One of the most serious and common cat health issues is feline flu. This respiratory infection is very contagious and occurs in areas where there are large cat populations, for example animal shelters or feral colonies.
Even if a cat has been inoculated, it can still contract the disease. Kittens, old cats, and cats with immune viruses or feline leukemia are more susceptible.
Often, cat flu is fatal. However, many survive the infection and eventually make a full recovery. When a cat has had this disease, it will carry it in its system for life. The flu is caused by certain feline viruses but bacteria can also bring on the symptoms and cause a secondary infection which can lead to pneumonia.
One particular virus, called calicivirus, is the cause of mild cat flu, although it is still unpleasant. Cats are more likely to survive this strain than the more severe type. Symptoms of calicivirus include runny eyes and nose, lethargy, fever, limping, joint pain, mouth or tongue ulcers, gum inflammation, ulcerated paw pads, or lip ulcers.
Another virus, called feline herpes virus, causes a more dangerous strain of cat flu that can result in fatalities. The symptoms of this virus are conjunctivitis (a pus-like discharge from the eyes and inflammation), rhinitis (discharge from the nasal passages and sneezing), loss of appetite, lethargy, fever, corneal ulcers, and dehydration.
These viruses spread rapidly from cat to cat. The virus lives in body fluids, particularly in the saliva and discharge from the nose and eyes. Therefore, the flu can be spread by direct or indirect contact. It can contaminate litter boxes, food bowls, and bedding.
As already mentioned, a cat that has survived a bout of flu is still a carrier of the virus. As such, it can infect other cats. Even though the carrier cat is healthy, the virus is spread through body fluids especially when the cat is stressed.
Sometimes, the carrier will show symptoms of flu but these are not usually as bad as the first bout. When diagnosing cat flu, a vet will identify the symptoms and take a culture from the cat's mouth to determine the type of virus. Because there is no cure at present, treatment comprises of supportive means.
Usually, a vet will prescribe antibiotics to avoid a secondary infection occurring. Anti-viral eye-drops or a virus inhibitor for use by humans have proved to be helpful in relieving the symptoms.
The owner is advised to keep the cat warm and encourage him or her to eat and drink.
The crust-like discharge from the eyes and nose can be gently wiped off. In very severe cases, the cat may be hospitalized and given IV fluids. It is essential to isolate the cat from other cats to eliminate the chance of the virus spreading.
When nursing a cat with feline flu, the caregiver should wash his or her hands thoroughly after touching the cat. It is much easier to prevent cat flu than treating it. Every cat should have necessary vaccinations to reduce the risk contracting the virus as well as vaccinations for other cat health issues.