Feline Rhinotracheitis (Feline Herpes Virus)
Feline Rhinotracheitis (also called Feline Herpes Virus) is one of several forms of highly contagious “kitty colds” or upper respiratory infections. It typically causes sneezing, nasal discharge, and conjunctivitis. Severe infection may lead to keratitis which is the swelling and ulceration of the cornea which can lead to scarring. The infection is spread in the saliva and nasal or ocular discharges of infected cats. The virus can also be carried by contaminated objects such as clothing, bedding, or shoes. The incubation period is 2-5 days and active infection can last anywhere from 10-20 days. Cats can start shedding the virus and thus infecting others during the incubation period. Diagnosis is commonly made based on clinical signs alone, however a more definitive diagnosis can be made by sending samples of nasal or ocular discharge to a laboratory for PCR testing. Most cats will recover from the virus without treatment, but some will need supportive care, particularly if they develop anorexia and/or dehydration. Corneal ulcers should be treated with medications to prevent permanent scarring. All cats that have been infected with Rhinotracheitis will remain latent carriers for their lifetime. Periods of stress may cause recurrence of symptoms during which time the cat will shed the virus and potentially infect other cats. The virus can survive in the environment only as long as it remains wet. Prevention includes vaccination, separation of infected cats, and disinfecting of the environment. Vaccination for Feline Rhinotracheitis is generally given as a series of 3 kitten vaccinations and a booster vaccination each following year.
Feline Calicivirus is another form of highly contagious “kitty cold” or upper respiratory infection. It typically causes sneezing, nasal discharge, and conjunctivitis. Additionally Calicivirus often causes ulcers of the tongue, lips, and gums. The ulcers are painful and often cause drooling and anorexia. Some forms of Calicivirus cause sudden lameness in one or more joints which is referred to as “limping Calici.” The virus is spread through the saliva, nasal discharge, and ocular discharge of infected cats. It can live in the environment for up to a week or even longer if the environment is damp and cool. Diagnosis is commonly made based on clinical signs alone, however a more definitive diagnosis can be made by sending samples of nasal or ocular discharge to a laboratory for PCR testing. Most cats will recover from the virus without treatment, but some will need supportive care, particularly if they develop anorexia and/or dehydration. Lameness may require anti-inflammatory medications. Up to half of all Calicivirus infected cats will remain carriers following recovery from the symptoms. These carriers may shed the virus intermittently causing infection in other cats, without showing symptoms themselves. This carrier state may occur for a few months or persist for life. Calicivirus infection can be prevented with vaccination, commonly given as a series of 3 vaccinations for kittens and yearly boosters. However in many cases the vaccination does not completely prevent the infection, but only lessens the clinical signs of the disease. Additionally, the Calicivirus mutates frequently, so current vaccinations cannot prevent infections of new forms of the disease. Separation of infected cats, quarantine of incoming cats, and disinfecting the environment are also important in Calicivirus prevention.
Feline Chlamydia is another form of highly contagious “kitty cold” or upper respiratory infection. It typically causes persistent conjunctivitis, sneezing, runny nose, fever, lethargy, anorexia, and if left untreated can lead to pneumonia. Unlike Rhinotracheitis and Calicivirus, Chlamydia is caused by a bacteria rather than a virus. As in viral “kitty colds” the Chlamydia bacteria are shed in the nasal and ocular discharge and saliva of infected cats and can be moved from one environment to another on clothing or shoes. Chlamydia, however, does not survive long in the environment so is more commonly transmitted directly from cat to cat. The incubation period is 3-10 days. Diagnosis is made by swabbing the conjunctival membrane and sending the sample for laboratory testing. Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics. Because Chlamydia is highly contagious but not all cats will show symptoms, all cats in the household should be treated to prevent reinfection. A vaccination for Chlamydia is available and may prevent the severity of the disease but cannot entirely prevent it from occurring. Isolation of infected animals and disinfection of the environment as well as quarantine for all incoming cats is the best prevention.
Feline Infectious Enteritis or Panleukopenia is a disease in cats that is often referred to by vets as Feline Parvovirus or Feline Distemper. The disease attack and kills the cat’s rapidly developing cells such as those in the bone marrow and intestines. It is characterized by a decrease in white blood cells. It is easily spread among cats and in the environment since it is present in all bodily secretions of infected cats including urine, feces, and vomit. It can live in the environment for up to a year and is difficult to get rid of since it is resistant to many disinfectants. Because of its widespread occurrence, virtually all cats are exposed to it at some point in their lives. It can be spread by contact with clothing, bedding, food and water bowls, a person’s hands, or brought in on a person’s shoes. It can even live in a cat’s coat for long after the cat has recovered from the symptoms. It can even be spread by rodents and insects. The general incubation period which is the time between the cat’s exposure and the appearance of symptoms is 5-7 days, but it can be as long as 2 weeks. Cats generally only shed the virus for a few days, but this can be during the incubation period or up to 6 weeks after symptoms appear. Therefore seemingly healthy cats may still be cause of infection for other cats.
Symptoms initially include depression, lethargy, and loss of appetite. High fever is common. Severe diarrhea and vomiting may occur. Some cats may sit in front of their water bowls, thirsty but too weak to drink. Occasionally the cat displays no symptoms at all, sometimes recovering without the disease being noticed. Other asymptomatic cats may die suddenly without apparent cause. Symptoms most commonly occur in kittens age 3-5 months and unvaccinated cats. The death rate of Panleukopenia is most common for kittens of this age.
