Feline Calicivirus: The Human Equivalent of the Common Cold

Feline Calicivirus
Feline calicivirus is a highly contagious upper respiratory infection (URI) that unvaccinated cats can easily transmit to one another. If you’re bringing home a new kitten and you already have cats in the house, it’s important to isolate them from each other until the kitten receive a calicivirus vaccination. You may need to keep them apart for as long as one week for each cat’s protection.
The symptoms of calicivirus range from mild to severe. Very young kittens and cats with a compromised immune system are more likely to develop severe symptoms. Although calicivirus can be serious in some situations, your cat can’t transfer it to humans.
How This URI Spreads
Calicivirus is most common in crowded living conditions such as an animal shelter or boarding facility. For this reason, catteries require all cats to have a calicivirus vaccine. In fact, it’s part of a series of core vaccines for cats due to how easily it spreads. Unsanitary conditions can also create a breeding grounds for the spread of calicivirus. Yet another way this virus spreads is when an infected cat exchanges bodily fluid with a non-infected cat. Typically, this occurs due to contact with eye discharge or sneeze droplets.
Common Symptoms of Calicivirus
Nasal discharge, eye discharge, and frequent sneezing are the most obvious signs that your cat is unwell. Other indications of this virus include:
  • Lack of appetite
  • Low energy
  • Squinting
  • Drooling
  • Difficulty chewing food completely
  • Pink eye
  • Fever
  • Dehydration
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Breathing difficulty, including noisy breathing
This URI can make your cat feel miserable, so be sure to provide prompt treatment. Fortunately, death from feline calicivirus is extremely rare. 
How to Help Your Cat Feel Better
Just like the common cold in humans, no cure exists to eliminate calicivirus once the symptoms have started. You can help your cat feel more comfortable by doing the following:
  • Gently wipe discharge from the eyes with a damp towel
  • Minimize stress in the household while your cat recovers
  • Bring your cat into the bathroom and turn on the shower so he can breathe in the hot steam. You should not bring him into the shower, however.
  • Make sure that your cat continues to eat. Cats rely heavily on their sense of smell and may show no interest in eating when nasal discharge prevents them from smelling. You may have to temporarily feed your cat foods with a stronger odor or speak to our veterinarian about prescription cat food.
Be sure to keep your cat indoors while she’s recovering from calicivirus because she can easily spread it to other cats. The good news with calicivirus is that it responds well to supportive care. If your cat doesn’t seem to be recovering at home, contact us for an evaluation. 
Moderate to severe cases of this URI may require medications and treatment such as IV fluids or eye drops. As with all illnesses, prevention is the best treatment. If your cat never received a calicivirus vaccine or it has been more than a year since the last one, check with us to see when the next one is due.
Photo Credit: zlyka2008 / Getty Images

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