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  1. cats health and wellness

Infectious Diseases in Cats

Posted by Dr. Roth on March 29, 2022

Medical Advice
Wellness Care
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Cats can transmit a wide range of infections and diseases to each other. Here's what pet parents need to know. 

Herpes Virus Infection (FHV)

One of the leading causes of upper respiratory infections in cats, FHV, is highly contagious and transmitted through direct contact with the bodily secretions of infected animals and contact with infected objects such as bedding and food and water dishes. Symptoms include: 

  • Sneezing

  • Coughing

  • Nasal and eye discharge

  • Lethargy

  • Fever

  • Loss of appetite

Cats living in group settings and allowed outdoors to mingle with neighborhood cats are at higher risk of catching FHV. Vaccinations are available and should start when kittens are eight weeks old.

Pet parents in multi-cat homes should isolate any animals exhibiting symptoms of FHV. Treatments include oral and topical antiviral medications. 

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

Two to three percent of all U.S. cats become infected with the Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV). The virus is transmitted via bodily secretions such as saliva, urine, feces, milk, and nasal discharge. Cats most at risk of developing FeLV include those who share living spaces with infected cats or cats of unknown infection status, cats allowed to roam outdoors with no supervision, and the kittens of infected mothers. 

FeLV is a progressive condition. Initially, infected cats may show little or no symptoms. As the animal's health deteriorates, there may be:

  • Loss of appetite and consequential weight loss

  • Fever

  • Pale gums

  • Poor coat quality

  • Enlarged lymph nodes

Although no cure exists for FeLV, some treatments may reduce the virus in the bloodstream. Pet parents are encouraged to take a proactive approach by getting their cats vaccinated against FeLV, but because the vaccination isn't 100% effective, preventive measures such as routine testing and keeping cats away from infected animals are also necessary. 

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is an immune system virus that leaves the animal at greater risk of developing a wide range of secondary conditions. Infected cats may show no symptoms for years, but as they age, they become progressively vulnerable to bacteria, other viruses, fungal pathogens, and protozoa that may be relatively harmless to healthy cats. FIV is typically transmitted through the bite of infected cats. Male cats that have not been neutered and can roam outdoors have the greatest risk of infection. 

Cats diagnosed with FIV can live relatively long and normal lives with proper care. They should be kept indoors, spayed or neutered, and not fed uncooked or unpasteurized foods. Cats with FIV can live in multi-cat households, but pet parents must ensure the cats do not fight to avoid deep bites that can transmit the disease. Pet parents should schedule visits with their veterinarian every six months for their FIV-positive cats and keep them separated from any other cats that appear sick.

Feline Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)

Feline URIs are similar to the common human cold. Symptoms include:

  • Congestion

  • Sneezing

  • Coughing

  • Eye and nasal discharge

  • General discomfort

This is a highly contagious condition transmitted through eye and nose secretions and direct contact with infected animals, water and food bowls, bedding, litter boxes, and other infected objects. 

Healthy cats can usually bounce back from a URI within a week to 10 days, but those with underlying conditions such as FIV or FeLV may become severely ill. Signs of severe URI include difficulty breathing, mouth ulcers, and enlarged lymph nodes. Treatments vary depending on symptoms and include eye medications, humidifiers, and nose drops. Vets may prescribe broad-spectrum antibacterial drugs to prevent secondary infections.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)

Feline Infectious Peritonitis results from a mutated strain of feline coronavirus. The cat's white blood cells become infected, and their immune system has an inflammatory response, resulting in FIP in about 10% of infected cats. Coronaviruses are transmitted via bodily secretions, most commonly feces. Those most at risk are cats in multi-cat households or outdoor cats.

Unfortunately, this condition is almost always fatal. Diagnosing the disease is difficult, but treatments include antiviral medications and immunosuppressive drugs. There is no vaccination for FIP. Pet parents are advised to keep their cats indoors and have separate litter boxes and food and water bowls for each cat.

Contact Fuzzy for More Information

Pet parents with concerns about infectious diseases in cats or other pet care questions can reach out to Fuzzy 24/7 to speak with a veterinary. 

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