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Feline Calicivirus


Cats may be affected by a wide variety of different viruses and bacteria. One that tends to be quite common is feline calicivirus. This virus tends to cause upper respiratory symptoms and can be found in domestic cats, as well as their wild cousins. 

What is Feline Calicivirus? 

Feline calicivirus is a viral infection that tends to occur in high population areas, such as animal shelters or large-scale cat breeders. The virus may contribute to oral diseases, such as severe oral infections and pain, as well as respiratory problems. 

Unlike some other viruses that cause upper respiratory signs in cats, the feline calicivirus can cause ulcerations within your cat’s mouth. They can occur on the tongue and gums, as well as on the nose. As you can probably imagine, these tend to be incredibly painful. You may notice your cat salivating or having trouble chewing. Even dropping food when they try to pick up kibble from their bowl.

Cats that develop an active infection may also have eye or nasal discharge, complete with inflammation of the pink tissues around the eyes (conjunctivitis) and sneezing. While some cats have clear discharge, others may develop thicker, mucoid discharge. Especially if they develop a secondary bacterial infection on top of the virus. 

What is more, there are many different strains of this virus, and you may see a variety of different symptoms. These can include lethargy, fever, and even jaundice. Unfortunately, one strain is especially prone to causing widespread disease and happens to be highly infectious and fatal. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, so prompt treatment is needed. 

Feline calicivirus is most prevalent in kittens, although any cat can develop it. The virus spreads mostly through secretions, such as from the eyes and nose. It can even survive on surfaces for days. After becoming infected, cats can exhibit signs of illness for weeks, and they are infectious during that whole time. However, with some remaining infectious for an extended period of time. 

Your veterinarian may diagnose your cat with feline calicivirus just based upon the symptoms they have. Particularly if they have respiratory signs and oral ulcerations. If a true diagnosis is needed, your veterinarian may collect samples from your cat’s conjunctiva or the back of their throat and submit them to a lab for testing. 

Treatment for Feline Calicivirus

Your veterinarian may make a variety of recommendations for treating your cat with calicivirus. Because many of these cats have painful mouths or trouble smelling, they often don’t want to eat. You may need to try high-calorie foods, such as Hill’s a/d, or even baby food carefully heated up. Your cat may need fluids given intravenously or under the skin to help them stay hydrated. 

Certain medications may be needed. For instance anti-inflammatory drugs such as Onsior or meloxicam, particularly if your cat is running a high fever or develops lameness from the virus.

While you might think antibiotics are needed, your veterinarian probably won’t prescribe them. Unless they are seeing signs that could be associated with a bacterial infection complicating the viral infection. This helps prevent antibiotic resistance from misuse of antibiotic medications. 

In many cats with conjunctivitis, your veterinarian may prescribe eye medications to reduce inflammation or infection, from anti-viral drops to antibiotic ointments. 

It can be very disheartening for pet owners when their cat feels sick. Though, you may be able to help them feel a little better. Steam up the bathroom by running a hot shower and bring your cat in the room for a few minutes to help reduce airway congestion. Wiping your cat’s eyes and nose with a clean, damp cloth can also reduce local irritation.

Vaccinating for Feline Calicivirus and Preventing Infection

You can help to protect your cat from feline calicivirus by taking them to the vet for their core vaccines. In addition to rabies vaccination, most cats benefit from vaccinating against a complex of viruses, as with the FVRCP vaccine. Kittens and unvaccinated cats need to have this boostered appropriately the first year, then following a recommended schedule, most commonly either yearly or every three years. 

Limiting your cat’s exposure to other cats is also important. Keeping cats indoors limits their risk of viral infections, as well as protecting them from other problems, i.e. animal bites or being hit by a car. 

If one cat in the household is sick, make sure to thoroughly disinfect household surfaces, dishes, bedding, and toys. Keep sick cats isolated until they are cleared by a veterinarian, and wash your hands between handling pets to minimize the risk of transmission. 

In Summary

Any cat can develop feline calicivirus, and some strains are especially infectious. The good news is that you can reduce the risk for your cat by having them vaccinated by a veterinarian. If you notice that your cat isn’t feeling well, contact a doctor for an exam and follow treatment recommendations to help reduce their duration of illness.

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