatitis and virus was identified in the hepatocytes. 
  • However, most infections appear to be subclinical.
  • FeMV was isolated from two cats with stomatitis, but the significance of that finding (whether causal or incidental) is unknown.
  • No investigators have yet looked for FeMV in cases with neurological disease.

Other Host Effects


  • Vaccination is the best means of controlling distemper in dogs.
  • A live attenuated canine distemper vaccine (Nobivac CD, Zoetis) was shown to elicit an antibody response to CDV in cats, but whether or not the dog vaccine could protect cats from FeMV infection has not yet been established: FeMV is not phylogenetically close to CDV.
  • Cats seropositive with FeMV virus neutralizing antibodies can shed FeMPV for months, so the presence of antibodies would not necessarily indicate that a vaccine had prevented infection.
  • Where dogs and cats are kept together, dogs should be vaccinated against CDV.

Testing, quarantine, hygiene

  • Until an effective FeMV vaccine is introduced or an effective anti-viral is found, control at present relies upon testing and segregating infected from uninfected cats.
  • Virus shedding is believed to be long lasting: at least several weeks. Persistent infection may be possible: persistence of FeMV RT-PCR positivity for up to 15 months has been documented in a healthy pet cat.
  • The virus is extremely susceptible to heat, therefore washing food bowls, litter trays and bedding at 60oC will kill the virus.
  • Since FeMV is enveloped, it is likely to be easily inactivated by most detergents.
  • Sodium hypochlorite disinfectant is especially recommended for use around cats, phenol-based disinfectants are contra-indicated due to toxicity.
  • Fuller’s Earth based cat litters are believed to bind feline coronavirus and so may also bind FeMV shed in urine, which might reduce indirect transmission via shared litter trays.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Addie D, Houe L, Maitland K et al (2019) Effect of cat litters on feline coronavirus infection of cell culture and cats. J Feline Med Surg 22 (4), 350-357 PubMed.
  • Beatty J A, Sharp C R, Duprex W P et al (2019) Novel feline viruses: Emerging significance of gammaherpesvirus and morbillivirus infections. J Feline Med Surg 21 (1), 5-11 PubMed.
  • Donato G, De Luca E, Crisi P E et al (2019) Isolation and genome sequences of two Feline Morbillivirus genotype 1 strains from Italy. Vet Ital 55 (2), 179-182 PubMed.
  • Sacristán I, Sieg M, Acuña F et al (2019) Molecular and serological survey of carnivore pathogens in free-roaming domestic cats of rural communities in southern Chile. J Vet Med Sci 81 (12), 1740-1748 PubMed.
  • Sieg M, Busch J, Eschke M et al (2019) A New Genotype of Feline Morbillivirus Infects Primary Cells of the Lung, Kidney, Brain and Peripheral Blood. Viruses 11 (2), E146 PubMed.
  • Stranieri A, Lauzi S, Dallari A et al (2019) Feline morbillivirus in Northern Italy: prevalence in urine and kidneys with and without renal disease. Vet Microbiol 233, 133-139 PubMed.
  • Sutummaporn K, Suzuki K, Machida N et al (2019) Association of feline morbillivirus infection with defined pathological changes in cat kidney tissues. Vet Microbiol 228, 12-19 PubMed.
  • McCallum K E, Stubbs S, Hope N et al (2018) Detection and seroprevalence of morbillivirus and other paramyxoviruses in geriatric cats with and without evidence of azotemic chronic kidney disease. J Vet Intern Med 32 (3), 1100-1108 PubMed.
  • Yilmaz H, Tekelioglu BK, Gurel A et al (2017) Frequency, clinicopathological features and phylogenetic analysis of feline morbillivirus in cats in Istanbul, Turkey. J Feline Med Surg 19 (12), 1206-1214 PubMed.
  • Zhang H, Shan F, Zhou X et al (2017) Outbreak and genotyping of canine distemper virus in captive Siberian tigers and red pandas. Sci Rep 7 (1), 8132 PubMed.
  • Avendaño R, Barrueta F, Soto-Fournier S et al (2016) Canine Distemper Virus in Wild Felids of Costa Rica. J Wildl Dis 52 (2), 373-377 PubMed.
  • Furuya T, Wachi A, Sassa Y et al (2016) Quantitative PCR detection of feline morbillivirus in cat urine samples. J Vet Med Sci 77 (12), 1701-1703 PubMed.
  • Park E S, Suzuki M, Kimura M et al (2016) Epidemiological and pathological study of feline morbillivirus infection in domestic cats in Japan. BMC Vet Res 12 (1), 228 PubMed.
  • Ramsay E, Sadler R, Rush R et al (2016) Canine distemper virus antibody titers in domestic cats after delivery of a live attenuated virus vaccine. J Zoo Wildl Med 47 (2), 551-557 PubMed.
  • Addie D D, Boucraut-Baralon C, Egberink H et al (2015) Disinfectant choices in veterinary practices, shelters and households: ABCD guidelines on safe and effective disinfection for feline environments. J Feline Med Surg 17 (7), 594-605 PubMed.
  • de Vries R D, Duprex W P, de Swart R L (2015) Morbillivirus infections: an introduction. Viruses 7 (2), 699-706 PubMed.
  • Koide R, Sakaguchi S, Miyazawa T (2015) Basic biological characterization of feline morbillivirusJ Vet Med Sci 77 (5), 565-569 PubMed.
  • Lorusso A, Di Tommaso M, Di Felice E et al (2015) First report of feline morbillivirus in Europe. Vet Ital 51 (3), 235-237 PubMed.
  • Sakaguchi S, Koide R & Miyazawa T (2015) In vitro host range of feline morbillivirus. J Vet Med Sci 77 (11), 1485–1487 PubMed.
  • Park E S, Suzuki M, Kimura M et al (2014) Identification of a natural recombination in the F and H genes of feline morbillivirus. Virology 468-470, 524-531 PubMed.
  • Terio K A, Craft M E (2013) Canine distemper virus (CDV) in another big cat: should CDV be renamed carnivore distemper virus? mBio 4 (5), e00702-13 PubMed.
  • Wiener D J, Welle M M, Origgi F C (2013) Cutaneous lesions associated with dual infection caused by canine distemper virus and orthopoxvirus in a domestic cat. Vet Dermatol 24 (5), 543-e130 PubMed.
  • Sato H, Yoneda M, Honda T et al (2012) Morbillivirus receptors and tropism: multiple pathways for infection. Front Microbiol 3, 75 PubMed.
  • Woo P C, Lau S K, Wong B H et al (2012) Feline morbillivirus, a previously undescribed paramyxovirus associated with tubulointerstitial nephritis in domestic cats. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 109 (14), 5435-5440 PubMed.
  • Ikeda Y, Nakamura K, Miyazawa T et al (2001) Seroprevalence of canine distemper virus in cats. Clin Diagn Lab Immunol  (3), 641–644 PubMed.
  • Kock R, Chalmers W S, Mwanzia J et al (1998) Canine distemper antibodies in lions of the Masai Mara. Vet Rec 142 (24), 662-665 PubMed.

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