Help! My Kitten Has Cat Flu

feline calicivirus symptoms

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’

What Is Cat Flu?

  1. Cat flu isn’t influenza or a cold, it’s either a herpesvirus or calicivirus
  2. Symptoms include fever, not eating, and eye or respiratory infection
  3. Many infected cats become virus carriers or have lifelong problems
  4. Rarer conditions caused by cat flu include arthritis, gingivitis, eye damage, stillbirths & abortion

Now dive deeper.

A stray kitten was found in a backyard a few weeks ago. Like most people do, her finders never hesitated to give her a home. Straight away, however, they knew something was wrong.

That’s her pictured above and below. She’s obviously miserable, but it’s the second photo that shows what’s really going on. This is ‘cat flu’.

You probably diligently vaccinate your cat against flu but do you know what it is? Cat flu is nothing like what most people think. For a start, it’s not flu!

Common Symptoms Of Cat Flu

Cat flu just looks like a severe cold until you take a closer look. It causes:

cat flu symptoms
Mouth ulcers, conjunctivitis and nasal discharge in a poor kitty with cat flu
  • Fever, lethargy and not eating or drinking
  • Clear or yellow-green discharge from the eyes and nose
  • Sneezing, coughing and difficulty breathing (read the other causes of sneezing in cats here)
  • Ulcers on the mouth, tongue and occasionally the eyes

But that’s not all. These nasty viruses sometimes do a lot more damage. Other important effects can be:

  • Arthritis
  • Viral pneumonia
  • Stillbirth, abortion or birth defects

And yet, there’s still even more. Most of the time it doesn’t go away…

How Long Does Cat Flu Last?

For a simple, uncomplicated case of flu, a cat might be back to normal in seven days. However, in most cases, secondary bacterial infection of the eyes, nose, sinuses or chest increases both the severity and duration of the illness.

Cat flu is treated by:

  • TLC, fluid and nutrition support
  • Antibiotics and eye ointments for secondary infection
  • Bathing and steaming to reduce buildup of secretions
  • More TLC

Most of these cats will still make a full recovery, although they suffer quite a bit in the process. For many, though, and especially the young or neglected, long-term problems persist.

Long-Term Effects of Cat Flu

  • Chronic rhinitis is a nasal infection that persists for life
  • Stunted growth is common in infected kittens
  • Stomatitis-gingivitis complex is a severe mouth infection
  • Most cats who get infected will carry the virus for life

If there’s just one thing I want all cat owners to understand about flu, it’s this last point about carriers.

How Cats Catch Flu

Cat flu is spread in the saliva of apparently healthy carrier cats. Nearly every cat who got cat flu once will carry and spread the virus for life. Carriers are estimated to represent around 30% of all cats.

It’s not their fault. It’s up to all of us to know where the real risk is and stop it. Here’s what I do…

How I Prevent Cat Flu

The viruses spread both directly from cat to cat and indirectly via objects, people and the environment.

  • I assume that every cat I see could be a carrier
  • I wash my hands between each cat and change my coat regularly
  • I use an isolation room for known infected cats
  • I clean and disinfect all equipment after every cat I see
  • I change my clothes when I get home
  • I ask breeders to test their breeding stock for carriers
  • I get my kittens from trusted sources like good breeders or the Animal Welfare League

I hope now you understand why a good cattery never mixes cats or uses anything that can’t be disinfected.

I’m sorry if this all sounds a bit like a scare story. It’s all gospel truth but we’re in danger of forgetting how things once were. If you want to read more, visit an old page where I featured three cats with rare consequences of cat flu or here for other causes of mouth ulcers.

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

Help! Dogs With Cuts & Cats With Wounds

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ What to do

When A Dog Or Cat Gets A Cut

  1. Don’t handle the wound if it looks clean, just keep your pet out of the dirt
  2. To remove dirt, rinse cuts in a solution of ½tsp salt to 1 cup water
  3. If there is serious bleeding, apply a tight bandage using clean cloth
  4. As long as you see a vet immediately, a tight dressing should do minimal harm and may be lifesaving

Now dive deeper…

In case you haven’t noticed yet, there are lots of things I want all pet owners to know. This week it’s a long explanation with a simple message: if you get a wound seen the same day it happens we’ll all be better off. Here’s why…

It’s The Golden Period

One of the mild disappointments I get is seeing wounds that have gone beyond when they could have been easy to manage. That timeframe is called the golden period. Usually, it’s no-one’s fault, just a lack of awareness of how quickly things change. Then, before anyone knew there was a choice, that choice has been taken away.

It’s really simple: the golden period is the time before wounds become excessively contaminated by bacteria. It’s when a vet can just give a bit of local, flush the wound, and stitch it back together. Under sedation of course.

The golden period only lasts somewhere between 6 and 12 hours. Wounds sutured during this time are easy and simple to put back together, and the pet feels very little pain or discomfort. Of course, this only applies for clean wounds like those caused by scissors, glass or sheet metal.

