Feline Calicivirus (FCV) is a virus that causes acute upper respiratory infections (infecting the lungs and nasal passages) in cats. There are many strains of the virus but virulent systemic FCV infection (vsFCV or VSD) is probably the most severe strain of the disease. When infected with vsFCV, the virus is found in other major organs and in the cells that line blood vessels of an infected cat. FCV is one of several viruses which cause cat flu. Other viruses which cause cat flu are feline herpesvirus (FHV), chlamydophila and Bordetella.
What are the symptoms?
Acute upper respiratory infection (URI) is the most common FCV infection. Due to the many strains of FCV cats can show variable symptoms, such as:
Your cat can exhibit symptoms from a few days to a few weeks. Kittens and cats with a weakened immune system are susceptible to going on to develop pneumonia.
Virulent systemic FCV infection (vsFCV) is very rare but is probably the most severe strain of the disease. Symptoms include:
What are the causes?
The virus is transmitted between cats through direct contact (saliva, eye or nasal secretions) or contaminated items such as food bowls and bedding.
What are the risk factors?
Prognosis very much depends on the severity of the symptoms. Typically, a cat will begin to recover within 3-4 days with the infection lasting for 14-21 days. If, however, your cat develops severe pneumonia, or in rare cases of vsFCV, the disease becomes life threatening, with the death rate being particularly high in cases of vsFCV.
How is FCV diagnosed?
Usually the signs and symptoms exhibited are enough to diagnose FCV, however, if a specific diagnosis is required, eye or mouth swabs can be taken for testing. Where sudden lameness occurs, an x-ray maybe recommended to rule out injury or other causes.
What treatment will my cat receive?
There is no specific treatment for FCV, however, an FCV infection is frequently complicated by a secondary infection which usually requires antibiotics. While your cat recovers, you should be able to care for them at home. Your vet will advise you on how to clean your cat’s eyes and nose to keep them clear of secretions in addition to advice on diet. If your cats nose is congested, try taking him into a steamy bathroom. If this does not work, your vet can prescribe a decongestant to help make breathing easier.
In severe cases, your cat may need to be hospitalised to receive intravenous fluids, nutritional support and possibly steam inhalation or a nebuliser to relieve nasal congestion.
What are the long-term effects of FCV?
Most cats infected will shed the virus in secretions from it’s eyes, nose and mouth for at least 30 days, after infection. It is believed that up to half of infected cats will still be shedding the virus up to 75 days after infection. A small number will become lifelong carriers and shed the virus indefinitely, but appear clinically well.
How can I prevent my cat from developing FCV?
Vaccination is an important preventative measure. It does not always prevent infection but will certainly reduce the severity of the disease.
Kittens should receive a course of injections from 8 weeks old, then a booster at 1 year of age. Adult cats should then receive a booster every 1-3 years.
If you have several cats and one is exhibiting symptoms, isolate the infected cat although the likelihood is that the virus may have already been passed on. This will at least help keep the infected cat safe from additional infections. FCV is resistant to most disinfectants and can survive 7-14 days, possibly up to a month, in the environment. However, soaking contaminated objects such as bowls, grooming utensils and bedding for at least 15 minutes in a bleach solution (1 part bleach to 32 parts water) should kill the virus.
If you place your cat in boarding kennels, ensure the kennels have a strict policy that all boarder’s vaccinations are kept up to date.
If you pet a cat outside your home, wash your hands thoroughly before interacting with your own cat.
If you are considering bringing a new cat or kitten into your home, meet the other cats and, if possible check for any history of respiratory disease suffered by the cat or kitten’s mother. Once home, keep them isolated from the other cats for at least 7 days.