Feline calicivirus (FCV) is the primary cause of upper respiratory infections in cats. There are at least 40 strains of the virus, and though they vary in severity, any cat can be affected. The virus spreads easily in multi-cat environments such as boarding facilities, shelters, breeding catteries, and multi-cat homes. While FCV is most commonly associated with upper respiratory infections, it can also cause other illnesses, and in severe cases, it can be fatal.
Fortunately, there are ways to protect your cat from the virus, including a vaccine that can be started in kittenhood. Read on to learn everything you need to know about protecting your cat from the feline calicivirus.
Causes of Feline Calicivirus
The feline calicivirus is highly contagious and easily spread between cats. Affected cats shed viral particles in skin, fur, eye, nose, and mouth secretions, and urine and feces.
In addition, a cat can become infected after coming into contact with a contaminated environment or object, such as a food bowl, bedding, or human clothing/human skin. That’s right -- humans can touch an affected cat and then spread the virus to other cats. Humans, however, cannot become infected.
The feline calicivirus can survive for a week or longer in a contaminated environment, and it is resistant to disinfectants.
While all cats are susceptible, unvaccinated cats, cats with compromised immune systems, and kittens are at the highest risk.
Most cats carry and shed the virus for 2-3 weeks. After that time they may shed the virus completely or continue to be carriers of the disease without showing any symptoms. Some cats will remain carriers for several months while others will carry the virus for life.
Symptoms of Feline Calicivirus
The symptoms of FCV will depend on the strain of the virus causing the infection. Usually, cats develop symptoms 2 to 6 days after coming into contact with the virus. Common symptoms include:
- Respiratory symptoms (sneezing, congestion, difficulty breathing, nasal and ocular discharge, conjunctivitis)
- Oral or nasal ulcers
- Loss of appetite
- Hair loss
- Swelling in the face and limbs
- Organ damage
Treatment for Feline Calicivirus
FCV is commonly diagnosed on the basis of clinical signs, however a definitive diagnosis may be necessary if you wish to breed an affected cat or if the cat is not responding to treatment. A definitive diagnosis is reached after collecting and analyzing samples from the eyes, nose, or mouth. In addition, your veterinarian may perform certain tests to rule out other medical conditions that could be causing similar symptoms.
If your cat does have the virus, treatment will depend on the severity of the infection. Some treatment options include:
- In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary to reverse dehydration with fluid therapy and provide nutritional support to cats who are not eating
- Steam therapy or nebulization may be required for cats with severe nasal congestion
- Many cats will be prescribed broad spectrum antibiotics to prevent the formation of secondary bacterial infections, which are common complications of FCV infections
- Anti-inflammatory medications and painkillers may be prescribed to manage lameness and swelling
- Anti-inflammatory/immunosuppressive drugs may be prescribed for ulcers
- Eye medications may be prescribed to control eye discharge
- Cats can be encouraged to eat by warming up their food or switching to an appetizing canned food. In some cases, an appetite stimulant may be required.
Feline Calicivirus Prevention
The number one way to protect your cat from FCV is with a vaccination. The feline calicivirus vaccine is one of the four core vaccines recommended by veterinarians, and it can be started on kittens as young as 6 weeks old. After the initial vaccine, cats will receive vaccine boosters every 1 to 3 years to keep it effective.
You can also protect your cat by limiting the amount of time they spend with unfamiliar cats and by washing your hands after coming into contact with other cats. Objects that you fear may be contaminated can be soaked in a bleach and water solution to remove infectious agents.
Female carries of the virus should not be bred as they can pass the virus on to their newborn kittens.
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