Sure, your cat may impress when it comes to catching their favorite toy — an arching leap into a quick capture; but that’s not the only thing they can catch with ease. Unfortunately, with the thousands of cat viruses out there, he or she is liable to catch one.
Fortunately, knowing the symptoms of these five viruses, their causes, and how to best treat them can really make a difference when striving to keep your cat healthy and on their game. Here are 5 common viruses cats can catch.
1. Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or FIV is a virus that compromises and weakens a cat’s immune system, in turn putting the cat at risk of catching other potentially fatal infections.
The most common include fever, fatigue, weight loss, and skin and respiratory infections. Vomiting, diarrhea, oral infections, and hair loss could also be signs a cat has contracted FIV.
FIV is typically transmitted from one cat to another through deep bite wounds via saliva and blood. In rare cases though, it can be transmitted from mother cats to their kittens.
Since FIV is incurable, focus is placed on managing the condition through strengthening the immune system. Routine wellness visits every six months are essential, during which the veterinarian will gauge the strength of the cat’s immune system and possibly recommend antiviral medications, a change in diet, or supplements. You’ll need to be extremely proactive in treating new infections if they arise.
2. Feline Herpes (FVR)
Feline herpes or feline viral rhinopneumonitis (FVR) is a virus most cats come in contact with at some point during their lives. It is also one of the main causes of upper-respiratory infections in cats.
The most common include sneezing, nasal discharge and congestion, watery eyes, fever, and fatigue—all of which can last up to two weeks.
Feline herpes is often transmitted from an infected cat to another via bodily secretions, such as discharge from the eyes, nose, and mouth. Transmission rates are higher among cats who share litter boxes, water and food bowls, toys, and grooming tools. The virus can also be spread from a mother cat to her kitten during pregnancy.
Like FIV, feline herpes is incurable, so the focus is placed on managing the condition. Antibiotics or antiviral medications are often prescribed to keep the virus from replicating. Additional medications will be recommended to address the discharge symptoms and limit discomfort. Keep in mind, though, stress can trigger a flare-up; so you’ll want to reduce any stressors currently present at home.
3. Feline Leukemia (FeLV)
Feline leukemia is a blood virus that had initially been mistaken for cancer since it often attacks the bone marrow allowing cancers to take hold.
The most common include slow, consistent weight loss, deterioration of fur, chronic diarrhea, enlarged lymph nodes, and seizures. However, these symptoms may not appear until months or years after the initial infection.
Feline leukemia is highly contagious and transmitted from an infected cat to another via bodily secretions, such as saliva, phlegm, urine, and feces. Kittens born to infected mothers are extremely likely to contract the disease, especially during the nursing period.
Since feline leukemia is an incurable, terminal condition, treatment is focused on making the cat as comfortable as possible. Some veterinarians prescribe medications to extend the life of the cat, even though findings on the medications' effectiveness are inconclusive. Available treatments include ImmunoRegulin, Acemannan, Interferon Alpha, Lymphocyte T-Cell Immune Modulator, and Staph Protein A. It is important to find a veterinarian who will discuss in detail the options for treatment.
4. Feline Distemper (FPV)
Feline distemper or Feline Panleukopenia virus (FPV) is a highly contagious virus that targets the cells in the intestinal tract and bone marrow. It is rare that cats contract this virus since they are often vaccinated as kittens to protect against it. But in the unvaccinated cat population, it can be very widespread.
The most common include fever, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue. Since those symptoms are quite common in other ailments, you’ll want to check in with your veterinarian to properly diagnose the condition. Feline distemper can be life-threatening.
Feline distemper is caused by the feline parvovirus. It is transmitted from an infected cat to another through bodily fluids such as blood, urine, feces, or possibly even fleas. The virus can be passed from surface to surface, including toys, bedding, grooming equipment, and feeding bowls.
Once contracted, many cats will not survive feline distemper, even with hospitalization. However, it has been shown that antibiotics can be a lifesaver, combating the virus in the intestines, as well as most secondary infections that often result. Such treatment can prevent the condition from progressing. Luckily, cats who survive feline distemper are then immune to the disease for life.
