In the cat world viral infections of the repiratory system are one of the most common infectious diseases. They also lead to secondary bacterial infections, complicating and compounding the illness.
There are two types of of viruses (“viral groups” seems to be a better description) that cause respiratory infections:
The herpes virus group – the feline herpes virus (FHR), which produces a disease called, Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis. The word “feline” means cat, the word “viral” means caused by a virus and the word, “rhinotracheitis”, is an amalgam of “rhino” meaning nose and “trachea” meaning trachea and the “itis” means inflammation. The disease is shortened to FVR.
The other virus is the Calicivirus group which produces Feline Calici Disease (FCV). I for one get confused by the all the different and shortened names of diseases that begin with “F”.
It is thought that the above two virus causes between 80-90% of all viral respiratory diseases.
Feline Herpes Virus
The herpes virus is highly contagious meaning it is transmitted very easily between cats and therefore spreads quickly unless vigorous controls are actioned.
The disease is spread by a cat with the disease sneezing and producing an aerosol spray containing the vrus. This spray is inhaled by another cat. Other ways are through contaminated litter boxes and bowls for instance.
Any cat can catch the disease but those most susceptible are: kittens, cats with reduced immune systems, stressed cats and unvaccinated cats. Kittens can be infected when drinking mother’s milk when the mother has a latent infection (an infection that does not show). Some cats are more prone to the disease than others due to being less healthy genetically. Or perhaps, it is suggested, that if a kitten does not get good immunity from mother’s milk (colostrum) that might predispose the cat to catching the disease later in life.
Cats that spread the FHV might not show signs of having any disease.
There is a wide variation in the severity of illlness; from mild symptoms to being fatal. The obvious symptoms are that the cat has a cold, the classic sort of cold that we might get in the winter months. However, more seriously, the corneas of the eyes can become ulcerated. The tear ducts may be damaged causing tear duct overflow. The nasal passages can be damaged causing sinusitis. Cats can relapse under certain circumstances such as stress. For instance a kitten who caught the disease could suffer a flare up of the disease as an adult without coming into contact with any other cats in between. Such a cat would be a chronic carrier of the disease.
Prevention – Control
The disease can live outside the cat for 24 hours to 10 days (there seems to be conflicting opinion on that). This fact places an obligation on us to take preventative measures such as washing food and water bowls and our hands when handling an infected cat.
In a mult-cat household isolating an infected cat would be a necessary preventative measure for three to four weeks.
Vaccinations are also recommended. See Vaccination recommendations.
As FHV might be in a cat for his or her entire life, the disease can flare up. These can kept to a minimum provided the cat’s immune system is maintained at peak performance.
What we can do
An infected cat may lose his appetite so a highly palatable food is recommended. Eating and drinking well is important to maintain the cat’s strength. The atmosphere can be humidified using a water vaporiser.
Secretions should be wiped from eyes, nose and mouth. Swollen membranes can be treated with children strength nose drops. Administer cautiously – one drop to one nostril when first used then the other nostril and repeat for 5 to seven days. Take urgent action to see a vet is the patient is not responding to home treatments.
I tend not to discuss treatment as this is a vet’s domain.
A recommended resource is the Yahoo group: felineherpes. Yahoo groups are good resources from people with first hand experience of dealing with these sorts of health problems.
Sources: Own knowledge, Cat Fancy Magazine August 2010.
At this time July 6th 2010 I am having trouble with an internet connection. Please forgive my slow responses.