Kittens are as prone to viral disease as puppies. Vaccinations are essential to protect your pet cat against the following diseases:
Cat flu viruses (Calicivirus and Herpes virus) cause runny eyes and sneezing. They are very easily transferable to all cats in a household and neighboring cats, as infected cats become carriers.
Despite widespread vaccination, cat flu is a common disease in cats of all ages. But it tends to be particularly severe in young and old cats.
Indicators of cat flu are similar to those of colds and flu in people. Depending on the flu type, the major signs are inflammation of the lining around the eye (conjunctivitis) and nose (rhinitis). This causes a clear discharge from the nose and eyes, which becomes thickened and purulent as the disease progresses due to secondary bacterial infection. Cats tend to be dull and depressed with a raised temperature and sneezing, and are reluctant to eat. Coughing is also a feature in some cases. Rarely, the virus will cause skin lesions and invade the lungs, causing pneumonia.
Without treatment, symptoms usually resolve in 2-3 weeks but some cats are left with a chronic, intermittent nasal discharge or eye disease. In multi-cat households, vaccination alone may not be sufficient to control the problem. In these households, isolation and quarantine is also required. Disinfection, while an important part of disease control generally, is of limited value in respiratory virus control, as most cats become infected by aerosol droplets sneezed or coughed out by infected cats.
Nothing can be done to change the carrier status of your cat. It’s therefore important that your cat doesn’t come into contact with particularly susceptible cats (unvaccinated cats, kittens, old cats, cats with other diseases, or cats receiving immunosuppressive treatments). All cats that have had FHV-1 infection should be assumed to be carriers.
Feline Infectious Enteritis (FIE), also known as Feline Panleukopenia, Feline Parvovirus (FPV) and Feline Distemper, is an extremely serious, highly contagious viral disease that’s similar to the human HIV virus. It results in immunosuppression, dental disease, non-healing infected wounds and eventual death.
Unvaccinated cats can easily be infected by stray cats – one scratch can be enough. Symptoms usually appear within 10 days after infection and can then lead to death within 3 to 5 days. The disease is spread through contact with an infected cat, its bowls/trays/toys and can also be carried by humans on their clothes and footwear, which has had contact with the infected cat, its bowls/ trays/toys or a living area that may be contaminated with the disease.
The main symptoms of Feline Infectious Enteritis are high fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, depression, low appetite, abdominal pain and severe dehydration, which can lead to death. The virus can enter the bloodstream, travel to the bone marrow and lymph glands, leading to a decrease in white blood cells and causing septicaemia, which is fatal.
Kittens are highly vulnerable to Feline Infectious Enteritis, as their immune systems are underdeveloped and they most often die. Intensive veterinary treatment can be given to adult cats, consisting of rehydration, antibiotics, blood transfusions and vitamin supplements. Any infected cat must be placed in strict isolation and protective clothing must be worn, hands washed thoroughly after handling, etc to avoid the spread of the disease.
Feline Leukaemia virus (FeLV) is a significant viral cat infection, the effects of which are similar to Feline Infectious Enteritis. Fortunately, with very good vaccines available against FeLV, the disease is now much less commonly encountered in the UK.
Infection is most common in stray cats and colonies of cats where there is close contact between individuals. As its name implies, FeLV is able to cause neoplasia (cancer) of the white blood cells (leukaemia). But in addition, the virus may also cause the development of solid tumours (lymphomas) at various sites in the body. FeLV also commonly causes anaemia by destroying red blood cells in the circulation, or by causing diseases within the bone marrow.
In many cats, FeLV infection results in a profound suppression of the immune system, leading to increased susceptibility to a wide range of secondary infections that would not cause a problem in normal healthy cats. A variety of clinical signs of chronic and/or recurrent disease develop in these cats, and there may be a progressive deterioration in their condition over time.
The virus is fragile and cannot survive longer than a few hours outside the cat in the environment, so direct contact between cats is the way in which infection is transmitted. A cat that is permanently infected with FeLV sheds a large quantity of the virus in saliva, as well as other body secretions and excretions, such as urine and faeces. However, FeLV is not a highly contagious virus, and so it generally takes a prolonged period of close contact between cats, involving activities such as mutual grooming and sharing of litter trays and food bowls, for sufficient exposure to the virus to allow transmission to a susceptible cat.