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Feline Viral Respiratory Disease Complex

Acute Viral Respiratory Infection continued...

Further signs depend on the particular respiratory virus in question. A cat with herpesvirus develops a spastic cough. If the surface of the eye is severely inflamed, the cat may develop keratitis or corneal ulcerations.

In a cat with calicivirus, you may see ulceration of the mucous membranes of the mouth (stomatitis). This is particularly disabling, because the cat loses his taste for food and refuses to eat and drink. Drooling is common. Shortness of breath and viral pneumonia can occur. Secondary bacterial infection, dehydration, starvation, and rapid weight loss are all complications that can lead to death.

A diagnosis can be suspected from the clinical signs. It can be confirmed by isolating the virus from the throat or by specific serologic blood tests. Because these diseases are highly contagious, these tests are most important when the disease involves a cattery, a shelter, or a multicat household.

Treatment: Cats suspected of having acute viral respiratory infection should be strictly isolated for three to four weeks so as not to infect others. It is important to disinfect any bedding, bowls, cages, or other items the sick cat has come into contact with by washing them thoroughly with a dilute solution of bleach and water. Human caretakers should change their clothing, wear disposable shoe covers, and wash their hands frequently.

For the patient, rest and proper humidification of the atmosphere are important. Confine your cat in a warm room and use a home vaporizer. A cool steam vaporizer offers some advantage over a warm vaporizer because it is less likely to cause additional breathing problems. At the very minimum, keeping the cat in the bathroom while you shower will help.

Clean secretions from the eyes, nose, and mouth with moist cotton balls as often as needed.

Chronic Carrier State

Almost all the cats who have been infected with FVR will become chronic carriers. FVR lives and multiplies in the cells lining the throat. During periods of stress (such as illness, anesthesia, surgery, lactation, medication with steroids, or even emotional stresses), the cat’s immunity breaks down and the virus is shed in mouth secretions. At this time, the cat may exhibit signs of a mild upper respiratory illness.

Prevention: The most effective step by far is to vaccinate all cats, but even then, control is not 100 percent. Vaccination will not eliminate the chronic carrier states.

WebMD Veterinary Reference from "Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook"

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