Cat ﬂu is a common disease in kittens and unvaccinated adult cats
Cat ‘flu’ is caused by a combination of viruses affecting the eyes, mouth, nasal passages and throat in cats. None of the viruses are actually influenza, so it is a badly named condition.
The main viruses involved are Feline Herpes Virus and Feline Calici Virus. Many kittens become infected with herpes in the first few days after they are born, picking up the infection from their mother. Once they become infected they will always harbor the infection (just like a person harbors a cold sore virus).
Because of the wide prevalence of these viruses among the feline population, it is extremely important to vaccinate young kittens against them. Once infected, cats and kittens display many of the classic symptoms of the flu, namely fever, sneezing and loss of appetite. In addition, severe blisters of the mouth and painful inflamed eyes are common. There is then also a risk of secondary bacterial infection, which could lead to pneumonia.
While most infected cats will recover within seven days or so, severe cases can take much longer. Unlucky individuals could be left with permanent respiratory complications and damaged eyes.
If you notice any of the above symptoms, it is important that you bring your kitten to a veterinarian immediately. The disease can be very severe or even fatal if left untreated.
Depending on severity of symptoms your veterinarian will offer inpatient or outpatient treatment. Some cases require hospitalization, IV fluid therapy or even an X-ray of the chest to assess the lungs and check for pneumonia.
In every case antibiotic therapy is necessary to fight secondary bacterial infection. In case of fever or painful oral ulcers your veterinarian will prescribe antiinflammatory and pain relief drugs. Eye drops are often used to treat infected eyes.
The kitten’s face needs to be cleaned daily to remove ocular and nasal discharge. Due to blisters and ulcers in mouth, cats often refuse to eat, they can also hypersalivate. Feeding soft food mixed with water helps. Sometimes it’s necessary to force feed patients with a syringe until they start eating on their own. If your sick kitten is dehydrated the vet will offer to replace fluids in its body by subcutaneous fluid administration or IV fluid therapy. If your kitten is treated as an outpatient provide a quiet and secure place at home. It can be a separate room, bathroom or even a box. Make sure the kitten is warm. Little weak body can get hypothermic very easily. Place some bottles or latex gloves with warm water (not too hot!) under a towel or blanket when kitten sleeps.
When you introduce a new kitten into your household do not mix it with other animals for two weeks. New family member might carry cat flu viruses and pass it into healthy cats at home. It most likely carries internal and external parasites, so make sure you deworm and deflea the kitten as the first thing. Also, meeting other animals might be too stressful for a weak or sick little one. Just give it time.
How to Prevent Cat Flu?
Vaccinate! Vaccination is an easy, inexpensive way to prevent diseases like cat flu, panleukopenia and chlamydophila all in one shot. The patient needs to be in good health and at least eight weeks old to be vaccinated. If your kitten is weak and has big parasite burden, the vet will run necessary therapy first and vaccinate when it is healthy enough. Usually it is done five days after the first deworming. It’s recommended to vaccinate kittens three times for feline diseases and two times for rabies. Vaccination schedule is as follow:
- 8 weeks – 1st vaccine (core vaccine: cat flu (herpes, calici-virus), panleukopenia (parvo-virus), +/- Chlamydophila)
- 10 weeks – 2nd vaccine
- 12 weeks – 3rd vaccine + 1st Rabies vaccine
- 6 months – 2nd Rabies vaccine.