What is cat flu? What causes it? What are the symptoms of the flu in cats? How can cat flu be treated? Is there a way to prevent it? We answer all your questions about the flu in cats.
What is the flu in cats? Symptoms of cat flu
Cat flu is like a human cold: it can cause a runny nose and a sore throat. Other symptoms include muscle and joint pain, mouth ulcers, dribbling, sneezing, loss of voice, and fever. All cats with cat flu symptoms should see the vet.
Is the flu in cats serious?
Cat flu is usually not serious in adult cats , although they can be quite sick.
However, it can be serious, even fatal, in kittens and adult cats with other serious underlying diseases. There are occasional cases of a serious form, especially in the US. But luckily this is still rare.
The common concern is the risk of lasting damage to the eye, even in animals that otherwise appear mildly affected. Eye ulcers often appear with cat flu, particularly in kittens, and can progress causing serious damage and even loss of an eye. If your cat or kitten has a sore or partially closed eye, seek immediate veterinary attention.
What Causes Cat Flu?
The flu in cats is usually caused by a virus, or sometimes by certain types of bacteria . Once infected, cats shed virus particles in their nasal and eye discharges, in addition to saliva.
Although sick cats are the major source of infection, some healthy cats carry the viruses. Carriers do not suffer from the disease, but they can also shed virus particles and infect other cats.
Cat flu particles can survive for up to a week in the environment, so one cat doesn’t even need to know another to contract the disease. It can be easily spread by contact with infected containers or toys, or on people’s clothing after touching an infected cat.
Diagnosis of feline flu can be made by taking swabs and looking for the virus, but in most house cats this is not necessary as there is no specific treatment.
Flu treatment in cats
There are no effective antiviral drugs in common use . Antibiotics can help because, like human flu, once the virus has damaged the delicate lining of the nose and airways, bacterial infections can enter and cause complications, such as pneumonia.
Taking care of your cat at home is important. Nasal ulcers can prevent a cat from eating and drinking, leading to dehydration in cats , which can be particularly dangerous in kittens.
Because your cat may have lost his sense of smell and have a sore throat, strong-smelling foods should be offered. Suggestions include sardines, chicken, or one of the valid diets available from veterinarians.
Mixing water with any normal food is a good idea too. Cats that cannot eat may need to be hospitalized for treatment.
Encourage your cat to drink , as fluids help loosen nasal secretions. Clean discharges from the nose and eyes regularly with salt water (one teaspoon of salt in one liter of water). Steam inhalations help loosen the cold, so let the cat be in the bathroom when you bathe or shower.
Are there long-term consequences of cat flu?
After infection, many cats remain carriers, meaning that they do not have any symptoms but are potentially infectious to others . The existence of carriers may be the reason why a kitten develops the flu when presented to a family of apparently healthy cats.
Some carrier cats occasionally have runny eyes or noses for a few days. Other cats are more unfortunate and after having had feline flu they suffer from chronic rhinitis. This happens because the delicate nasal lining has been damaged, allowing for repeated bacterial infections for which antibiotics can provide only temporary relief.
Influenza viruses, especially caliciviruses, are thought to contribute to long-term inflammation and pain in the mouth or gingivitis. However, this is a complicated condition, which is often difficult to cure, and calicivirus may not be the only cause. Long-term drug treatment is often needed for control, and in some cases tooth extraction may be necessary .
Can flu in cats be prevented?
There are many different varieties of the feline flu virus, and as with human flu, the vaccine is not effective against all of them. Two doses of vaccine are needed initially , followed by regular boosters . You should consult your vet for more details.
It is particularly important to remember that your cat will need to be fully up-to-date on vaccinations if he is going to have contact with other cats.
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