Feline rhinotracheitis is more familiarly known by cat owners as feline influenza or cat flu. It is highly contagious upper respiratory disease and can affect all members of the cat family. FVR is caused by the feline herpesvirus (FHV-1). Symptoms as a result of infection can include fever, nasal, and ocular discharge. The virus enters and replicates in the nose and tonsils and rarely enters the blood. It can be shed from the cat for as long as three weeks. Unvaccinated kittens show a relatively high mortality rate from this disease especially since it may progress to pneumonia. Vaccinations against this disease are strongly encouraged and most responsible owners have their vets administer vaccines to their pets.
Direct contact can cause transmission and usually comes from any saliva, nasal and ocular discharge produced. Indirect contact resulting in infection may also come from contaminated surfaces such as food bowls, litter trays, and toys.
In areas such as multi-cat households, animal shelters and boarding catteries, there is deemed a higher risk of infection. Bedding should be cleaned and disinfected regularly along with the floor, bedding, litter trays and food bowls. The feline herpesvirus can be destroyed using most disinfectants. There should be adequate ventilation since the virus can survive for up to eighteen hours in damp environments.
Symptoms include a high temperature, sneezing, coughing, drooling, nasal, and ocular discharge (conjunctivitis). Ulcers on the cornea are sometimes present. There will be a loss of appetite usually due to stomatitis or congestion of the nasal cavity. Owners often notice that their pets begin to breathe through their mouth rather than their nose. Infected cats often partially or fully close their eyes as they become inflamed and filled with a mucous-like substance. Since it is a highly contagious disease, most of the cats in the home will have the symptoms in the same period of time.
Treatment and Prevention
Treatment usually includes IV fluids to replace those lost, eye drops for any conjunctivitis and warm water will be used to wipe away any ocular and nasal discharge. A broad spectrum of antibiotics is usually a part of the treatment plan in order to prevent or treat a resultant secondary infection. Nasal decongestants are also used in some practices. In severe cases, force feeding and blood transfusions may be required for recovery. The treatment can only support the cat as its own immune system fights off the viral infection by itself.
Vaccinations are available and recommended as a preventative measure. In the early stages, kittens are administered the vaccine at different periods of time beginning with the initial one at around seven to eight weeks old. Further shots are then given between the ages of fourteen and sixteen weeks at three week intervals. Annual boosters are necessary to provide long term protection for the cat.
Diagnosis and Prognosis
The clinical signs and symptoms are usually used to diagnose the patients although laboratory tests may sometimes be used. Kittens often die from the disease showing severe symptoms. However, milder symptoms are seen with older cats and the adverse health implications can pass in two weeks. Cats infected once will generally continue to become carriers for the rest of their lives and periodically symptoms will reappear.