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Feline Viral Infections

Cats are different from dogs in many ways. For veterinarians, one noticeable difference is the viral infections that cats can suffer from. In a previous article we discussed Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), a retroviral infection that attacks the immune system and can lead to cancer (lymphoma). Click here to read more about FeLV.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is similar to the virus that humans may suffer from, human immunodeficiency virus or HIV. There is no transmission between cats and humans and FIV can only infect cats. FIV can be diagnosed by a blood test. It is most common in outdoor cats, especially males that are prone to fighting. The virus is transmitted only by bite wounds or sexual contact. There is a vaccine, but this vaccine is typically only used in high-risk cases. The vaccine will cause a cat to test positive on blood tests, rendering the test useless. FIV attacks the cat’s immune system, making the patient unable to fight off the most common infections. Respiratory infections and infections or inflammation in the mouth are common manifestations of the disease. Antiviral drugs and immuno-stimulants can be used to help control the virus and prolong onset of clinical disease. However, just like in humans, FIV eventually leads to feline AIDS, where chronic infections and organ failure eventually result in the death of the cat.

Feline infectious peritonitis, or FIP, is a devastating disease that is caused by a coronavirus. Diagnosis of the disease can be difficult because many cats have been exposed to coronaviruses, causing a positive test result, but not necessarily the particular virus that causes FIP.

FIP is most common in outdoor cats or in catteries. There is a vaccine available, but it is not thought to be very effective and most veterinarians don’t advocate its use.

There are two forms of FIP. The most common is the wet form, which is called “wet” because of effusions into the body’s cavities. Most common in the abdomen, effusion into the chest is also possible. In the wet form of FIP, the effusion may cause obvious distension of the abdomen or interfere with the cat’s ability to breathe if the chest is involved. Collecting the fluid with a needle and syringe will allow for diagnosis. Unfortunately, once effusion has developed, recovery is unlikely.

The dry form of FIP is not characterized by effusion. The symptoms may be vague and this disease is often not diagnosed prior to death.

We do commonly vaccinate cats against several viruses that we do have very effective vaccines against. Feline panleukopenia virus, feline rhinotracheitis virus, feline calicivirus, and rabies vaccines are all components of a comprehensive preventive health care plan. Rabies affects all mammals and can be transmitted across species. It is important to keep cats vaccinated against this fatal disease to protect their health and the health of humans that interact with them.

Please note that this information does not replace professional veterinary care. It is solely for educational purposes. Your pet's medical condition should be evaluated by a veterinarian before any medical decisions are implemented. If there is a potentially life-threatening emergency involving your pet, take your pet to a veterinarian or veterinary facility immediately.

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