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Successful treatment for feline distemper?

Posted on: October 25, 2011   by  John Cannell, MD


Dear Dr. Cannell:

Our full sibling cats, Tommy and Marco, who received all the usual vaccinations, both had sneezing from in November from what I thought was an insignificant head cold.

On December 14, 2010, I took Tommy to Animal Medical Center in Auburn, where he weighed 10 pounds. Dr John Richards examined him and found him to have a low fever, but little else to justify the listlessness and hyperventilation, so suggested a CBC with differential count blood test to determine whether it was a bacterial or viral problem. I came back about an hour later, and he found that Tommy’s WBCs were depressed to half normal. Something was killing off his white blood cells. He said it was probably feline distemper.

Dr. Richards said that precise diagnosis was based on change in antibody titer, and without a baseline would not be that accurate; but it really couldn’t be anything else besides feline distemper, since Tommy’s white blood cells were being destroyed and he was already down to half of low normal. Dr Richards managed to gently tell me that there was no cure, all treatments were palliative, and Tommy was going to die.

My response was that I am an alternative medicine doctor, and while I accepted that traditional medicine offered no hope for Tommy, I was not going to give up without trying alternative methods. Since feline distemper starts with a respiratory virus, and vitamin D greatly impedes respiratory virus infection, I thought vitamin D might help.

As for vitamin D, the only supplement I stock in my chiropractic home office is 5,000 IU / tab and it was with marked trepidation that I slipped one of those small powerful tablets far enough down Tommy’s throat that he had to swallow it.

Within 3-6 hours, Tommy was looking better. However, two days after the first dose, Tommy was going downhill again and looking like he was going to die. So, figuring I had nothing to lose, I gave him another 5,000 IU tablet of vitamin D. Again, he began looking better within a few hours. Then, 2 days later, Tommy again got a lot sicker, I gave him another 5,000 IU vitamin D, and he again recovered to being a lot better within a few hours. Four days later, he got worse again, I gave him another 5,000 IU of vitamin D, and he again recovered in a few hours.

Aa group from the UK reported that cats with active TB have lower vitamin D levels.This time, the recovery lasted about a week, and then he got sick again. I gave him another 5,000 IU of vitamin D and he again recovered in a few hours. That recovery lasted about 2 weeks, at which time Tommy started looking sick again, I gave him another 5,000 IU of vitamin D, and he again got better in a few hours. After that, Tommy got another dose in a month or so when he was looking poorly, and about a month after that when he started sneezing, with improvement in a few hours both times. After that, the sun was bright and hot, and he’s been okay.

While Tommy was going through the first week and a half or so of treatment, I read up on feline distemper, and noted that he hadn’t gotten one of the common symptoms: diarrhea. Then I noticed that our other cat, Marco (a longhair grey tabby weighing about 12 pounds) wasn’t as active as usual. So I went to the cat box and found new massive diarrheal stools that indicated advanced disease. The diarrhea diminished and stopped during 2 weeks of similar vitamin D treatment.

As the educational sources say, there is neurological damage in survivors. It is only now that our cats are almost back to normal. Tommy was an occasional rodent killer before the distemper, whereas Marco was a true enthusiast who would almost always bring in 1-3 rodents a night and wake us up with his “mouthful of rodent” meowing, so that he would get praised and petted while devouring them. Now, 10 months after the feline distemper ordeal, they are almost back to their normal. In mid-summer, they started again running up trees and chasing each other around for the fun of it. Just yesterday, Tommy brought in his first rodent, a gopher, since the distemper, and Marco recently had his first 3-rat-night since the December crisis. It has been a very long recovery, and I question whether they will ever get back to their full vigor, but they seem to be reasonably healthy and feeling good.

Doing the math on the vitamin D doses I was giving the cats was a bit scary: The 5,000 IU dose in a 10-pound cat was equal to a 70,000 IU dose in a 140-pound human. It’s a good thing I gave it on an as-needed basis, it’s interesting that the as-needed dose resulted in a daily dose that would have been 35,000 IU / day in a 140-pound human, and that the need decreased as the cats got well.

