Cat Diseases - Symptoms And Treatment

This section of the Omlet Cat Guide focuses on the diseases that you can vaccinate your cat against. Feline Infectious Enteritis (FIE), Feline Herpes Virus (FHV), Feline Calicivirus (FCV), Feline Leukaemia Virus (FLV)* are all recommended vaccinations for every cat, but what exactly are we protecting our cats against? Read on to find out more.

*Note: The RSPCA currently only recommends vaccination against FLV if your cat will have outdoor access.


Feline Infectious Enteritis (FIE)

FIE is a disease caused by a type of virus called a parvovirus which is why it is sometimes referred to as Feline parvoviral enteritis. This disease is highly contagious and can be fatal in cats. FIE can also be referred to as Feline panleukopenia because one of the symptoms is a low white blood cell count (leukopenia).

Transmission

The disease can be spread by fleas as well as through direct contact with an infected cat’s bodily fluids. The virus can remain active on all manner of items including food dishes, bedding or even owners clothes. This makes it easy for the disease to spread very quickly, or over long distances and is one of the reasons it is highly recommended for vaccination.

Symptoms

The disease affects the cat’s intestines by causing ulceration and it eventually kills the cells that line the intestinal wall. The symptoms of this are extreme bloody diarrhoea, malnutrition, dehydration, anaemia (low red blood cell count), death and as mentioned previously leukopenia. The serious nature of this disease is another reason why preventative treatment in the form of a vaccine is highly recommended.

Treatment

If you suspect your cat does have FIE then you must take her to the vet immediately as the disease can kill within 24 hours. The treatment involves aggressive antiviral medication as well as antibiotics and rehydration therapy. For more information on cat vaccinations click here.



Feline Herpes Virus (FHV)

FHV is the most common virus to affect the upper respiratory tract of cats. The disease is highly contagious and infected cats will often remain latently infected (not show any symptoms), which makes them lifelong carriers of the virus. Fortunately it is rare for a latently infected cat to pass on the virus. It is possible that stress, or another health problem that weakens the infected cat’s immune system can cause the virus to resurface.

Transmission

The disease can be spread between cats by direct contact with an infected cat’s bodily fluids. This is possible through sharing food bowls or bedding, being handled by a human who has previously handled an infected cat, and more obvious things like being bitten by an infected cat.

Symptoms

FHV commonly causes an acute infection of the upper respiratory tract. This presents itself through things like conjunctivitis, sneezing, fever, coughing, lethargy, salivation and nasal discharge. Symptoms can last anywhere between a few days and a few weeks with the cat usually remaining infectious for about 3 weeks. In rare, chronic cases of FHV infection it is possible for cats to develop FHV dermatitis. This causes crusty patches, ulcers and scabs around the cat’s head, face and sometimes forelimbs.

Treatment

The best treatment is preventative treatment in the form of a vaccine. It is highly recommended for all cats in the UK. However if you suspect your cat has FHV then you should take them to the vet immediately. The vet will probably prescribe antibiotics to treat the risk of a secondary bacterial infection as well as antiviral therapy to treat the FHV itself. For more information on cat vaccinations click here.



Feline Calicivirus (FCV)

FCV is the second most common virus to affect the upper respiratory tract of cats. The disease is very adaptable which makes it difficult to treat. This is because the virus can quickly change and become resistant to antiviral treatments and/or the cat’s immune system. Vaccinations against FCV do not always prevent the disease, but are highly recommended because it is believed that vaccinated cats that become infected will have much milder symptoms than non-vaccinated individuals. A highly infectious and resistant form of FCV known as Virulent Systemic FCV (VS-FCV) can cause life threatening infection.

Transmission

Just like FIE and FHV, FCV can be spread between cats by direct contact with an infected cat’s bodily fluids. This is possible through sharing of food bowls and bedding, being handled by a human who has previously handled an infected cat and more obvious things like being bitten by an infected cat. Fortunately for us the virus can’t be passed to humans and only affects domestic cats and Cheetahs.

Symptoms

FCV will commonly cause an acute infection of the upper respiratory tract. Symptoms include eye and nasal discharge as well as fever, ulcers around the mouth, face and claws, lethargy, loss of appetite and pneumonia. VS-FCV may also cause arthritis, lameness, fever and multiple organ failure.

Treatment

Regardless of whether your cat has been vaccinated or not, if you suspect it may be infected with FCV you should take it to the vet immediately. Depending on the symptoms presented it is common for antibiotics, immunomodulators (aids the cat’s immune system), corticosteroids and rehydration therapy to be prescribed. For more information on cat vaccinations click here.



Feline Leukaemia Virus (FLV)

FLV is a common cause of death in domestic cats, along with old age, traffic accidents and kidney failure. One of the diseases that can be caused by FLV is a type of cancer called leukaemia, hence the name Feline Leukaemia Virus. Vaccinations for FLV are highly recommended for cats that will be allowed outside but won’t routinely be offered to indoor only cats. This is because an indoor only cat is highly unlikely to come into contact with the virus.

