What is cat flu and how can I protect my cat?

Posted by Nurse Whiskers. May 2nd 2014.

Cat flu is a potentially life threatening illness for cats, which is why it’s important for owners to learn as much as they can about this disease. Here we look at cat flu in more detail so you can keep your moggy safe and sound.

tabby cat

What is cat flu?

Cat flu is a very common disease and sometimes called a super respiratory infection. It is caused by a number of viruses and bacteria.

The illness itself varies greatly and can come in the shape of anything from a head cold to a severe and life-threatening ailment.

What causes it?

Both feline calicivirus (FCV) and feline herpesvirus (FHV) are believed to be two of the viruses responsible for this ailment. The infection can be caused by either one of these viruses or alternatively, by both. Bacteria can also be a cause – most notably via infection from Bordetellabronchiseptica and Chlamydophilafelis.

Who’s at risk?

The cat family are the only species to be at risk from cat flu; both humans and dogs are not at risk. Although all cats are susceptible to this disease, very young and very old animals are more likely to die from it due to complications.

How it is spread?

Discharges from the eyes and nose, as well as saliva contact, can cause this virus to spread amongst cats. Cats who already have the disease can spread it through sneezing and owners should refrain from allowing cats to share bowls, bedding, grooming equipment and litter trays in order to prevent the disease from spreading.

It’s also important to allow your cat regular check-ups at the vet, especially animals who are about to give birth to a litter of kittens. If the mother is already carrying the herpes virus, then she may pass it on to her litter.

What are the symptoms?

Clinical signs of cat flu tend to develop within 2-10 days and include the likes of sneezing, lethargy, discharge from the nose and eyes, fever and a loss of appetite.
Because two different viruses and bacteria, or a combination of both, cause the ailment, symptoms can occur in various degrees within cats.

Feline herpes virus (FHV) infections are generally more severe than feline calicivirus infections. This virus can be passed on for 3 weeks even though it may only last a few days or weeks in your cat.

Symptoms include:

  • Conjunctivitis
  • Discharge from eyes and nose
  • Sneezing
  • Drooling
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Eye and skin problems (rare development)
  • Chronic damage – such as becoming permanent “snufflers”

Feline herpes virus (FHV) infections are generally more severe than feline calicivirus infections. This virus can be passed on for 3 weeks even though it may only last a few days or weeks in your cat.

Symptoms include:

  • Conjunctivitis
  • Discharge from eyes and nose
  • Sneezing
  • Drooling
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Ulcers on the tongue or mouth
  • Complications of pneumonia (in young kittens and old cats) which can lead to liver damage, bleeding and other complications
  • Long term problems with gums and mouth
  • Temporary arthritis

Cat flu can make cats look and feel miserable

How is cat flu treated?

The majority of cats with cat flu can be treated at home by their owners. Treatment involves maintaining their fluid and nutrition levels as well as easing the clinical signs of the disease. Cat flu often causes a lack of smell and as cats rely on this when it comes to eating it can cause a loss of appetite. With this in mind, strong scented foods can help encourage cats to eat. If the cat is in pain, both pain relief drugs and softer food may be required. For more serious cases, antibiotics may be prescribed by a vet.

How can I prevent cat flu?

Regardless of whether your cat is a house cat or not, it’s imperative that they are vaccinated. Although these vaccinations won’t eliminate the risk of infection entirely, they can prevent the development of severe disease.

Any cats you own which have contracted the disease should also be kept isolated from other felines, including those in their home, until they are fully recovered to prevent the disease spreading.

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