It appears that recovery of Tommy and Marco was totally caused by and dependent upon the vitamin D doses. Thank you for your time spent reading this, and in attending to furthering this avenue of vitamin D research. Lastly, it is because of the research that you have furthered that Paula and I still have our dear friends, Tommy and Marco, alive, well, and feeling good. Please accept our deep heart-felt gratitude.


Robert Nash, DO

Dear Robert:

I’m so glad; the dosing experience you had may help other cat owners. Cats also get TB and in September of 2011, a group from the UK reported that cats with active TB have lower vitamin D levels. Cats cannot make vitamin D and depend on vitamin D being in the meat they eat, so it is added to their cat chow. The authors did not report normal vitamin D levels in wild cats but the differences between TB infected cats and well cats was dramatic (20 ng/ml versus 50 ng/ml).

Lalor SM, Mellanby RJ, Friend EJ, Bowlt KL, Berry J, Gunn-Moore D. Domesticated Cats with Active Mycobacteria Infections have Low Serum Vitamin D (25(OH)D) Concentrations. Transbound Emerg Dis. 2011 Oct 17

It would be easy to treat cats with either distemper or TB with high dose vitamin D and see what the results are. It would give human researchers an idea of the pharmacological doses needed to treat serious infections in humans.

For you cat lovers, before you email me asking “what dose should I use?” the answer is “I don’t know.” However, Robert gave 5000 units every two days until he saw a treatment response and then made it less frequent. Sounds like a good place to start as it is equivalent to giving septic humans 50,000 to 100,000 IU every other day while they are sick and then reducing it as they get better. Actually, if I got pneumonia, peritonitis, meningitis, sepsis (blood poisoning), besides the antibiotics the doctor gave me, I’d take 50,000 IU/day until I was better and monitor my blood levels.

4 Responses to Successful treatment for feline distemper?

  1. [email protected]

    This is fascinating. Pets and vitamin D is a very interesting topic!!!

    I have an 11 year old Jack Russell terrier who was diagnosed with a lunch infection yesterday. He is usually outside all day most days but a couple of months ago we recently purchased a new puppy and he wasn’t too keen on it and as the winter has been cold and he is getting old and feels the cold, I had been leaving him inside for the day over the past few months – only going outside for toilet stops and short walks.

    My first thought when the vet told me he had a rattly chest was OMG, he hasn’t been getting his usual sunshine and making vitamin D! Hence chest infection……….wonder if this is the problem – he is out in the yard today so will be getting his sunshine today and from now on anyway!

    • Brant Cebulla

      I believe cats and dogs have too low of 7-dehydrocholesterol to synthesize vitamin D in the skin from sun exposure.

      If you think about how cats evolved, they probably consumed a lot of fish and eggs and presumably got some vitamin D from those sources. I am not familiar whether cat feed fortifies with vitamin D. Anyone?

      As for dogs, I’d imagine that they evolved to consume bigger game, and perhaps got some vitamin D from game organs.

      I would love to see someone here systematically determine how much vitamin D cats and dogs might have been getting in their diets when they were evolving.

  2. [email protected]

    Two of my friends have cats have cats which are now enjoying a UV lamp similar to the low cost one which I use in the winter. They are able to select how much UV they get daily.
    Cats can see UVA and likely get vitamin D from their fur is they have been out in the sunshine.
    Below is the vitaminDWiki page on UV and Cats.

  3. [email protected]

    In view of this result, it should be noted that similar claims were made in 1975 for large ascorbate doses in dogs and cats, which are somewhat intermediate between the zero endogenous production of primates and the very high liver synthesis found in most mammals.
    See —

    To my knowledge there has never been a synergy test of cholecalciferol and ascorbate in either animals or humans. There should be some interest in the DOD (biodefense) or the homeland security departments, but any concept that can be called “orthomolecular” is now out of the mainstream. Medline will not even index the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine.

    The combination might be viewed as the rational way to support the leukocytes while triggering the production of AMPs such as cathelicidin.


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