Cat flu is a common disease caused by either of two viruses; feline herpesvirus or feline calicivirus and sometimes feline chlamydia.
What are the signs?
The signs differ slightly between the two viruses. Generally, both can cause sneezing, nasal discharge, loss of appetite, fever and depression. Herpesvirus may also cause severe conjunctivitis and/or eye ulcers which can be very painful. Calicivirus may cause ulcers in the mouth, with drooling of saliva. Occasionally, calicivirus causes lameness and fevers in young kittens.
In very young, old, immunosuppressed and unvaccinated cats, flu may become life threatening (especially if secondary bacterial infections set in). Herpesvirus can cause permanent severe eye damage in kittens that have not yet opened their eyes.
How is cat flu diagnosed?
Typically, cat flu is diagnosed based on the clinical signs, however there are tests to detect the viruses available from specialised laboratories.
How is cat flu treated?
The routine flu vaccinations help minimize the chances of contracting the viruses and will help reduce the severity of signs if it is contracted. Although most cats recover from cat flu, it may take several weeks for the signs to abate (particularly with herpesvirus infections). Th virus may stay in their system for life and reinfections are common.
There are no drugs that can specifically kill the viruses, thus treatment is usually aimed at alleviating symptoms until the cat recovers on its own. Antibiotics are generally given to treat secondary bacterial infections and fluids may need to be given intravenously or under the skin to combat dehydration. Nursing care will include the cleaning of secretions around the nose and eyes with moist cotton wool. As cats with flu are often reluctant to eat, appetite stimulants and the provision of warmed, palatable foods may be required. If the cat stops eating altogether, placement of a feeding tube may be necessary. Infected cats need to be isolated to prevent the spread of the infection to other cats in the hospital.
Recovered cats may develop long-term nasal problems because of damage caused by the viral infection. This may require intermittent courses of antibiotics for the remainder of the cat’s life.
How do I prevent my cat from catching cat flu?
The risk of developing cat flu can be reduced by regular vaccination . Unfortunately vaccination will not always prevent infection but may lessen the severity of the disease. Generally cats are most at risk of catching flu if they are in contact with other cats, for example, in a breeding cattery or boarding situation.
Cats may also become infected if they are exposed to the viruses on contaminated food bowls and other equipment. Infected cats shed alot of virus particles into the environment via their saliva or nasal secretions and these may remain alive for up to a week in the environment.
Unfortunately cats that recover may become temporary or permanent virus carriers. This means that they may shed virus into the environment, even if they have no disease signs. Carrier cats are most likely to shed during bouts of illness, stress and sometimes boarding.
Can I get flu from my cat?
No. Both the flu viruses are specific to cats