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.

Reverse Sneezing in Dogs

dog snorting gagging

‘Emergency Care’ (details below)

How to Tell Reverse Sneezing from Choking

  • Reverse sneezing causes minimal distress and gums remain pink
  • It can usually be stopped if you call or distract a dog
  • The dog is 100% fine immediately before and afterwards

If in doubt, see a vet immediately. True choking is often fatal. No vet will criticise you for being careful, even if there is nothing wrong.

Now dive deeper…

Continue reading “Reverse Sneezing in Dogs”

Help! My Dog Has Diarrhoea

cartoon diarrhoea dog

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ Emergency Care

When To See The Vet For Diarrhoea

It’s especially important to see a vet straight away for:

  • Puppies, old dogs or those without up-to-date vaccination
  • Vomiting, not eating or other signs of illness
  • Blood in the stool, excessive diarrhoea or possible poisoning
  • Dry, tacky gums or any other sign of dehydration

Now dive deeper…

90% of the diarrhoea we see in dogs has only one cause: eating the wrong thing.  That’s the subject of this article. If you’re not sure what it could be, visit this page for all the common causes of diarrhoea in dogs.

Strangely, I want to start by telling you what we should try not to use to treat this type of diarrhoea: antibiotics.

If most dog diarrhoea can be treated without antibiotics, why do many dogs get given a course? You don’t expect antibiotics for yourself, so why does your dog get them?

These simple questions have led to a lot of ethical soul-searching in vets around the world.

Why Dogs Get Antibiotics For Diarrhoea

  • It’s effective. It’s quite clear to vets that a particular antibiotic called metronidazole is rapidly effective at stopping the most common sort of diarrhoea. That means less suffering for dogs.
  • We know what it’s like. Anyone who’s had a dog with diarrhoea knows what a mess it causes, and we don’t want you to have one more minute of it than you have to.
  • People expect it. We’ve been doing this for quite a while and many dog owners have become used to receiving antibiotics.
  • We can’t be sure. Sometimes, antibiotics are indeed necessary.

Have we been doing the wrong thing by giving your dog metronidazole? The answer may be yes.

What’s Wrong With Using Antibiotics?

  • The dose we use to fix simple diarrhoea could make more troublesome bugs resistant. That means worse diarrhoea like that caused by Giardia may become harder to treat, and even become a problem for humans.
  • The normal bacterial population, called the microbiome, is affected by antibiotics and may take several months to recover. This could cause problems such as susceptibility to future infections.
  • We could cause adverse effects from using unnecessary drugs.

OK, So What Do We Do?

Firstly, many vets have already stopped using antibiotics for diarrhoea, or never even started, and we salute them. Making clients happy isn’t always the best medicine but taking a different approach can be hard to explain.

Here at Walkerville Vet, we’re no longer going to use antibiotics for routine, uncomplicated diarrhoea. Here’s what our new protocol looks like:

Dog Diarrhoea Treatment Plan

dog giardia test
  1. Full physical to check for dehydration or signs of systemic illness. These dogs will be admitted to hospital.
  2. Testing for serious causes of diarrhoea such as parvovirus, coronavirus, Giardia & other parasites, with treatment as necessary.
  3. Dogs with a fever, or blood in the stool or puppies or seniors will receive antibiotics immediately.
  4. Happy dogs with ‘normal’ diarrhoea, loose stool or mucus will be given a chance to get better with other treatments first. These include prebiotics, probiotics, binders, bland diet and antiemetics.
  5. If there’s no improvement after a maximum of two days, antibiotics may be given.

What To Give A Dog For Diarrhoea

The best diet for a healthy dog with mild diarrhoea is a bland meal such as minced chicken breast boiled with an equal weight of white rice. Skim off any fat that rises to the top and allow to cool.

Feed smaller than normal meal sizes and see your vet if diarrhoea persists beyond 24 hours. Please do not give any medications such as Imodium® or bismuth (e.g. Pepto Bismol®) without veterinary advice. These drugs only mask the illness, and may actually cause harm.

Sometimes the worst thing about simple diarrhoea in healthy dogs isn’t the effect on the dog. It’s the tremendous, disgusting mess it causes. You are always welcome to let us take your dog for a few days until it passes. We don’t charge too much for hospitalisation and it’s something we’re only too happy to deal with. Just another day at the office!

