Cats can suffer from a number of serious and frequently fatal diseases. There is no cure for most of these so vaccination is vital.
Feline Parvovirus (FPV) also known as feline enteritis or Panleukopaenia
Symptoms of FPV are; severe vomiting, diarrhoea and dehydration. FPV also attacks the immune system and further reduces the ability of the body to fight the disease so it is usually fatal. It is spread on faeces, contaminated feeding bowls, litter trays and from home to home on clothing. Adult cats are relatively resistant but kittens from pet shops, breeders and rescue centres are particularly at risk. Fortunately FPV is now infrequent due to effective vaccination but outbreaks still occur.
There are two main causes of cat flu; feline herpes virus (FHV) and calici virus (FCV). FHV causes the classical cold like symptoms of cat flu while FCH causes milder symptoms with ulceration of the mouth. Both can be transmitted by sneezing and direct contact. Although cat flu is rarely fatal, except in very young kittens, symptoms are very distressing and most infected cats become carriers, suffering intermittently for the rest of their lives also being a constant risk to non-vaccinated cats. A more virulent form of FCV has recently emerged and, although as yet uncommon, is usually fatal.
Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV)
FeLV is very serious and ultimately inevitably fatal. It attacks the immune system and causes immunosuppressive disease so sufferers fail to recover from other normally treatable concurrent disease. Leukaemia itself is actually a fairly infrequent symptom of FeLV but anaemia and tumours are common. It is spread by exchange of bodily fluids through grooming, sharing of litter trays and feeding bowls, and mating. Although due to vaccination FeLV is less common than it used to be, it is the most frequent cause of death by infectious disease in cats.
Previously know as Chlamydia, in cats this is not a sexually transmitted disease but causes a severe conjunctivitis, which normally starts in one eye but rapidly spreads to affect both eyes, sometimes along with mild flu symptoms. It is spread through droplets and direct contact. In multi-cat populations vaccinated against flu viruses, Chlamydophila is actually now the most common upper respiratory disease and all in-contact cats are likely to be infected and suffer periodic flare-ups as they re-infect each other.
Surprisingly not all vets vaccinate against Chlamydophila but we consider it as an important component. It is now recognised that, unlike the flu viruses, Chlamydophila doesn't develop into a true carrier state, although cats can become chronically infected but correctly diagnosed can be cured with long term antibiotic therapy. In multi-cat households it is advisable to treat all cats simultaneously. Eye ointment alone is relatively ineffective in treatment.
Bordatellosis (Kennel Cough)
This is probably more common than generally realised but is not usually routinely vaccinated against although it is known to be a problem in catteries, multi-cat households and households with dogs and cats living together. Symptoms are more likely to be coughing rather than classical flu. Bordatellosis can be treated with antibiotics.
Of course this is not an exhaustive list of cat diseases and there are many other infections your cat could contract but although there are currently no vaccines available against them in the UK, it is worth mentioning two in particular; Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Peritonitis Virus (FIP):
FIV is the true cat AIDS virus but it must be emphasised that it cannot be passed to man. We believe that FIV is exclusively transmitted by cat bites so cats that fight, expecially un-neutered tom cats, are more at risk. There is no cure so prevention is essential and having cats neutered and keeping them in at night, so they are less likely to fight, are important methods of control.
FIP causes a fatal wasting disease, sometimes with actual clinical peritonitis, and is a mutation of the much less serious feline coronovirus which is a common cause of diarrhoea, especially in kittens. It is not certain what causes the disease to become life threatening but stress in kittens and young cats is an important trigger. Maintaining good hygeine and reducing stress, especially in multi-cat households, can reduce the likelihood of this disease developing.
Recent innovative treatment with Interferons has been successful in alleviating some of the feline viral infections but there is still no substitute for vaccination.
Veterinary surgeon Martin Atkinson is at the forefront of the use of Interferons in the treatment of viral disease in cats in the UK and is a leading authority on this subject. Mr Atkinson has written several papers and lectured on feline infectious disease.
St Martins Veterinary Clinic
126 Station Road
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Fax: 01895 431520
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