Transmission

The virus is transmitted via bodily fluids such as blood and faeces but doesn’t survive for long outside of the body. Fortunately for us the virus only affects cats, so there is no risk of it being passed on to you or your other pets. FLV is most common in stray or feral cats. These cats can then pass it on to our pet cats if they fight at night. In a multicat household it is easy for the virus to spread through close contact and sharing of food bowls and beds. It is also possible for a mother cat to pass on FLV to her kittens.

Symptoms

When the virus takes hold it can greatly reduce the effectiveness of the cat’s immune system. This opens the door to all sorts of infections and other illnesses that can take advantage of a reduced immune system (such as leukaemia). Symptoms that can indicate FLV infection include diarrhoea, fever, pale gums, weight loss, sterility, jaundice, anaemia, swollen glands and inflammation of the mouth and face.

Treatment

Cats that are at risk of becoming infected with FLV should be vaccinated against it. If you suspect your cat has been infected by FLV (whether they are vaccinated or not) then you should take them to the vet immediately. The vet may prescribe immunomodulators to aid the cat’s immune system as well as other drugs to treat any visible symptoms such as antibiotics and rehydration therapy. For more information on cat vaccinations click here.



Feline Bordetellosis

Feline Bordetellosis is caused by a bacterium rather than a virus. It infects the upper respiratory tract and is often referred to as ‘kennel cough’ because of the symptoms it produces and the fact that it is most common in multi animal households or catteries. The main difference is that if your cat is infected then the disease is much easier to treat because the vet can prescribe antibiotics. This, alongside the fact that the bacterium is not commonly found in cats is why the vaccine is not as highly recommended as others.

This disease is not routinely recommended for vaccination in the UK but vaccines are available and may be needed if travelling to other countries.

Transmission

The Bordetella bacterium can be transferred between cats, dogs and even humans. It can be present in the air through sneezes and coughs where it is inhaled to infect a new victim. Because the bacterium can be passed through a sneeze or cough it is very easy for an outbreak of Bordetellosis to occur in catteries or multi cat households.

Symptoms

The main symptoms include coughing and sneezing. Other less common symptoms include fever, nasal discharge, mucky eyes, pneumonia, weight loss and breathing difficulties.

Treatment

A vaccination for Bordetella is available for cats, but because cats are not commonly infected by the bacteria the vaccine is not routinely administered. An infected cat can do fine without any treatment because their immune system will be able to fight off the infection, but if you suspect your cat has Bordetellosis you should take them to the vet for a check up right away. The vet will probably prescribe antibiotics which will fight off the infection very quickly. For more information on cat vaccinations click here.



Feline Chlamydophilosis

Chlamydophilosis is caused by a bacterium and infects the upper respiratory tract. Usually bacteria colonise areas outside of the cells like the throat or lungs, but the bacteria that causes Chlamydophilosis actually resides inside cells. Unfortunately it is possible for cats to pass on the bacteria to us where we may develop Chlamydia conjunctivitis (a type of eye infection).

This disease is not routinely recommended for vaccination in the UK, but vaccines are available and may be needed if travelling to other countries.

Transmission

The bacteria that causes Chlamydophilosis cannot survive for long outside the body but it is possible for the bacteria to be transmitted via contact with an infected cat’s mouth, nose or eye discharge, as well as touching contaminated furniture etc (as long as the bacteria is still alive).

Symptoms

It is most common for the bacteria to infect the conjunctiva (the mucous membrane that surrounds the eye) which causes swelling and redness around the eye. It is common for the eyes to produce a discharge and to water profusely. Other symptoms include breathing difficulties, runny nose, weight loss, loss of appetite, coughing and fever.

Treatment

The vaccine for Chlamydophilosis is only recommended for catteries or in areas where the disease has high prevalence. This is because it is easy to treat and does not spread very easily. If you suspect that your cat has Chlamydophilosis then you should take them to the vet straight away. The cat’s immune system cannot reach the bacteria if they are within cells. The vet will prescribe a longer course of antibiotics that are designed to penetrate inside cells and kill the bacteria. For more information on cat vaccinations click here.



Rabies

Thankfully the UK has been free of Rabies since 1902 which is the main reason why the vaccine that is available is not routinely administered to our pets (or recommended by the RSPCA). However if you want to take your cat out of or into the UK then you will need to get them vaccinated against Rabies. Rabies is a viral disease that causes an acute infection of the brain. It is most common in dogs but all warm blooded species can get it.

This disease is not routinely recommended for vaccination in the UK but vaccines are available and may be needed if travelling to other countries.

Transmission

The virus is usually present in the nerve cells and saliva of an infected animal. This means that it can be passed on by close contact through things like sharing food bowls, cats grooming each other, or if a cat is bitten by or eats an infected animal.

Symptoms

Perhaps the most classic symptoms for Rabies are frothing at the mouth and increased aggressiveness but things such as fever, lethargy, seizures, paralysis, lack of coordination and an inability to swallow can all be indicators of Rabies.

Treatment

As mentioned previously, a Rabies vaccine is available but due to the UK being Rabies free since 1902 it is not routinely administered. If your cat presents any of the symptoms above then you should take them to the vet immediately where they will quarantine the cat and test their blood for signs of the Rabies virus. The sad fact is that Rabies is fatal for cats so it is important to be vigilant to prevent the disease spreading and returning to the UK.



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