March 18, 2012
Dr. April ShattuckSneezing, nasal congestion, runny eyes, coughing and a sore throat. These are all common symptoms in cats with upper respiratory infections, but in this instance, I’m actually describing my own. This past week has been brutal, thanks to my kids for sharing their bugs, and has given me a new found respect for my feline patients battling “colds.” Respiratory infections in people and cats are similar in that most begin with a virus. In people, the rhinovirus is usually the culprit, while in cats, two viruses are common: feline herpesvirus (FHV) and feline calicivirus (FCV). The viruses themselves cannot be treated and generally last about a week to 10 days. Infections will last longer when secondary bacterial infections develop or in some cats that develop chronic disease.Feline herpes virus, also called feline viral rhinotracheitis, is related to the viruses that cause cold sores and chicken pox in people. Rest assured, however, people cannot contract the feline herpesvirus. Cats will exhibit sneezing and discharge from the nose, as well as runny, inflamed eyes. The cornea, or surface of the eyes, may develop ulcers. These ulcers range in size and can lead to loss of the eye. Feline calicivirus infections show similar symptoms to that of FHV, but in addition, may also cause ulcers of the tongue and stomatitis (severe inflammation of the gums). Due to the pain, these cats refuse to eat, have a foul odor to their mouth and drool excessively. A severe form of FCV has been found that can cause pneumonia and multiple organ failure, leading to death in up to 67 percent of infected cats.Treatment of upper respiratory infections is purely supportive while the cats’ immune system fights off the virus. Oral antibiotics and eye ointments may be needed to treat secondary infections. Keep the eyes and nose clean of secretions using a wet, warm washcloth. Cats prefer to smell their food, so offer a stinky, tasty canned food to encourage eating. Canned food will also be tolerated better in cats with tongue ulcers and stomatitis. In some instances, your veterinarian may prescribe pain relief. One of the most important aspects of treatment is to keep an infected cat separated from other cats. FHV and FCV are both highly contagious and can live on surfaces for days to weeks in the right environment. Vaccinated cats are still at risk, so don’t take any chances for spread of the disease. Provide a warm, well-ventilated room indoors. Use anti-viral soaps or hand sanitizers after handling the cat, and wipe surfaces with a 1:32 dilution of household bleach in water. Infected cats should be quarantined for at least 14 days or longer if symptoms are not resolved. The most frustrating part of cats with upper respiratory infections, especially of those with feline herpesvirus, is they can be recurrent. The virus will lie dormant in the cat’s system and resurface at times of stress. There is no consistently effective therapy to help , but medications such as Lysine (Enisyl), alpha interferon and immunotherapy have been shown to be helpful in some cases. Daily vitamins may also be helpful in keeping the cats’ immune system strong. All cats should be tested for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) since these viruses will complicate therapy and impact prognosis.In some severe acute respiratory infections, the turbinate bones in the nasal passages are destroyed, leading to chronic sinusitis. Any debris or bacteria in the nasal passage will cause irritation and infection. Chronic sinusitis cats will have bouts of sneezing and nasal discharge for months to years. Routine vaccination against FHV and FCV can prevent development of severe disease, but it does not always prevent infection. Vaccinations should be started no sooner than 6 weeks, with boosters every three to four weeks until 16 weeks of age. Older kittens and adult cats with an unknown vaccination history should be given two vaccination doses three to four weeks apart. Current American Association of Feline Practitioners recommendations are to provide a booster one year later and then every three years. My recommendation is that each cat owner speaks with his veterinarian, discussing lifestyle and risk of exposure, to determine the best option in vaccinating their pet. Unfortunately, there are no vaccinations against the “common cold” for us humans. In the meantime, I’ll tough out my symptoms and continue with my own research project — Child-Safe Germ Repellent.Dr. April Shattuck is a 2004 graduate from the Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine practicing in small animal medicine and surgery. She works part time for the Delphos Animal Hospital, and enjoys spending her free time with her daughters, Taylor and Payton, when they aren’t getting her sick. Any comments or questions may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.