Feline Diseases

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Filed in Cats, Health

Cats, like humans, are susceptible to any number of allergies, illnesses, parasites and diseases. These can encompass anything from fleas, a cold, or a life threatening condition such as Feline Leukemia.

When cats become sick they display symptoms similar to human illnesses (sneezing, listlessness, decreased appetite, lethargy, etc.) Cats need to be examined on a regular basis by a veterinarian and routinely vaccinated against diseases. Think of your cat as a member of the family and monitor their health the same as you would your own or your children's. This will enable your cat to live a longer, fuller and healthier life.

Common Diseases

Cats are, by nature, roamers. The daily routine of an outdoor cat will cover a large territory and bring it into contact with other animals, increasing their possible exposure to disease.

Many of the diseases to which cats are susceptible (feline leukemia, feline infectious peritonitis and rabies for example) are almost always fatal. There are other diseases that can kill kittens or adversly effect the good health of adult cats. Preventing disease assures your cat best possible quality of life and is much less costly than treatment. As the old saying goes "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Some of the common diseases that are easily preventable by vaccinations include:

Feline Leukemia (FeLV): FeLV suppresses the cat's immune system. This leaves the cat unable to fight off other infections. It can also cause cancer in a small proportion of cats. Although a few cats recover from a brief FeLV infection and rid themselves of the virus, a permanent infection will always result in death.

A cat that continually displays signs of poor health or frequently becomes sick with infections or fever may have FeLV. By doing a simple blood test your Veterinarian can determine whether or not your cat has FeLV. FeLV vaccination is a part of a preventive health program. Cats are given two initial doses three weeks apart and are given an annual booster.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP): A virus that initially reproduces in the nasal passages causes FIP. The risk of contracting FIP is low, but cats that do get it always die, usually within six months. Some of the symptoms of FIP include enlarged abdomen (caused by fluid buildup), fever, weight loss and possible eye sores.

FIP vaccine has been in use since 1991. Rather than an injection, drops of the vaccine are placed directly in the cat's nose to build immunity in the nasal passages. Two doses of the vaccine are administered three to four weeks apart, followed by an annual booster.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) Also called Feline AIDS, FIV belongs to the same family as the Feline Leukemia Virus. Though the FIV agent wasn't isolated and identified until 1986, retrospective case histories tend to indicate that the virus may have been responsible for Feline AIDS as early as 1968.

FIV is very similar to HIV (the virus which causes AIDS in humans) but FIV is not transmittable to humans. The most common means of transmitting FIV is through bite wounds, but prolonged exposure to an afflicted cat can increase the risk of infection. Older, outdoor, male cats are in the highest risk category. Most infected cats may test positive for FIV within one month of exposure but may live for years without signs of the illness.

In one instance that I know of personally, a friend's 15 year old male cat tested positive for FIV. It was the opinion of her Vet that he had been infected for at least 10 years without noticeable symptoms.

As with HIV, there is no cure for FIV and there is no vaccine currently available. The treatment for FIV is remarkably similar to HIV with many of the same (human) drugs used.

Rabies: Any warm-blooded animal (humans, pets, livestock, and wildlife) can become infected with the rabies virus. Because of its threat to humans, most states require vaccination of dogs and cats. Your veterinarian will be able to provide you with the specific requirements of your state.

Most reported cases of rabies in domestic animals occurred in cats. Because of their free roaming nature, cats are more likely to encounter the prime rabies carriers (raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats) so it is imperative to vaccinate cats against rabies.

Rabies is a virus that is spread by bites or saliva of infected animals. If an unvaccinated cat has been in a fight with a wild animal, or has wounds that cannot be accounted for, rabies should be suspected. The cat should be monitored for rabies symptoms. The virus attacks nerve tissue and the disease develops slowly (10 days to several months) and death always occurs once a rabies-infected animal shows signs of the disease.

Some infected cats may become withdrawn and avoid contact with humans and others may become overly aggressive and could attack. If rabies is diagnosed the cat must be euthanized.

If humans become infected with rabies they can, in the early stages of the disease, be successfully vaccinated. Although it is effective, treatment can be expensive and very unpleasant.

Rabies vaccination can be given anytime after the cat is 12 weeks old. Cats should be revaccinated each year or every three years, depending on which vaccine is used. Again, check with your veterinarian to find out your state's requirements.

Feline Panleukopenia (FLP): Caused by a virus, and often called feline distemper, FLP is a common disease and can effect any cat regardless of age. Since it is almost impossible to prevent exposure all cats should be vaccinated.

FPL can attack many parts of a cat's body and cause decreased appetite, fever, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of coordination, weakness and tremors. Death can occur within one week. Approximately three fourths of kittens that develop FLP die and about half of infected adult cats die.

Vaccinations should be given between 6 and 12 weeks of age, with revaccination annually. For younger kittens (6-12 weeks old) the vaccination is given in two or three doses over several weeks.

Feline Respiratory Disease: There are several respiratory diseases that are easily passed from one cat to another. The most common means of transmission is air-borne droplets from coughing or sneezing. Symptoms include watery or stick discharge from the nose and eyes, nose and mouth sores, inflamed eyes, and fever. Kittens are more likely to die from this disease, especially if they develop pneumonia.

The most common forms of respiratory viruses are feline rhinotracheitis and feline calcivirus. Of these two, rhinotracheitis tends to be more severe and can cause spontaneous abortions in pregnant cats.

Another respiratory disease (at one time called pneumonitis) is caused by the chlamydia psittaci organism. This disease primarily causes inflammation of the eyes and nose.

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