Related: Causes of Diarrhoea in Dogs

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! My Cat Was In A Fight

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ Emergency Care

When A Cat Has Fight Injuries

  1. Check your cat all over for painful areas, scabs or small wounds
  2. Nasty anaerobic infections often develop quickly in cat fight wounds
  3. See a vet for wounds, swellings, limping, not eating, quietness or lethargy

Now dive deeper…

Here’s something that surprised me. A lot of people look at the photo above and see cats playing. These cats aren’t playing, they’re fighting, and even if they don’t hurt each other, they aren’t having fun.

Cats do develop friendships and often live happily in stable household groups. However, the sad reality is that cats are a territorial species who rarely tolerate the company of outsider cats.

What catches most cat owners unawares is how bad a cat fight can be.

What Happens In Cat Fights

There are two features of cats that make fight injuries different. They are:

  1. Cats have lots of sharp, pointy things
  2. Cats carry unusual anaerobic bacteria

Here’s what happens:

  1. A cat scratches or bites another cat and injects bacteria under the skin
  2. The puncture wound is deep and closes over almost immediately
  3. Anaerobic bacteria start to grow in the absence of oxygen
  4. A bacterial cellulitis starts spreading under the skin
  5. Pus forms and collects in a swelling called an abscess. Read what to do about this later.

That’s not all. There are two very special infections all cat owners need to know about:

  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus
  • Cat Scratch Fever

What Is FIV?

Did you know cats have their own AIDS virus? Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is an important infection of cats in Australia. Here in Adelaide, we demonstrated an infection rate of 10% in our own patients.

Just like in people, FIV causes opportunistic diseases due to immune suppression. Cats with FIV are more frequently unwell and generally live shorter lives.

Pet cats only get FIV through the bite of another cat. Not every bite causes infection, but if cats keep getting bitten, it’s almost inevitable that they will get FIV. There is a vaccine and that’s why we always ask you if your cat goes outside when choosing which vaccines to give.

Read all about FIV testing and treatment here.

Cat Scratch Fever

Bartonella henselae is a bacterium found on some cats that causes a nasty infection in people. The classic signs are a reaction at the site of injury followed by a swelling and abscessation of the lymph nodes, usually in the armpit.

I have never seen anyone get it so it must be reasonably uncommon in Australia. Visit this page to read about all the things you can catch from cats.

What Cat Fight Wounds Look Like

Straight after a bad cat fight, your cat might look freaked out but not have any obvious injuries. However, if you look closely you might see:

  • Crusty matted hair from cat saliva
  • Small scabs on the skin surface
  • Scratches on visible areas like ears and nose
  • Hair caught in your cat’s nails

These cats need treatment to avoid their injuries becoming badly infected. Never has the saying been truer: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. After a day or two without treatment:

  • Cats become quiet, feverish and stop eating
  • Painful areas develop on the body
  • An abscess forms and now you really need a vet

I know from bitter experience how much it hurts.

How To Treat Cat Fight Wounds

The most important thing to know about cat fight wounds is that here are two ways to treat them.

  1. A quick and easy trip to the vet. When you first notice your cat has been injured, most of the time just pain relief and antibiotics will fix them.
  2. A late and complicated trip to the vet. Once an abscess forms, it needs lancing and flushing, and sometimes a drain inserted. This must be done under deep sedation or anaesthesia. If you just leave an abscess, healing is very slow. Eventually, the skin over its surface can die and create a gigantic hole that requires reconstructive surgery.

Of course, not every cat fight wound is detectable so even good cat owners will get caught out at times by an abscess.

What To Do After Cat Fights

Here’s what we strongly advise you do after your cat has been in a fight

  • Update or start FIV vaccination for at-risk cats
  • If not previously vaccinated, get an FIV test in 6 weeks
  • Keep cats in after dark
  • Keep cats inside completely if fights happen during the day

If you’re thinking about this path, read our guide to keeping indoor cats happy.

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.

K5 Rabbit Calicivirus

rabbit calicivirus vaccination

UPDATE 2018

  • It now seems clear that the K5 release was not very significant to pet rabbits (as we predicted!)
  • There is more evidence that the current Cylap vaccine is effective. A further study (reference below) has demonstrated 100% protection in a small group of rabbits experimentally exposed to K5 virus.

In early March 2017, the new K5 strain of calicivirus is planned to be released at 600 sites across Australia and 45 in South Australia. Here’s what pet rabbit owners need to know.

Continue reading “K5 Rabbit Calicivirus”