Cat Flu is like a human cold. However, it can be serious, even fatal in kittens and in adult cats with underlying illnesses. Unfortunately, cats flu still persists despite the availability of vaccines.
A kitten should be vaccinated around 9 weeks of age, with the second important dose given at 12 weeks. A booster vaccination is needed after 1 year to enhance the initial level of immunity. Regular boosters throughout your cats life will help maintain the level of protection against cat flu, feline parvo virus and feline leukaemia. A simple vaccination is all your cat needs to stay protected.
What causes cat flu?
Feline herpes virus (FHV) or feline calici virus (FCV) are the 2 main causes of cat flu. Other causes of cat flu include a bacteria called Chlamydophilia felis - previously known as Chlamydia - and Bordatella bronchiseptica - the cause of kennel cough in dogs.
- Runny eyes and nose
- Quiet and subdued behaviour
- Loss of appetite
- High temperature
- A cough or loss of voice
FHV can cause a potentially life threatening illness. Ulcers can form on the surface of the eye. The eyelids can become very swollen and adhere to the eyes surface. This causes unbearable pain and leave the cat with long term complications following damage to the sinuses and nasal passages.
FCV causes a milder form of cat flu. In adult cats, usually the only sign of the FCV infection is painful ulcers on the tongue, roof of the mouth or the nose. Kittens often show signs of lameness and a high temperature. FCV is also thought to be linked to gingivitis in cats.
Chlamydophila causes discharge and redness of the eyes.
Bordatella causes many flu symptoms described above but often progress to the chest. Kittens often have a high death rate from this as progression to the chest causes serious infection. Cats infected with bordatella may develop a cough.
How is it spread?
The flu virus can be spread in many ways including:-
- Contact with 'carrier cats'. These cats are infected with either of the flu viruses but do not show any clinical symptoms. Stressful situations may cause the cat to shed the virus therefore infecting other cats.
- Indirect contact with an infected cat. The flu virus can survive in the environment for up to 7 days and can be spread by food bowls, grooming equipment, peoples hands and even on our clothing. These are known as fomites.
- Direct contact with an infected cat. The flu virus is present in the cats tears, saliva and nasal discharge.
- Sneezing can project flu virus particles far enough to infect another nearby cat.
In a rescue situation, disease control and good barrier nursing is vital!
How is cat flu treated?
GOOD NURSING IS VITAL!
There are no effective anti-viral drugs in common use. Anti-biotics somewhat help as once the virus has damaged the delicate lining of the nose and airways, bacterial infections erupt and causes complications such as pneumonia.
Nursing care is important. Blocked noses and mouth ulcers can make your cat lose its appetite and may not want to drink. This causes dehydration which can be dangerous in kittens. Because your cat has lost its sense of smell and may have a sore throat, sloppy, strong smelling foods should be offered.
Discharge from the nose and eyes should be bathed regularly. Steam inhalation help to loosen catarrh. A few drops on Olbus Oil in hot water left safely out of the cats reach can really help.
Long term consequences?
Following infection many cats become carriers and can still infect others even of they showing no symptoms.
The existence of carrier cats can often be the reason a new kitten can develop cat flu when introduced to a household of apparently healthy cats.
Carrier cats will sometimes have a runny eye or a few sneezes occasionally.
Re-occurring flu follows stressful events such as house move or a vet trip.
Others are more unlucky and can be left with chronic rhinitis which is a permanent thick runny nose.
It is thought that calicivirus contributes towards gingivitis and soreness of the mouth.
Please get your cats vaccinated to protect them and others from cat flu. Speak to your vet for advice.