Will A Cut Heal By Itself?

The reason we often see wounds on dogs or cats too late is that people are wondering if they will just heal. The answer is: rarely.

Hair and fluids stick together over smaller wounds to lock in infection and prevent healing. Larger wound edges swell and separate once infection sets in. This causes wound drying and prevents a healthy granulation bed forming, which is essential for skin regrowth.

All this is complicated by a dog or cat’s natural tendency to lick at a wound. Despite the myth, licking makes wounds worse, not better.

How We Manage Other Wounds

What happens if we wait too long, or wounds are dirty?

Older Infected Cuts

If wounds become too contaminated with bacteria, dirt or hair, we have two choices:

We can remove the infected layers and then stitch the wound. This process, called debridement, needs to be performed under general anaesthetic. That’s what the diagram at the start is all about. If we don’t take out the infected layers, the wound won’t heal properly and may just open again after the stitches come out.

It’s still easy enough, but more complex and the final wound is bigger.

We can choose to manage an open wound. This is not our first choice, as it requires frequent bandage changes, takes a long time and can get quite expensive. It’s also very, very easy to do more harm than good when trying to keep bandages on a dog or cat for a long period.

Animal Bites

When a dog or cat bites another animal, it’s infected straight away. If we stitch these wounds up again all we do is just cover up the infection. Even simple animal bites often need debridement before closure, and almost all need antibiotics.

Worse things happen when a dog bites an animal much smaller than itself. These dog bite wounds often have a loose pocket under the skin that rapidly fills with toxic fluids. Patients with skin separation usually die if the correct treatment is not given.

Contaminated Wounds

Heavily contaminated wounds are common in car injuries or gunshots. A particularly severe example occurs when dogs are dragged behind a ute or car.

These wounds often require delayed closure with frequent bandage changes until the wound is healthy and clean enough to close.

The Final Message

So, yes, all these words were just a very long way of saying a stitch in time saves nine. I’ll bet you didn’t even need to be told. You were coming in straight away all along, weren’t you!

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

Help! My Pet Has Fleas

dog killing flea

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ Emergency Care

How To Get Rid Of Fleas

  1. Use modern flea killers recommended by vets and pet stores
  2. Remove fleas from the house and especially pet sleeping areas
  3. Keep dogs and cats on good flea control to prevent new infestations

Now dive deeper…

Do you keep finding fleas on your dog, cat, rabbit or ferret despite your best efforts? Frustrating isn’t it? It seems so simple and yet so many people have the same problem.

Why Is It So Hard To Get Rid Of Fleas?

Here are a few reasons:

  • Failing to kill every last flea
  • Heavy house & garden infestation
  • Catching fleas again

I’ll now explain each of these points…

How To Get Rid Of Fleas On Dogs

Using flea products recommended by vets is the most important step to having a flea-free pet. In many cases, it’s the only thing you need to do. The same applies for catsrabbits and ferrets.

The reason most people can’t kill every last flea is that they are using outdated products. Until the mid 1990s the only products available could not eliminate fleas. Pets with flea allergy kept on suffering. The shocking news is that these products, mainly shampoos, sprays or rinses, are still widely sold, and resistance has only grown.

However, these products aren’t perfect either. Some, like Frontline or Nexgard have been shown to kill fleas more slowly than others (or not at all in the case of Sentinel) and resistance is suspected for others. I haven’t even mentioned Capstar as it’s far too short-acting. Nowadays I get best results with the flea tablets Simparica, Bravecto or Comfortis, and Advantage still works well.

Although the new flea controls are very safe, they remain unpopular with people wanting to get rid of fleas naturally. If you want to do this, it is possible and we’ll support you, but you have to have lower expectations of success.

How To Kill Fleas In The House And Garden

Fleas on the animal are no more that 5% of the total. That other 95% comprises eggs, larvae, pupae and adults waiting to jump. These are found wherever your pet, or any other dog or cat with fleas, has been.

You don’t have to kill all the fleas in the environment to eliminate them. The weak point in the flea life cycle is the need for adults to get a blood meal in order to lay eggs. Therefore if you’re not in a hurry, all you need to do is use a good flea killer on your pet and wait.

However your pets or children may disagree. If infestation levels are high, they will keep getting a lot of bites, even if each flea then dies. You or your family may also be getting nasty itchy welts on the ankles and legs.

To learn more please visit our separate page on treating fleas in the household and garden.

Help! My Pet Keeps Catching Fleas Again

That famous jump is how fleas get on passing animals, so unless you keep your dog or cat in a glass box they will keep getting flea hitch-hikers and bringing them home for everybody to enjoy.

The good news is: once you’ve eliminated fleas from your pet and home almost any good flea control will stop reinfestation. You’ve just got to remember to do it. Here’s some suggestions:

  • Set a monthly recurring reminder on your phone
  • Use Bravecto (dogs) so you only need to remember once every three months
  • Buy from friendly local places that send reminder messages (OK, you got me there- that’s a shameless plug!)

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.