Feline Respiratory Disease (Cat Flu)

tired looking catFeline respiratory disease (also referred to as cat flu), is a common disease seen in unvaccinated cats. It can affect cats of all ages but tends to be particularly severe in kittens and purebred cats. Cat flu is highly contagious and can spread from one feline friend to another via eye, nasal or mouth discharge. Contaminated food or water bowls can also be a source of the spread of disease.

There are several viruses responsible for cat flu. Most have a targetted vaccination. However, the majority of cases will be caused by one of two viruses, Feline Herpes Virus 1 (FHV-1) and Feline Calicivirus (FCV).

What are the signs of cat flu?

The clinical signs of cat flu are similar to colds and flu in people. Symptoms include:

  • sneezing
  • coughing
  • runny eyes
  • nasal discharge
  • loss of appetite
  • tongue ulcers

Some infected cats don’t show any clinical signs and are known as ‘carrier cats’. A carrier is only infectious to other cats when they are shedding the virus, which may be continuous or intermittent. If the carrier is stressed, shedding of the virus will be increased. Nothing can be done to change the carrier status of cats. All cats that have had cat flu should be considered potential carriers.

How is cat flu diagnosed?

Diagnosis is usually based on the clinical signs and physical examination of the feline. Occasionally, a swab may be taken from the cat’s mouth for viral culture and sent off to a laboratory for identification and confirmation.

How is cat flu treated?

The treatment of cat flu can vary depending on the cause. Treatment is usually only symptomatic relief that includes keeping the nose and eyes clear and clean.

Antibiotics are often used to control secondary bacterial infections, and mucolytics are given to reduce the thickness of secretions and help cats breathe easier. Dehydration can occur as the disease worsens, so it is important to encourage eating and drinking.

Hospitalisation, close monitoring and intravenous fluids may be required for severely unwell cats.

How is cat flu prevented?

Prevention can be achieved in most households by vaccination. As there are many different strains of the virus, vaccination may not prevent your cat from becoming infected, but will markedly reduce the severity of the disease. Even cats that have contracted cat flu should be vaccinated, as they have probably only been infected by one of the viruses so they are likely still susceptible to becoming infected with other strains.

In multi-cat households and boarding facilities, vaccination alone may not control the disease. Disinfection is important. Clinically ill or ‘carrier cats’ should be isolated and fed and handled last, and their bowls and litter-trays cleaned frequently.

For more information on cat flu and the prevention of this disease, please contact your local Greencross Vets team.