When I was young, like all kids, I wanted to know why everything happened. Having vets as parents, I can distinctly remember asking why male cats needed to be desexed.
“It’s because otherwise they fight so much that they get run down and die early.”
With the benefit of hindsight, this is pure folk wisdom. People could see that fighting was associated with sickness, but not yet why. Then, in 1986, hot on the heels of the discovery of the human AIDS virus, researchers in the USA put two and two together and found a feline AIDS virus in cats like these. We call it FIV.
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:
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
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
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.