Bex came to see us with the symptoms of a common cold: he was sneezing, he had a runny nose and red eyes. In cats, these are classic signs of ‘cat flu’ or upper respiratory infection, a very common feline disease which can vary in severity and can even be life-threatening. Seven year old Bex had had vaccinations as a kitten to reduce the likelihood of catching the disease, but having not received annual boosters, and despite being an indoor cat, he had somehow contracted this highly infectious viral condition.
After the first 3 days of treatment poor Bex became very depressed and stopped eating. When he came in for further examination, he had developed mouth ulcers and a very swollen throat and was understandably very reluctant to swallow anything. He was admitted and a blood sample was taken, which showed that his kidneys were also starting to shut down.
Bex was kept in at 387 Vets and given rehydrating fluids to support his kidneys. He received intensive nursing and we attempted to hand feed him, but as Bex continued to struggle to eat, it was agreed we would carry out surgery to implant a feeding tube in his neck. This meant we could control his food intake via the tube and by-pass his painful mouth and throat.
Bex is incredibly brave and a real fighter. After being tube-fed initially in practice, he went home where his owners continued to feed him this way. Almost a month after placing the tube, he was finally eating well enough to have the tube removed.
We are delighted that Bex is now much more his normal self. However, he may need to remain on medication for the rest of his life, as he continues to suffer from problems related to the disease, including eye and nasal inflammation.
80% of cat flu cases are caused by one of two viruses, feline herpesvirus (FHV), which Bex had, or feline calicivirus (FCV). It can be easily spread including via a ‘carrier’ cat (one that shows no signs of the disease but sheds the virus in times of stress); by close contact with an infected cat or by exposure to an infected cat’s excretions. FHV and FCV can live in the environment for up to a week and can be carried on clothing, hands, food bowls, grooming equipment and other objects. Similar to herpes infections in other species (including humans) cats with FHV will carry the virus for the rest of their lives.
Vaccination plays a pivotal part in preventing cats from contracting cat flu, so please do book your cat in for annual boosters. It could just save their life.