Diagnosis can usually be made using an ELISA test (Enzyme Linked Immunofluorescent Antibody) and complete blood count. There is no medication that can kill the virus, so treatment must focus on supportive care. Antibiotics may be useful in treating/preventing secondary infections.
The only known prevention for Panleukopenia is vaccination along with strict separation of infected cat and repeated disinfection of the environment. A 3-dose vaccination schedule can prevent the disease in most cats, however the vaccine immunity is not particularly long-lived so regular boosters are often recommended. Cats that do become infected and survive will usually have lifelong immunity.
Feline Coronavirus and Feline Infectious Peritonitis
Feline Coronavirus is a very common viral infection in cats which generally causes no symptoms at all but occasionally causes mild diarrhea. Most every cat will be exposed to the Coronavirus at some point in its life, but most will be asymptomatic during infection. Some may eliminate the virus completely while others may shed the virus sporadically. Feline Coronavirus is generally not much cause for concern, however in rare cases the Coronavirus mutates into a form that causes Feline Infectious Peritonitis, which is deadly in cats in almost all cases. (FIP used to be deadly in all cases however recently a new treatment has been proven to have some success.)
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) has both a “wet” form and a “dry” form. Both forms of FIP cause fever, lethargy, anorexia, weight loss, and mild upper respiratory symptoms. The wet form also causes an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen and chest. The dry form also causes inflammatory cells or granulomas in the cat’s organs. FIP is difficult to diagnose – the cat may be tested for Coronavirus in which case a negative result means the cat is unlikely to have FIP but a positive result could be either the relatively harmless Coronavirus OR the deadly FIP. Samples of the fluid taken from the cats suspected of having the “wet” type can be confirmed with laboratory tests. However, many times the FIP diagnosis is given based on clinical signs, lack of response to medications, and lack of evidence of any other disease. Most cats with FIP die within a few months despite supportive care.
A vaccine was developed for FIP but there have been no studies to prove that it prevents or lessens the disease and is not recommended. Thankfully FIP is relatively rare. There are some theories that suggest that stress and poor quality diet may be factors in the Coronavirus mutating into FIP, but this has been unproven. Minimizing stress and maximizing quality of diet are still good practices for minimizing disease.
Bordetella is a bacterial upper respiratory infection most common in dogs but occasionally occurring in cats. It is caused by a bacterium called Bordetella bronchiseptica which causes sneezing, runny nose, enlarged lymph nodes, loss of appetite, and fever. In most cases, the illness is self-limiting and resolve on their own without complications. Cats may be completely asymptomatic but shed the bacteria in their saliva causing infection in others. Young kittens or immunocompromised cats are most at risk of this disease. A vaccine is available and useful in preventing the disease, however it is generally only recommended for cats in shelters, rescues, boarding facilities, or other high-risk situations.
Feline Leukemia (FeLV) is a viral disease in cats that leads to various cancers, blood disorders, and an inability to fight other infections. The virus is shed in the bodily secretions of infected cats including saliva, urine, feces, blood, and milk. Most infections come from fighting or breeding with infected cats or from mother to kitten since the virus does not survive for long outside the cat’s body.
Many exposed cats are able to resist the infection and in particular adult cats often do not succumb to the infection without multiple exposures over time. Some infected cats are able to clear the infection on their own, but for most cats the infection is chronic and there is no cure. Initially cats are asymptomatic, but over time any or all of the following symptoms may occur: enlarged lymph nodes, fever, pale gums, poor coat, weigh loss, anorexia, diarrhea, inflammation of the gums, infections of the skin, upper respiratory infections, seizures, eye problems, and reproductive problems. Diagnosis can be made via blood test in your veterinarian’s office. Cats diagnosed with Feline Leukemia may maintain a good quality of life for several years with supportive care, though they should be separated from other cats.
Prevention includes keeping your cat isolated from infected cats. Indoor-only cats who live only with FeLV-negative tested cats are not at risk of catching Feline Leukemia. Cats with any outdoor access are at risk of catching it from other cats in the environment. There is a vaccine available which may prevent some cases, but whether or not the vaccine should be used is best decided based on the individual cat’s risk of encountering the disease.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline AIDS
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a complex retrovirus that can lead to Feline AIDS. A retrovirus is a virus that has the ability to insert itself into the infected organism’s DNA. Once infected with FIV, the cat is infected for life. Many times the virus remains dormant for months and years and the cat has a normal life. However, in later stages of the disease, the cat becomes susceptible to secondary infections and even cancers due to its inability to efficiently fight infection. Some symptoms that may be related to FIV infection are recurrent upper respiratory or gastrointestinal infections, enlarged lymph nodes, inflammation of the gums, eye disease, kidney disease, fever, weakness, weight loss, and some cancers particularly lymphoma. Neurological changes may also occur.
The most common way in which cats become infected with FIV is through bite and scratch wounds from infected cats, since the virus is shed in the saliva. Diagnosis can be made via blood test in your veterinarian’s office. Cats diagnosed with FIV may maintain a good quality of life for several years with supportive care, though they should be separated from other cats.
Prevention includes keeping your cat isolated from infected cats. Indoor-only cats who live only with FIV-negative tested cats are not at risk of catching Feline Leukemia. Cats with any outdoor access are at risk of catching it from other cats in the environment.