5. Feline Calicivirus (FCV)
Feline calicivirus is a virus responsible for a number of upper respiratory, oral, and eye infections in cats. At least 40 different strains of the virus have been detected, all varying in severity.
The most common include sneezing, nasal congestion, discharge from the eyes and nose, as well as ulcers on the tongue, gums, lips, or nose, and excessive drooling. Fever, fatigue, and enlarged lymph nodes may also be present.
Feline calicivirus is highly contagious and is transmitted from one infected cat to another via bodily secretions, typically saliva, or eye and nose discharge, that hits the air during sneezing fits. It’s also thought to be spread through contact with urine and feces. The virus can live on objects such as a toy, feeding bowls, and bedding for up to a week. Even if a human touches these objects, they can spread the virus to a healthy cat.
When treating feline calicivirus, you’re actually treating the symptoms and secondary infections. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatories will likely be prescribed. The vet may also recommend supplements to strengthen the immune system. At home, the use of a humidifier can ease congestion, and increased fluids can help avoid possible dehydration.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know if my cat has a virus?
There are several signs that may indicate a cat has a viral infection, including fever, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes. Other symptoms can include loss of appetite, weight loss, and fatigue. If you suspect that your cat has a viral infection, it's important to take them to a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment. The veterinarian will perform a physical examination, take a history of the symptoms, and may conduct diagnostic tests such as a blood test or x-ray to help determine the cause of the illness.
What viruses are common in cats?
There are several viral infections that are common in cats. Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a virus that can suppress the immune system and cause a variety of health issues in cats, including anemia, cancer, and infections. Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is another virus that can weaken a cat's immune system, making them more susceptible to other illnesses. Feline herpesvirus (FHV) is a common cause of upper respiratory infections in cats and can lead to symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, and eye discharge. Feline calicivirus (FCV) is another common cause of upper respiratory infections in cats and can cause similar symptoms. Feline panleukopenia (FPL), also known as feline distemper, is a highly contagious virus that can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, and neurological symptoms in cats.
How long do viruses last in cats?
The duration of a viral infection in cats can vary depending on the specific virus, the cat's overall health, and whether the cat receives appropriate treatment. Some viral infections, such as feline herpesvirus, can remain dormant in the cat's body and periodically cause flare-ups of symptoms throughout the cat's life. Other viral infections, such as feline panleukopenia, can be acute and resolve within a few weeks with appropriate treatment. Some viral infections like Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) can cause chronic conditions that last for the lifetime of the cat. That’s why it's important to consult with a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan for a viral infection, as well as to monitor the cat's health and manage any chronic conditions.
How do you treat a virus in a cat?
The treatment of a viral infection in a cat will depend on the specific virus and the severity of the infection. In some cases, a viral infection may resolve on its own without treatment. In other cases, treatment may be necessary to manage symptoms and prevent complications. Treatment for viral infections in cats can include supportive care such as providing fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration, medications to control symptoms such as fever, coughing and sneezing, nutritional support to maintain the cat's appetite and strength, and antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections. In some cases, antiviral medication may be prescribed, but its effectiveness depends on the specific virus. Cat parents should note that there is no specific cure for most viral infections in cats, and the treatment usually focuses on managing the symptoms and preventing secondary infections. In cases of chronic viral infections like Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), the treatment will focus on maintaining the cat's quality of life and managing any complications as they arise. Therefore, it's necessary to consult with a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan for a viral infection, as well as to monitor the cat's health and manage any chronic conditions.
Do cat viruses go away on their own?
Some viral infections in cats may resolve on their own without treatment, while others may require medical intervention to manage symptoms and prevent complications. The severity of the infection and the overall health of the cat can also play a role in the course of the disease. For example, a young and healthy cat with a mild infection may be able to fight off the virus on their own, while an older or immunocompromised cat may require treatment to prevent serious complications. Some viral infections, such as Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), are chronic and cannot be cured, and in those cases, the treatment will focus on maintaining the cat's quality of life and managing any complications as they arise. In all cases, it's important to consult with a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan for a viral infection, as well as to monitor the cat's health and manage any chronic conditions.
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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.