A virus is an infectious agent that can replicate only inside living cells. Several viruses target cats, causing significant issues for numerous cats every year. Our team at Caldwell Animal Hospital would like to educate you on a few feline viruses, to help safeguard your cat.

Is your cat at risk from feline calicivirus?

Feline calicivirus (FCV) mutates easily, resulting in the presence of several strains in domestic and wild cat populations. FCV is highly contagious, and spreads by contact with an infected cat’s saliva, nasal secretions, or ocular discharge. Contaminated objects can also be a source of infection, since the virus can live for weeks in the environment. After infection, the virus incubates for 2 to 14 days, replicating in the tissues in the back of the cat’s mouth. Most cats develop an upper respiratory infection, but some infected cats may get pneumonia. 

The most common FCV presentation is an upper respiratory infection, with signs that include sneezing, nasal congestion, fever, and ocular discharge. Cats may also develop mouth sores. Diagnosis can be made by swabbing the infected cat’s eyes or nose, but definitive diagnosis is not always necessary, since FCV typically resolves with supportive treatment.

In severe cases, infected cats may need intravenous fluids and nutritional support. Antibiotics may be employed if secondary bacterial infections occur. Infected cats should be isolated to prevent spread. Vaccines are available, and while they do not protect against FCV entirely, they do reduce infection severity.

Is your cat at risk for feline herpesvirus?

FCV and feline herpesvirus (FHV) combined cause the majority of upper respiratory infections in cats. Up to 97 percent of cats are exposed to FHV in their lifetime, and most infected cats will be life-long carriers. In many latent carriers, the disease causes no further issues, but others can shed the virus in their urine if they are stressed, and may occasionally develop mild clinical signs. FHV is readily transmitted similarly to FCV. Contacting an infected cat’s saliva, nasal secretions, and ocular discharge can result in infection. Contaminated objects can also be a source, but FHV can live in the environment for only one to two days. FHV causes signs including sneezing, nasal discharge, ocular discharge, fever, and eye inflammation. 

FHV can be diagnosed by swabbing the infected cat’s nose or eyes, but definitive diagnosis is rarely needed. Unlike FCV, antiviral therapy can be helpful in FHV treatment. Supportive treatment, and antibiotics to combat secondary bacterial infections, are also critical. Infected cats should be isolated to prevent other cats from becoming ill. Available vaccines do not necessarily prevent infection, but they greatly reduce the severity of signs in an infected cat.

Is your cat at risk for feline panleukopenia?

Also called feline distemper or feline parvo, feline panleukopenia (FP) is a highly contagious disease caused by the feline parvovirus. The virus targets rapidly dividing cells, such as those found in bone marrow, intestines, and the developing fetus. Infection occurs by contact with an infected cat’s urine, stool, or nasal secretions. Fleas from infected cats can also spread the disease. Contaminated objects are also sources of infection, and the virus can persist long-term in the environment. FP causes signs that include lethargy, fever, decreased appetite, vomiting, severe diarrhea, and nasal discharge. Pregnant cats will typically abort or give birth to kittens with damaged brains.

FP should be suspected based on a history of exposure in an unvaccinated cat showing typical signs. The diagnosis can be confirmed by parvovirus in the cat’s feces. No medications are effective in treating FP, so intensive supportive treatment is necessary. Treatment focuses on replacing fluid loss, providing nutritional support, and treating secondary bacterial infections. Without supportive treatment, 90 percent of cats with FP succumb to the infection. Available vaccines are extremely effective in preventing FP infections.

Is your cat at risk from feline leukemia virus?

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) weakens an infected cat’s immune system, increases their susceptibility to other diseases, causes blood disorders, and is the most common cause of cancer in cats. The virus is spread in saliva, nasal secretions, urine, and feces. Transmission can occur from a bite wound, during mutual grooming, and through using the same litter box or food bowl. Cats at greatest risk are those who live with an infected cat. In the early stages, no signs are exhibited, but as the disease progresses, signs include fever, weight loss, decreased appetite, enlarged lymph nodes, unkempt coat, chronic infections, inflammation in the mouth, and eye problems. 

Diagnosis is made via blood tests. Unfortunately, no cure exists for FeLV, so prevention is key.  Keeping your cat indoors, and testing all cats who come in contact with your cat will prevent infection in your cat. Treatment involves addressing your cat’s specific signs. A vaccine that is not considered a core vaccine is available, but is not 100 percent effective, so preventing exposure is still the most important method to protect your cat.

Keeping your cat’s vaccines current, and preventing their exposure to infected cats, is the best way to safeguard your cat. If you would like to ensure your cat is up to date on their vaccines, contact our team at Caldwell Animal Hospital to schedule an appointment.