According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), about 25 percent of U.S. households have at least one cat. Considering the multitude of benefits they provide, it’s no wonder so many favor felines. From kittenhood to their grey whisker years, cats entertain you with their feisty antics, calm you with their gentle purring, and teach you the importance of boundaries. Try petting their belly or any other spot momentarily deemed undesirable, and your cat may “gently” remind you about their personal space.
To help ensure your cat enjoys a long, healthy life, reduce their risk of contracting dangerous infectious diseases by keeping them indoors. Preventing outdoor access protects them from injury and getting lost, and greatly reduces their risk of contracting a feline viral infection. Town & Country Animal Hospital explains three common viral infections, including how they’re transmitted, ways to reduce your cat’s risk, and the prognosis if your cat is infected, to help ensure you and your favorite feline enjoy many happy years together.
Feline leukemia virus in cats
Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a contagious retrovirus (i.e., a group of RNA viruses that insert a DNA copy into the host cell, and replicate) that affects around 3 percent of all U.S. cats. FeLV-infected cats respond to the virus in different ways. Some may resist or eliminate the infection on their own, while others can control the infection without illness. However, all infected cats are at risk of developing severe, sometimes fatal, secondary infections, such as anemia or cancer, with FeLV the leading cause of feline lymphoma. Kittens and young cats have the highest infection risk, but cats of all ages can catch and spread FeLV.
- FeLV transmission — FeLV affects only cats, and cannot be transmitted to humans or other animals. The virus is most commonly spread by multiple cats who live in close proximity, with prolonged exposure to the virus. To reduce the transmission risk, test cats living in the same household for FeLV, and clean litter boxes and food and water bowls often. FeLV transmission modes include:
- Saliva and blood — FeLV usually spreads through saliva during mutual grooming, and through bite wounds.
- Bodily fluids — The virus can also be transmitted from mother to kitten, in utero or through their milk, and through urine and feces.
In some cases, you may need to separate infected cats to avoid infection. Your veterinarian can help you make a plan based on your cat’s health and individual needs, if they are diagnosed with FeLV.
- FeLV prevention — A vaccination series can prevent FeLV in cats with no previous virus exposure. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recommends that most kittens receive two vaccinations, plus a booster at 12 months of age. At Town & Country Animal Hospital, we encourage you to bring us your new kitten for their first veterinary visit between 6 to 8 weeks of age. This comprehensive exam includes blood testing for FeLV, their first core vaccinations, and an ongoing vaccination schedule, according to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) guidelines.
- FeLV signs —An infected cat may not show virus signs for years, but if you see any of these signs, they should be tested for FeLV:
- Pale gums
- Weight loss
- Persistent diarrhea
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Inflamed gums and mouth
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Neurological disorders
- Respiratory problems
- FeLV treatment — Although FeLV has no treatment or cure, infected cats can live normal, happy lives for years, with regular veterinary supportive care.
Feline immunodeficiency virus in cats
Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is one of the most common infectious diseases in cats. Similar to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), FIV attacks the immune system, increasing an infected cat’s risk for developing secondary infections. FIV is species-specific, and can be passed only from cat to cat. An FIV blood test is included in your kitten’s first exam at Town & Country Animal Hospital.
- FIV transmission — FIV is spread through saliva, and usually transmitted in bite wounds. Unneutered male cats have an increased FIV risk, as do outdoor cats, who are more likely to be involved in fights and suffer bite wounds.
- FIV prevention — Currently, no FIV vaccination is available. To reduce your cat’s risk, spay or neuter them, keep them indoors, and limit contact with cats who have not been FIV-tested.
- FIV signs — Most infected cats don’t get sick from the virus, but from secondary infections because of their weakened immune system. The following signs may indicate FIV or a related infection:
- Inflamed mouth and gums
- Weight loss
- FIV treatment — FIV has no cure, but a normal life is possible with regular veterinary supportive care. Twice yearly examinations by our Town & Country Animal Hospital professionals can help reduce your cat’s risk of developing secondary infections, and prevent the spread of FIV to other cats.
Feline infectious peritonitis in cats
Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) occurs from a mutation in feline coronavirus (FCoV) strains, and is a leading cause of death in young cats. FCoV is different from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in humans, and is extremely common in environments where cats live together in large numbers. FCoV does not usually cause serious health issues, unless an FIP mutation develops in a specific coronavirus strain. Only about 10 percent of cats with FCoV have the FIP-causing mutation, which may be the result of a genetic predilection. FIP is not considered contagious, but can lead to serious illness and death for cats with the mutation.
- FIP transmission — Transmission is limited to cats, and is spread by contact with an infected cat’s feces. Again, only a small percentage of cats with FCoV will develop FIP, usually when they are between 3 months and 2 years of age.
- FIP prevention — No vaccination exists for FIP, but core vaccinations and regular physical examinations will keep your cat healthy, and support a strong immune response to potential FCoV infection.
- FIP signs — Initial FIP signs can be vague, and vary from cat to cat, but common signs include:
- Decreased appetite
- Yellowing of the skin
- Difficulty breathing
- Pot-bellied appearance
- FIP treatment — Supportive treatments can extend and improve the quality of life for an FIP-positive cat, but the virus is almost always fatal.
Show your cat you care by taking the steps to reduce their risk of feline viral infections, so you can enjoy their companionship for years to come. If you have questions about these feline viral infections, or would like to schedule a preventive care examination, contact Town & Country Animal Hospital.