Cat flu is a highly contagious viral disease, caused by Herpes Virus or Chlamydia (not the same as human or koala Chlamydia), or by Calicivirus, (not same as “Khaleesi”, Mother of Dragons!). Cats pick up the flu by direct contact with a virus shedding cat, aerosolised virus in the air, contaminated food bowls and equipment. Very young or old cats, immunosuppressed patients and cats that have not been vaccinated are the most susceptible.
When cats get the flu they feel exactly like we do. Sneezing, coughing, runny nose, weepy eyes and feverish.
They feel absolutely horrible; they have no appetite and are very flat. Cats with Herpes virus have conjunctivitis which can lead to eye ulcers and Calicivirus causes mouth ulcers. Both are very painful and nasty.
There is a lot of media interest and knowledge in the community about NOT expecting human GP’s to prescribe antibiotics for human flu. Antibiotics do not treat virus infections. However in cats, the viruses cause damage to the lining of the respiratory system and secondary infections start quickly, thus Veterinary GP’s will prescribe antibiotics to treat those infections.
At home, lots of TLC is required. Warmth is essential, fluids given gently by syringe, and heated, smelly food. Wipe blocked nostrils and eyes with non-scented, non-alcohol baby wipes. Providing a warm steamy environment daily, which opens and moistens the airways shifting mucous build-up, is very helpful. Put Kitty in a cat cage in the bathroom when you are showering or use a Vaporiser near the cat cage. Most importantly, keep your cat away from other cats. With this disease, sharing is not caring.
Unfortunately, in one third of cats, the flu virus may turn into a latent virus and stay in their system. They become carriers for life that can shed the virus into the environment without showing flu symptoms. Any stressful situation such as change in weather, disruption in daily routine, travel or when their immune system is suppressed, causes the virus to reactivate and they get clinically sick again. Carrier cats should have everything done to minimise their stress episodes. Using pheromone diffusers, not being left in catteries, no changes in the home environment etc.
Lysine powder daily can help prevent the reactivation of the Herpes Virus component. Vaccination with a Killed Vaccine (impossible to cause disease) is the key in preventing your cat from catching the flu. Even if they have had the flu before, vaccination helps to reduce shedding and the severity of the disease.